x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Reasons for the rhymes

Albert Jack doesn't make a particularly promising start to this consideration of nursery rhymes. The author reveals early on that when he started researching the book he didn't make much headway, because he felt his subject matter seemed too dull.

Pop Goes the Weasel:
The Secret Meanings of Nursery Rhymes
Albert Jack
Penguin Books
Dh45

Albert Jack doesn't make a particularly promising start to this consideration of nursery rhymes. The author reveals early on that when he started researching the book he didn't make much headway, because he felt his subject matter seemed too dull.

But, just as this opening admission is something the reader didn't need to know, it's something Jack didn't need to worry about either.Nursery rhymes, in their sing-song simplicity, prove delightfully dark when exposed to the light of his scrutiny.

Humpty Dumpty, always faintly upsetting when read as the story of one egg's disastrous seating choice, is not an egg at all, but a Royalist canon in the English Civil War. The Three Blind Mice were not a trio of myopic rodents either, but Oxford Martyrs Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer - burnt at the stake by Mary I of Tudor England.

Not all offer such treasures. There Was a Little Girl was written by Longfellow about his daughter's refusal to have her hair brushed. Nevertheless, dip in and out of this book and you'll emerge with a few gems.