Humpty Dumpty we all know to have been a riddle, with the answer of course being that the mysterious Humpty was in fact, an egg. Nothing particularly eerie about that, right? Well, as soon as someone decided to take the guesswork out of the rhyme, by illustrating Mr. Dumpty perched atop his wall, and gave him a face, it all changed. To a child (at least to me), we now had the story of a life; a terrifyingly fragile one at that. The rhyme was no longer a riddle; instead it could be surmised as:
“The fragile Eggman unwisely sat top a wall. He fell and died horribly.”
I remember being read this out of an Old-school Mother Goose book as a very young child and thinking what a nightmare it was to be Humpty Dumpty, as veritably anything (I had broken many an egg trying to help my Mom cook, promising to be careful) would lead this poor creature to a yolk-splattered death. Humpty couldn’t go out and play, he couldn’t slide down the stairs…everything I knew to be fun was off-limits to Humpty, with any false move leading to his doom. His only real option would be to stay at home in the nest or egg carton and not move.
Of course I knew Eggmen didn’t exist. It was the concept of this absurd fragility that had me so scared.
The picture out of that book sealed the deal, for it depicted the wide-eyed, last-second look of terror as Humpty, seeing the end of his cursed existence a few seconds away, was beginning to fall. I would imagine what the after-effect drawing would look like; that panicked, open-mouth look, and huge open eyes frozen amidst cracked shell and leaking albumen. I could even hear him scream.
I scribbled over his face with a pen, in an attempt to hide the first “Face of Death,” I had ever witnessed, but to no avail. I still knew it was there. I remember later watching SESAME STREET where a very freakish looking Humpty, with a mouth that caved in as he spoke, was being interviewed by Kermit the Frog as a nursery-rhyme news correspondent, and feeling the sense of dread that it was only a short matter of time until he was destined to fall from the wall, and no one would be able to help. Such was the fate of the doomed Eggmen.
The Eggmen repulsed me, as if they were the Elephant-men of the nursery rhyme circuit. It was not as if I wanted to save them; rather, I never wanted them to exist.
Earlier: Reader Bigwig not so fondly recalls Struwwelpeter.