As the Very Hungry Caterpillar turns 50, I see moral of the story – Laura Waddell

There's a subversive side to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, says Laura Waddell
There's a subversive side to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, says Laura Waddell
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The Very Hungry Caterpillar turns 50 years old this week, and I can think of no better reason to celebrate with the stickiest, spongiest, most sprinkle-laden cake.

Who among us has not wiggled a finger through the holes on the book’s pages, inching our way through slices of Swiss cheese, salami and pickles, ice cream, lollipops and cherry pie, gorging ourselves with excitement at the abundance of it all?

Beloved of child and adult alike, the story of a little caterpillar eating a week’s worth of food has survived generations. It is, perhaps, the ultimate interactive book.

It always excited me, I have come to realise, in much the same way as daytime TV show Supermarket Sweep.

Just imagine having everything you might reach for in the fluorescent paradise of empty grocery aisles while a studio audience cheers. What a dream. I might once have reached for cola cubes and little lemon bottles; now I’d probably go for the priciest bottle of olive oil, exotic fruits, and gin. But the sheer glee would be the same. Let your imagination go wild: you can have anything you want. Check it out! Check it out! goes the carefree jingle. Grab a bonus while you’re at it. Even those were inflatable objects contestants could fling with abandon into their trolleys, not weighed down by any sense of reality.

We learn something about caterpillars and their transformation into butterflies: the education is lurking all along among the cupcakes and chocolate cake.

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Now I see another moral, that of succumbing to desires. The caterpillar followed his instincts and it was transformative. Sometimes what might otherwise be classified as deadly sins are the best things for us. We could all learn something about letting go and wallowing in the pleasure of sheer self indulgence, boring a hole straight for what we want. It worked for the caterpillar, after all.

Ultimately, it’s a sense of subversiveness that sticks in the mind. We know about moderation, but dreaming of a wild free-for-all might make us think about what we truly want. The caterpillar is intent on a feast of the senses and we are joyfully complicit. We are, in fact, one with the caterpillar, inserting ourselves into plums and pears via pinky finger. Today, it is four strawberries. Tomorrow, five oranges. We are unstoppable. We are the caterpillar. And sometimes, when we follow our desires headfirst, we are happier for it.

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