The troubling moral of ‘The Selfish Crocodile’

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I should begin by clarifying how largely indifferent I am to morals and morality – not because I feel they are in any way bad or unimportant but because of how exceedingly dull they are when discussed or written about. If Morality were a person they would be the accountant/pharmacist/agrobiologist husband of your distant cousin who you only ever see at family weddings and funerals. Everyone’s happy they came but no one actually wants to talk to them.

So it is with great misgivings that I mention the above children’s book, ‘The Selfish Crocodile’.

On the surface it seems like a perfectly fine message: the crocodile was selfish and wouldn’t share his river, until a mouse cured his tooth-ache prompting a change of heart in the crocodile, who forthwith allowed the other animals to share his river. It has the elements of a redemption story – a morally corrupt or debased character who is ‘changed’ for the better by the charity and compassion of a ‘good soul’. So why does it disturb me so?

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Perhaps I am ill-equipped to cast judgement upon such matters – being largely a-moral or, more accurately, someone of shifting morals – but it must be said that it is unlikely the crocodile would’ve been changed in the way described and with such ease. The more likely scenarios would be: a) that his temporary gratitude and relief would’ve subsided, leading to the reinstatement of his former character and selfish monopoly of the river or b) that his gratitude and relief would’ve been solely directed at the mouse who showed such compassion and bravery to remove his aching tooth but that, overall, his monopoly of the river would’ve continued along with his aggressive intolerance of the other animals.

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Seen above is the crocodile in his natural state – one of belligerent arrogance and domination. His selfish contentment with isolation and the aggression he uses to maintain it is clearly apparent and unlikely to be so easily shed as depicted in the story.

While there is something truly wonderful about transformative experiences, whether internally or externally triggered, I am unconvinced that this is the case with ‘The Selfish Crocodile’, and would suggest that if a sequel were to be written it would need to factor in the most likely outcomes – in which I fear we would see a heavily diminished animal population and an annoyingly supercilious, fat, contented crocodile.

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