In a Bookstore Near You: Poison on Sale to Minors

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I saw an interesting and thought-provoking interview on Fox News this morning with an author, Michael Stadther, whose project struck me at the time as either primarily benevolent or a very creative bit of propaganda. Most of the interview has Stadther talking about his mixed-media project, A Treasure's Trove, which both tells a fairy tale and leads its readers on a treasure hunt for twelve dazzling pieces of jewelry whose total value exceeds one million dollars. Stadther, a wealthy entrepreneur, wrote the tale, illustrated it, and commissioned the jewelry himself. He also published the book himself. It is, from what I gathered in the interview, selling quite well.

Stadther was the embodiment of benevolence during the interview. The treasure hunt is the fulfillment of a dream he has had since he was a young man. When asked what the book-cum-treasure-hunt was all about, he said something like, "Pure fun." The book had plenty of elements to appeal to the family-oriented Fox News audience, too, according to the gist of Stadther's remarks in the interview. According to the book's web page,"This classically-styled story is enjoyable and meaningful for children and adults; it is all about family values, love and cooperation, loyalty and friendship, and its characters are fun." What a great idea!

Then the shoe -- or maybe it was a slipper -- dropped. The thud was as soft as Stadther's voice. Near the end of the interview, Stadther mentioned that once he recouped his financial outlay, he would donate all other proceeds to unspecified "environmental causes." For some time, there has been ample evidence that many of the crusades of environmentalists are based on bad science and sometimes outright deception, and that the underlying ideas are a kind of intellectual venom. Only recently, however, have more popular media begun to make these points. So I naturally felt very disappointed and became curious about Stadther's true motives for his enticing little forest tale.

While Mr. Stadther is certainly free to give his money away to whomever will take it from him, it is unfortunate that he chooses to give it to those who would wage war upon the very system, capitalism, that made him wealthy. This would be bad enough, but is it worse? Does Stadther himself use the bait of hidden treasure to lure innocent child and unsuspecting parent alike down the poorly-tended intellectual path of environmentalism. Has he done what one blogger recently hoped the environmentalists were incapable of doing: articulate a life of perfection (like the innocence of childhood) forevermore as a reward for adopting the faith? After all, radical environmentalist Adam Werbach says that for the Left to become a strong political force again, the new liberal narrative, "should be a powerful antidote to fundamentalism, be as powerful as fundamentalism is to people. It should be unchallengeable in the way liberalism was in the post-Depression era." For this to be true, we'd need to show that environmentalism is an important part of Stadther's story. I didn't get this from the interview. Nevertheless, it would seem odd to me that someone selling a book based on its emphasis on family values -- but sending his profits to the environmentalists -- would not include environmentalism as one of those "family values."

So I did some checking around and this is what I found. One newspaper article I read hinted at the existence of an environmentalist theme, but soft-pedaled it. Nevertheless, we get the following.

"The story came first," said the author, giving a quick synopsis with undisguised pleasure. "I wrote the story before I came up with the rest [of the project] because it was important to me to make the book outlast the treasure hunt."

It is a tale of 12 forest creatures that have lost their mates to a dark dust that enveloped them.

"Wherever it falls, the dust crystallizes every living thing," Mr. Stadther disclosed.

And so the 12 mateless creatures-a bumblebee, butterfly, caterpillar, dragonfly, fire ant, firefly, grasshopper, hummingbird, ladybug, rhinoceros beetle, snail and spider-join forces and set out to reverse their misfortune. They seek to enlist the aid of a woodsman named Zac, who is stern and not very accommodating, but obtain sympathetic understanding and assistance from his wife, Ana, who is half human and half elf, according to Mr. Stadther.

"Without giving the story away, the creatures go to the woods, where there is a tree that is a buddy of Ana's ... there's a big crisis ... and things change for everyone," including "the apothecary gone bad who created the dark dust,"

What do we have here? Pollution falling from the sky, made by an evil apothecary. An "unsympathetic" woodsman. A tree as a friend. This could be any typical fairy-tale, but given the author's philanthropic bent, it doesn't look good.

Unfortunately, another article says this:

Author Michael Stadther spent eight years writing and illustrating a dramatic story about 12 forest creatures who join forces with Zac, a handsome woodcarver, his beautiful half-elf/half-human wife, Ana, and their dog Pook, against the evil Rusful to save a dying forest and all the creatures that live there. The book has a strong environmental theme [emphasis mine] and teaches the power of friendship, loyalty, and love.

Throughout the book, Stadther has cleverly included clues leading to the book’s treasure—12 magnificent jewels created especially for the hunt with a combined value of $1 million.

What better way to create a new generation of Luddites than to take innocent children and form mental associations in their minds before they learn to think for themselves? The book appears intent on forming a false association in their minds between the good: thrill of treasure hunting and the value of friendship, and the bad: environmentalism. This is worse than I thought possible when I heard the author speak on television. We have what looks to be environmentalist propaganda sugar-coated for the kiddies.

In real life, female spiders of some species occasionally kill and eat their mates after courtship in order to feed their broods. I'm sure that the bejewelled spider will not do this (or suffer that fate as the case may be) once returned to life in the book. Likewise, the book presents environmentalism as a benevolent and good thing, whereas in real life, it has killed countless millions.

Such are the dangers of fairy tales.

-- CAV


1-7-05 Corrected a link.