The danger in criticizing children’s books is always the drove of fools who will say “It’s just a kid’s book! You’re taking it too seriously!” But the fact is, there’s a reason we read to our children, and there are reasons we choose some books as better than others. Simple it may be, but if a book is meaningful enough that we are serious about reading it to our children, then it’s also meaningful enough to examine seriously. So let’s consider a book I came across while picking out something to read to my own children.
The Sunflower Sword takes place in a land where knights and dragons are always fighting and focuses on a young boy who dreams of becoming a brave knight as well. His mother, however, forbids him from having a sword and gives him a sunflower instead. He pretends its a sword and plays happily with it for a time slaying imaginary dragons, until he encounters a real dragon. Being both unarmed and unable to escape, he desperately swings the sunflower at the dragon. And wouldn’t you know it, the dragon thinks he’s offering him a flower. So the two become great friends and have much more fun than they ever could have had fighting. And one-by-one, all the knights of the land lay down their swords in favor of sunflowers, and nobody ever fights again. The book ends as the mother looks on smiling.
So what’s the deeper meaning of this book? At it’s core, it’s about a boy who aspires to become a man as boys naturally do. Inherent in masculinity is struggle and perseverance against forces that would threaten our families and tear down what we’ve built. The place warriors and dragons hold in mythology is emblematic of that masculine struggle against evil. We need to be strong. We need to be ready to slay monsters because in this life, monsters will always be there to destroy or corrupt what we hold dear.
Women, however, have mixed feelings about this aspect of masculinity. On one hand, they’re attracted to our strength and willingness to risk combat–and this attraction exists precisely because it’s a trait they need for themselves and for their children. On the other hand, it sometimes makes them feel threatened because they know we are stronger than they are. Like Aslan, a man is not a tame lion. Despite Hollywood tropes, most men could overpower most women quite easily if we chose to actually bring our strength to bear.
What’s more, contemporary society distorts that natural tension. For one thing, our high level of civilization has produced an exceptionally safe culture in which security is taken for granted. Women have largely come to believe that their safety comes from government and society rather than from men (even the men who built and still maintain these things.) For another thing, feminism has cultivated suspicion and fear of men in most women, which magnifies that natural feeling of uncertainty about our strength. The result is an extremely unbalanced view of masculinity that results in both women and feminized men labeling it as “toxic.”
So while the boy in the book aspires to manhood, his mother forbids it. She takes away the sword, a symbol of his masculinity, and replaces it with the flower, a symbol of her femininity. At first, he’s quite awkward with this acquisition–flailing with it as though it were the sword he had really wanted in the first place. However, entirely by accident, he ends up discovering the flower’s true value: the creation of peace.
After all, just as struggle and perseverance are central to masculinity, peacemaking is central to femininity. Children are chaotic and homes are constantly subject to entropy. A mother’s role as a homemaker is to bring peace out of that chaos and create a comforting environment in which her family can dwell contentedly. This facet of femininity is precisely why women tend to become passive-aggressive when they’re upset. They want to impose their will just as much as men do, but they greatly prefer to do so without open conflict because that runs against the grain of their nature.
So when the boy accidentally gives the flower to the dragon, the two immediately realize that they were never truly enemies and become friends instead. The book specifically notes how much better their friendship is without fighting–without struggle or perseverance. You see, there was never any reason for knights and dragons to fight in the first place except that, as the book details, it had simply always been that way. It was only masculinity with its drive to struggle against evil that caused the constant fighting in their land. Once you take that away, all that’s left is peace.
And whereas the boy once aspired to be a man, because of his mother’s “help” all the men of the kingdom now aspire to be feminized boys. They rush to lay down their own swords–their own masculinity–so that they can take up the femininity which brings peace and happiness to everyone.
And the last page of the book is the capstone: when the mother (who, though surrounded by armored knights and medieval homes, is tellingly dressed as an upper-middle-class suburbanite) looks out on at all of this and smiles. The thing about children’s books is that they’re not really written for children. They’re written for the parents who buy them, the teachers who assign them, and the librarians who stock their shelves with them–all of which means they’re written primarily for women. Because of that, women’s unbalanced views about masculinity in contemporary society will inevitably become a selling point.
Many of these women–having failed to understand that the relative security and stability they enjoy in contemporary society was actually produced by men who struggled against evil–instead believe that any remaining insecurity and instability in society only exists because of the remaining masculinity. This book gives such women a message of hope and encouragement in their foolish eschatology. One day, our society might finally become entirely peaceful. And maybe it will all start with one mother who was steadfast enough to make sure that her own boy never grows into a man.
Plenty of Christians and conservatives are starting to be concerned about the messages of children’s books when it comes to the LGBT agenda–and rightly so, though it comes rather late. The quest to normalize the disgusting is in full swing, and we need to protect our children from it now so that they can join us in combating it when they’re ready. But this agenda wasn’t created ex nihilo. We would never see the droves of people who cannot tell men from women if they weren’t already deeply confused about masculinity and femininity in the first place. It’s just as important to be on guard against the already normalized feminist indoctrination from which our confusions about gender and sexual orientation proceed.
As in most children’s books, the father is entirely absent from The Sunflower Sword. The swordless boy is solely his mother’s son, and the only masculine influence comes from the men around him who foolishly engage in meaningless conflict with the smiling dragons who only want to be our friends–a caricature of masculinity born from a feminist worldview.
Fathers, your sons cannot afford for you to be that absent from their lives. And I know that many of your wives and ex-wives make being present a struggle. But struggle against evil is part of who we are. Make opportunities to read with them and to think critically about what you’re reading. Given the nature of many contemporary books, be sure to look for older alternatives (e.g. the reissue of the 1918 Collier Junior Classics) Your sons are not going to learn about being men from their mom or from contemporary media. So make sure they learn it from you.