The “Mother Hubbard” series underwent a rapid transformation over its short three issue run from late 1941 to early 1942. While the character was herself always portrayed as a traditional witch (from her peaked hat down to her buckled shoes), the setting of the stories changed immediately after her first appearance. Mother Hubbard battled enemy agents in her first outing, but in her second story her antagonists were traditional “fairy tale” villains. Judging from her third (and final) appearance in Scoop Comics #3, that would likely have been the trend for future stories. And it’s that facet of the series which brings this series of posts full circle to the point at which I first encountered the character.

I’d never heard of Harry Chesler’s “Mother Hubbard” series until I saw the splash panel from today’s story (presented farther down the page) posted to an Internet group which discusses comic books. In that group there seemed to be a bit of consternation expressed at the image of gnomes (the antagonists from the previous issue) trying to remove a sleeping child’s eye using a pry bar. The basket of eyes beside the bed wasn’t especially beneficial to the panel’s reception. While I was certainly very intrigued by the panel, I wasn’t particularly upset by it; my first thought was of the Brothers Grimm.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm are famous today for their collection of fairy tales, but what’s not widely known is that they didn’t create the tales. The brothers’ main avocation was as folklorists, not writers, and they devoted years to collecting German folk tales. Many of the stories they collected were based in long-standing oral tradition, and the brothers wrote the tales down in order to preserve them. Some of their stories are today among the best-known fairy tales: Snow White, Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, and Rapunzel are all part of the Brothers Grimm collection.

The term “fairy tale” connotes sweetness and childhood innocence, but in many of the Grimm brothers’ original presentations nothing could be further from the truth. Children in the stories are routinely abducted, maimed, murdered, and sometimes cannibalized, often because they fail to heed warnings or they act in a willful, reckless manner. Many of these folk tales were originally told with cautionary intent, to teach children the wisdom of obeying established rules and to illustrate that the world is often a harsh, uncaring place. As the decades passed, however, the stories were revised and edited (some would say “bowdlerized”) to make them more acceptable to a wider audience, to the point today at which most people have never encountered the stories in their original form (although, to be fair, the Internet has largely been responsible for bringing the unexpurgated versions of the tales, some of which contain strong sexual content, somewhat back into the limelight).

A few months ago I ran across an Internet group in which the splash panel of Mother Hubbard’s third Scoop Comics appearance was presented, to some consternation from the readership. It was my first exposure to the character and I was instantly intrigued, enough so to research and seek out all of her comic appearances to see the kind of feature that would publish stories in which gnomes were stealing the eyes of sleeping children. As you’ll discover if you read the story presented below, eye stealing isn’t remotely the worst of it: a later panel displays a trio of ogres literally drooling over a baby, preparing to devour the child.

And that, friends, is pure Brothers Grimm.

Even after decades of gradual censorship of the tales, as a small child in the 1960’s I read Brothers Grimm tales published in children’s books which even then contained scenes of kids being baked into pies or boiled in cauldrons, as well as containing a variety of other extremely violent acts. So it’s not remotely surprising to me that a 1940’s comic book containing a story presented in folktale style would contain similar scenes (while you’ll be relieved to find that no children are actually eaten in the story, there is a bit of a mixup when the stolen eyes are returned). What did surprise me was the reaction of today’s readers to the splash panel; apparently kids in the 1940’s were made of sterner stuff than today’s adult readers.

Here, courtesy of The Digital Comic Museum, is Mother Hubbard’s third and final appearance as it was published in March 1942’s Scoop Comics #3. Right-click on a page and open it in a new browser tab for a larger view.

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Scoop Comics #3, March 1942

Have fun! — Steve

Copyright 2015, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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