This history and analysis of Babar, with references to specific tales, ensures that never again will I dismiss this regal behemoth.
The environment of Babar is that of the prosperous, well-educated, art-loving French bourgeoisie. Babar and his family go to the theater and hear concerts of both classical and popular music. They favor upper-middle-class sports: they sail, play tennis, swim and ski, practice yoga, go to the races, and camp and hike in the mountains. Good manners are important, and so are good clothes.
Babar's is an ideal world, a kind of upper-middle-class French Utopia.
Then there are the rhinoceroses. I never knew about the rhinoceroses.
The most interesting though least agreeable alternative society in the Babar books is that of the rhinos... The rhinos' territory borders that of the elephants, but though they are Babar's neighbors they are often opposed to him. They are large, clumsy, and subject to fits of aggression and impulsive greed. They have bad manners and no apparent interest in art or music... They have very bad taste...: they like vulgar patterns and silly hats. Their king, Rataxes, wears loud-print suits or comic-opera uniforms.
The city of the rhinos is a large metropolis, with square brutalist public buildings... Rataxes' name is carved on each side of the palace steps, with a letter left off from the beginning or the end each time, so that it deconstructs into words that include TAXES, AXES, and RAT.
Did some academic have too much time on their hands, or is the world of Babar really this interesting? Why didn't I know about this sooner? Is this series unique in children's literature, or would all of those other books stand up to this kind of analysis? Should I run out and find some Babar to introduce to Helena?
"What puts the dys in dystopia?" And we answer: a denial of biology.
Part of human biology is, surprisingly for some, a yearning for culture. Although it might seem that biology and culture are antithetical, a capacity for culture is in fact one of humanity's most firmly established biological traits. It is thus notable that most literary dystopias include a suppression of the arts and humanities generally, and of literature in particular.
If you're going to define biology that way, it's really hard to come up with a counter example.