Waiter, There’s a Butterfly in My Cocoon

I have been disturbed for several days by the sneaking suspicion that Eric Carle didn’t know what he was talking about. Eric Carle is the legend who created The Very Hungry Caterpillar, about the binge-eating Lepidoptera who finally, bloated and exhausted and probably with very low self-esteem, built a cocoon and emerged a beautiful butterfly.

Children find this book and about fifty of Mr. Carle’s other collage-illustrated books inexplicably fascinating. Witnessing the Midgets’ delight in them has given me a greater appreciation them, but I admit, my faith faltered while reading another book the Midgets adore, Charlie Brown’s Super Book of Questions and Answers About All Kinds of Animals  (Random House, 1976. In the name of finally clearing out her attic, my mother sent me about a hundred pounds of children’s books, circa 1965-75, when Mbot was born. Some claim that I bore children for the sole purpose of getting these books.)

Moths come out of a cocoon, Charlie Brown informs us. Butterflies come out of a chrysalis.

Well, I thought, what about Eric Carle’s butterfly? It came out of a cocoon. It seems reasonable to believe that Charlie Brown is right: moth is to cocoon as butterfly is to chrysalis. So has Eric Carle been wrong all these years?

Tonight I finally got around to checking. Obviously I wasn’t the first Doubting Mom to inquire. Because on his website, www.eric-carle.com, Mr. Carle addresses the issue directly.

“Here’s the scientific explanation” he writes. “…There is a rare genus called Parnassian, that pupates in a cocoon. These butterflies live in the Pacific Northwest, in Siberia, and as far away as North Korea and Japan….And here’s my unscientific explanation: ….when I was a small boy, my father would say, ‘Eric, come out of your cocoon.’ He meant I should open up and be receptive to the world around me. For me, it would not sound right to say, ‘Come out of your chrysalis.’ And so poetry won over science!”

I was so thrilled to read this. Charlie Brown’s inaccuracy doesn’t seem so bad. I never really thought he was the last word on All Kinds of Animals, anyway. On the other hand, If Eric Carle had gotten a simple term wrong, it would be as if Michelangelo had carved The David holding a water pistol instead of a slingshot.

There are roads of thought in all directions I could go down from here: the authority we want from our authors, the cocoons we all dwell in, the magic that occurs at the convergence of poetry and science. But one of the frustrations and the beauties of a daily blog is that it exists at the convergence of living and writing, and in my cocoon, that point is no bigger than a raisin.

Why was I so thrilled Eric Carle was bailed out by a bug in Siberia? We all need things to believe in. Even if one of them is a rare two-dimensional insect that eats salami.

When’s the last time you were relieved to discover you were wrong?

*caterpillar image from http://www.nopests.com

2 thoughts on “Waiter, There’s a Butterfly in My Cocoon

  1. I have to say that it has always bothered me that his text reads that the caterpiller ate through “a salami”, but the hole in the book goes through the slice of salami pictured below the whole salami…

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