Rejected Highlights for Children Piece
May 26, 2012
Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, I really do love children. Now, I'll admit that this is probably more in an abstract sense than in the real flesh-and-blood world. I have my own personal ideas of how kids should be.
Children should be sitting in front of the television watching Howdy Doody and the Mickey Mouse Club, just like they were in the 1950s. In my mind’s eye, there's a little girl, I'll call her Sally, with her hair up in pigtails, wearing a cotton print dress that her mother made for her. And there's a little boy, I'll call him Jimmy, with a nice close haircut, wearing some sturdy overalls. Sally and Jimmy are my vision of the ideal American whippersnappers.
That's how a lot of kids were until the 1960s, when the evil hippies descended like a plague upon all of mankind, and ruined Sally and Jimmy forever. They went from being wholesome, obedient children, to smelly, disrespectful, deluded liberals.
And for the most part, little kids today are nothing like Sally and Jimmy were in the 1950s. Most of them walk around imitating foul-mouthed rappers, text messaging every last second of their waking hours, and reading the satanic mutterings of Noam Chomsky. Yes, for the great majority of them, there is no hope whatsoever. It's a lost generation. The only saving grace they have is that a lot of them love to play violent video games, which is great training for military service. But other than that, they’re all pretty much useless.
Still, I figured that there might be some isolated pockets of children out there who would benefit from my formidable talents as a writer of children's stories. Who knows, I reasoned, maybe there are some parents someplace who know how to raise their young ones right, some mature adults who realize that if you spare the rod you spoil the child, some enlightened souls who can see the value of injecting the bedrock values of our sacred nation into the tender veins of our youth. So, emboldened by such encouraging thoughts, I went ahead and submitted one of my stories to Highlights for Children, a disreputable and tawdry magazine filled with noxious communist propaganda. I figured that my submission would breathe some fresh life into that decrepit publication.
It was a very short piece about a little girl who has some magical adventures in an enchanted garden. I thought it was quite a good story, and expected that the magazine would accept it in its entirety. However, I got a letter back from them saying that overall they thought it was very nice, but that they'd prefer to leave off the ending where the girl denounces the evil fairy as a communist spy, and interrogates her using a water-boarding technique in order to save her grandmother's life.
I had a moment of weakness, I suppose, and decided to accept their editorial suggestions in spite of myself. I guess I just wanted to be able to say that I'd had something published there. Well, there you have it -- even yours truly can become susceptible to the temptations of vanity. So, when the story came out in print, it was totally altered, and some hack writer had put in a pathetic sort of namby-pamby ending that completely ruined everything. I am thoroughly ashamed of that piece, and very glad that I had used a pseudonym when I submitted it.
I was prepared to put the whole episode behind me forever, but as fate would have it, I got a letter from the magazine some months later, in which I was informed that they had a new head editor. This man expressed his enthusiasm at assuming his new position, and stated that they would be taking an exciting new direction in the months to come. He also encouraged me to once again submit material to the publication.
Now, I fully realized that it was a form letter sent out to anyone who had ever submitted anything to them before. But still, I was kind of intrigued, and decided to do a bit of research on this new editor. I was very pleased to learn that he was a registered Republican, and also a member of the American Family Association, an organization that I myself once belonged to before I was expelled for sending letters to its administration strongly criticizing them for the weakness of their personal convictions, but I'd rather not go into that right here. I have nothing against the core principles of the AFA, I just think that they might consider employing some useful guerrilla tactics. But again, don't let me get off topic here.
So, I decided that I'd give Highlights for Children one more try. Perhaps their new editor, whom I'd rather naively assumed to be a red-blooded conservative, would find that my latest, super-charged, ideologically revolutionary children's story would fit in well with the "exciting new direction" in which he was planning to take the publication. Ah, dear readers, how innocent were my hopes, and how sharp were the cruel shards of shattered expectations upon which the un-calloused feet of my experience were soon to tread.
This time, my carefully prepared submission received a rather curt and impersonal standard reply, the gist of which was that the magazine appreciated my offering, but upon careful consideration, had decided that it did not suit their needs, and that I was welcome to submit further material.
Well, that just didn't cut it for me, and I angrily wrote back to the editor, demanding a full explanation of why my offering had been flatly rejected. There was a delay of a few weeks, and then, a second letter finally arrived. It was not from the editor, but instead from one of his insignificant underlings, which was of course adding insult to injury. Here are a few lines from her contemptible missive:
"Quite frankly, we found your story to be highly disturbing and offensive, and completely unsuitable for children. It is generally the policy of this magazine to never discourage submissions of writing, but in your particular case, and especially in consideration of your recent letter to us, in which you most unfairly and aggressively slandered our editorial staff with several baseless allegations and accusations, we strongly ask that you desist from sending any further material or correspondence our way."
Fine, I thought, and mentally consigned the whole lot of them to the flames of hell. Their loss, I figured to myself. I thought that would be the end of it, and I stuck the manuscript of my inspired children's story in a drawer, where I assumed it would remain until the end of time without ever seeing the light of day.
However, the other day, I was at Wal-Mart, where I happened to run into my tenant and the editor of this website, who has given himself the ridiculous moniker of Somebody, but whose real name is [removed by website editor]. He asked me if I had any new material ready for him, and I said no, unless he might be interested in posting any of my old stuff. Like what, he queried, and I said, oh, I don’t know, how about my Highlights for Children piece? Sorry, he replied, we don’t repost copyrighted material. So, I suggested that he instead post a story that the magazine had rejected, and he said he’d take a look at it. I put the manuscript in his mailbox and didn’t hear from him for a few days. Finally, he put it back in my mailbox, with the following note taped to the outside:
“Okay, Thurston, what the heck, I will post this. But don’t blame me if they haul you in again to see if you’ve been taking your psych meds. Please write a preamble to explain why it was rejected by the magazine.”
So, you’ve just finished reading the requested preamble. Now, here’s the story.
One day, Randy Rabbit was sitting in the rabbit warren where he lived. Outside, it was raining, so he couldn’t go out to play. He went up to his dad, who was gnawing on a carrot, and asked, “Dad, I’m bored, can you tell me about the world and how it works?”
“Certainly, son,” replied the elder rabbit. “We live under the authority of a noble eagle named President that lives in a very nice nest high up on top of a majestic mountain overlooking his domain, the nation of Eagle Land.”
“You mean in the White Nest?” inquired Randy. He’d seen pictures of it at rabbit school.
“That’s right,” responded Randy’s dad. He continued. “President has been chosen to rule over all of us rabbits because he loves the land more than anyone else, and is always ready to spill the blood of his subjects for the sake of its eternal preservation.”
[Editor’s note: Just so you know, Thurston wrote this story in 1987, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.]
“Teacher says that President protects us,” added Randy thoughtfully.
“That’s right,” affirmed his dad. “President has flown high up into the skies and fought with his fellow eagles against the evil black ravens to defend all of the wonderful things that we stand for, such as freedom, liberty, democracy, and freshly killed rabbit meat.”
“Wow,” exclaimed Randy, “President sure does a lot for us.”
“Yes, indeed, Randy,” replied his dad. “But still, don’t forget, in Eagle Land all of us rabbits know how to look out for ourselves. We don’t expect one single thing from President. We realize that he is very busy defending us from our enemies, so he certainly doesn’t have any time for doing for us what we should be doing for ourselves.”
“So,” replied Randy, “that must be why we rabbits never go hopping around expecting anyone to hand us any carrots, nor do we go bouncing about carrying any confounded signs demanding a bunch of selfish rights or any other such preposterous nonsense.”
“You got it, Randy,” confirmed his dad. “If that ever happened, President would call out the eagle riot squad and there would be plenty of rabbit stew for dinner at the White Nest. But it’ll never happen, because we rabbits know better. We love our country too much to pull such a treasonous stunt.”
“Dad,” inquired Randy politely, “can you tell me more about our enemies?”
“Sure son,” the elder rabbit responded. “The vicious black ravens live in another realm outside of Eagle Land, called Collective Land. In that wicked, horrible place, the nasty ravens lie to the all of the poor, gullible rabbits that live under their command, telling them that they should all work together for the common good.”
“That’s terrible!” exclaimed Randy.
“It sure is,” his dad agreed. “Because what’s really going on is that the rabbits in Collective Land have become miserable slaves to the ravens, whose ruler is called Leader. Those poor rabbits have no freedom and no liberty at all, since Leader has forced them to accept free carrots, which has made them very lazy and unproductive, and has given in to all of their selfish demands for state-sponsored health care.”
“That makes me really mad!” grumbled Randy. He really felt like smacking that bad old raven Leader in the beak.
“Of course,” continued his dad, “they have no democracy either, since the rabbits there can only vote for ravens, whereas in Eagle Land, we rabbits are allowed to vote for eagles.”
“Well, dad,” huffed Randy, indignantly, “don’t tell me that President hasn’t done anything about it!”
“Of course he’s done something about it!” thundered Randy’s father. “Do you believe in Eagle Land, or are you a traitor to your country?”
“I believe! I believe!” responded Randy with his right paw over his heart.
“Very good,” smiled his dad. “Now, I’ll answer your question. Just the other day, President called a meeting of his fellow eagles. They decided that Collective Land was now threatening the national security of Eagle Land, and that the time had finally come to make the rest of the world safe for freedom, liberty and democracy. It was up to Eagle Land to defend those sacred values at all costs.”
“Wow,” marveled Randy. “So, what did President do?”
“Well,” continued his wise father, “He assembled a squadron of his most patriotic eagles, and sent them off to Collective Land to set things right. After just a few days, those eagles had sunk their talons into more rabbit hides than you can count, and had bloodied their beaks on more rabbit heads than you might ever dream of.”
“That’s wonderful,” sighed Randy, imagining all of the glorious carnage.
“So,” his father went on, “those terrible ravens got the message, and realized that the time had come to surrender for their own good.”
“President sure is brave and smart,” remarked Randy.
“He sure is,” added his dad, “but some eagle rulers have been complete cowards and total idiots, such as the last one. Lucky for us, we have a good ruler this time.”
So, kids, what’s the moral of this story? Well, it’s pretty simple. When you hear the squawking of a raven, pull out your bee-bee gun and let him have it. And when you see a noble eagle flying through the sky, take a shot at him, too. Sure, I know it’s against the law to shoot a bald eagle, but the folks who made that stupid rule are very bad people who hate America. There’s nothing like mounting a magnificent stuffed bald eagle over your fireplace.
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