Thunderdome: Two books enter, one book leaves

In this corner...
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, by Bruno Bettelheim

Weighing in at 310 pages (and that's not including the footnotes and index, ladies), The Uses of Enchantment is a comprehensive and scholarly work that explains the underlying meanings of fairy tales based on the teachings of Freud. It enjoys generalizations about childhood, specific real-life examples and long walks in Vienna.

And in this corner...
Heavy Words, Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, by Chris Roberts

Without the index, this bantam weight clocks in at 185 pages. Heavy Words is an explanation of the origin of popular nursery rhymes. It enjoys rhyming slang, snide commentary on modern British celebrities, and endless deconstructions of the British monarchy for the past several hundred years.

Heavy Words jumps in with an analysis of "Little Jack Horner." It's a swing and a miss for Heavy Words. Is this rhyme about a stolen deed of land? A rightful inheritance? Heavy Words is unsure.

Uses responds with a clear explanation about why it's useful to study fairy tales, providing a key to the book to follow. It's a solid clout to the jaw from Uses; Heavy Words is down for the count.

Heavy Words is rocketing all over the place now. The audience is frequently referencing the English-to-American slang index at the back of the book, but still sees no real point to most of the catty asides that Heavy Words throws into the mix. Meanwhile, every nursery rhyme in Heavy Words seems to be about a monarch named James, Mary or Henry, and Heavy Words is flailing around trying to explain which goddamn James, Mary or Henry it is. Why do we care? No one is sure.

Meanwhile, Uses continues an effective policy of solid one-two jabs to the face, explaining why and how each fairy tale is relevant to the reader's life. Heavy Words is thrown to the mat and stays down.

Uses has succeeded in returning fairy tales to the reader with something extra added: now we can appreciate them both as the children we were and the adults we are. Whether or not you're a fan of Freud, Bettelheim's observations are often spot-on. The evil stepmother, for example, represents our mother when we're mad at her, the mother who makes us eat our greens or won't let us play outside after dark. When the story's hero wins through, defeating the evil stepmother, we feel like we've gotten even with our own mother and can forgive her. A useful way for a child to make sense of the world.

While this goes on, Heavy Words is in the corner of the ring, head in a bucket of ice. The simple fact is that nursery rhymes aren't as rich with meaning as fairy tales. However, that doesn't excuse the many, many chapters where Heavy Words provides several possible explanations for a rhyme, then sort of shrugs its shoulders and admits it doesn't know which is right. Shoddy scholarship, Words.

And the winner is...
The Uses of Enchantment. Obviously.