The Giving Tree
March 18, 2009 10:21 PM   Subscribe

The Giving Tree (1973), animated short based on Shel Silverstein's 1964 children's story and narrated by the author.

Once you're done crying, here are a few related links:

The Giving Tree: A Symposium (a collection of thoughts on the story by some American religion scholars.)

The Misgiving Tree (a parody)

A couple of parody videos: "The Really, Really Giving Tree" and "The Taking Boy"
posted by the_bone (36 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks the_bone, I always loved this story as a kid. Although Shel was always so scary looking!
posted by sconbie at 10:29 PM on March 18, 2009

that story used to make me so sad when i was little. now i realize that that boy is a DICK!
posted by fuzzypantalones at 10:55 PM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]

I fully heart Shel Silverstein. The Missing Piece is my favorite. I did not read them as a child; I read them as a babysitter and then and now as a teacher. "Teacher, are you crying?" Well, yes, tears are coming out of my eyes young one, because sometimes things sound so real or true there is nothing else to do.

Now let's line up for recess, yes? Stay away from Lacan, whatever you do. And when you find your missing piece, hold it tight, but let it go sometimes so it can roll away. You never know, it might just come back when you least expect it.

Long live poetry and anyone silly enough to listen to it.

Oh, and sconbie, kids were just looking at his picture on the back of "The Giving Tree" at school today and agreeing that ol' Shel was "scary lookin'", so clearly your are not alone.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:56 PM on March 18, 2009

The tree was giving in to the inevitable. She couldn't stop the boy from taking whatever he wanted from it anyway. Just like in real life.
posted by tellurian at 10:57 PM on March 18, 2009

so I'm not the only one who cries and cries every time I read this book?
posted by seawallrunner at 10:57 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

that was you are, not your--I am very tired but I know how picky prickly and pedantic even people here can be, so I stand corrected. Good Night.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:59 PM on March 18, 2009

Oh goodness. Borders has a gift card with the cover picture of the book on it, and I nearly bought or stole one last time I was there. Oddly, the SO had never heard of the book.

I remember really liking both this and the book of poetry, Where The Sidewalk Ends.

posted by Night_owl at 11:02 PM on March 18, 2009

This story makes me cry.
posted by Auden at 11:34 PM on March 18, 2009

We were introduced to Where the Sidewalk Ends by my Grade One teacher, whose ulterior motive was to have us recite one of his poems (and yes, we all thought Shel was creepy looking too) instead of singing a song like all the other classes in the recital. You see, I don't know if there's a clinical definition here, but suffice it to say the teacher was completely tone deaf. And lest we doubt it, she proved it every morning during the national anthem. So anyway, that year, we recited "Captain Hook" instead of singing. The end.
posted by evilcolonel at 11:46 PM on March 18, 2009

I adore the way the stump was animated at the end. When he curls up and tells the boy to come sit on him I was like, yea, I want to sit on that.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 12:24 AM on March 19, 2009

From the time I was in grade school, I had a very bad feeling about Shel Silverstein. His words were confusing and wrong. His rhymes weren't right. All of the other kids just loved his stories, and they only filled me with a terrible sense of foreboding and wrongness and sadness.

While I loved the heck out of Roald Dahl's strangeness, and I started reading King and Koontz at age 8, Silverstein had always held a place of uncomfortable dread in my heart. His rhymes seemed to be filled with nothing but loss, or out-of-touchness, or a feeling of "beyondess" that I still don't like.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I just now realized he's kind of a horror writer. The kinds of horror that can happen to anyone, at any time, and will never be noticed, or remarked upon.

I don't like his words.
posted by andeluria at 1:02 AM on March 19, 2009 [7 favorites]

The anthropomorphization of trees as grateful martyrs, supplicant to the selfish whims of thoughtless people, is disturbing to me. This book kinda pisses me off.
posted by obloquy at 1:44 AM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Andeluria, you're not entirely wrong.
I listened to this song a lot when I was a kid.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:48 AM on March 19, 2009

I love Shel, gave my (then) fiancee The Giving Tree as an engagement present, I read the Missing Piece, Falling Up etc almost every night to my son, as well as frequently at work at storytime too. The CD of songs from Shel is in constant rotation too (A log time ago when the earth was green...). I have such vivid memories of watching this movie in my elementary school library, I'd forgotten how awesome the tune was. I should look for a reel of the movie to show on my projector. Reading his poetry though, I feel like as soon as I open his books the odour of marijuana wafts up in a cloud.

It is only as an adult that I realised the Giving Tree and Charlotte's Web (my other favourite book) have really fucked up relationship dynamics and maybe were not the best model of feminine behaviour (I always thought of the tree as feminine, personally). The missing piece and it's sequels like the Big O (how awesome is that for a children's book?) are much healthier models.
posted by saucysault at 4:51 AM on March 19, 2009

The Unforgiving Tree.
posted by zamboni at 6:04 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

The vague creepiness lurking just out of sight in Shel Silverstein's stuff is pretty much exactly what I like about him. (And I can't stand Dean Koontz.)

Go fig, I guess.
posted by Scattercat at 6:06 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those who may not be taken by The Giving Tree for whatever reason, you may get a kick out of one of the things Shel Silverstein wrote for grownups: The Devil and Billy Markham, a rowdy, funny tale about a blues singer meeting the devil (think like "The Devil went Down To Georgia" with a different ending); that first link has only the first part of the story, which is completed here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:12 AM on March 19, 2009

You know, Shel Silverstein wrote a lot of adult comedy and and joke songs,he worked for Playboy. if you've ever heard his record there's a track called " I saw Polly in a Porny" ( I think that's it) involving some humorous lines about seeing his friend in a porno movie with a horse etc. It's hilarious stuff really. I never found him scary at all, I always liked his ability to get straight to the heart of kids and adults. Plus he was an interesting character, and life lover.
All his books are incredible in my opinion especially the Giving Tree. I don't know how I managed to not see this film when I was a kid, it came out the year I was born. Thanks for posting it. Really amazing.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:16 AM on March 19, 2009

Also.. he wrote the lyrics to A Boy name Sue for Johnny Cash fyi.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:19 AM on March 19, 2009

Me too, obloquy. I hated it as a kid -- I felt guilty about how the boy took and took to the point of killing the tree. And yes, I have talked about this with my therapist.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:52 AM on March 19, 2009

While there is The Giving Tree (as noted by obloquy), I still have a soft spot for it. And my 3 year old loves the books right now - so thanks for this. I look forward to sharing it with him.
posted by never used baby shoes at 7:58 AM on March 19, 2009

Shel considered The Giving Tree a downright depressing book, too. He didn't write it as an uplifting tale of unconditional love. It seriously is all about the co-dependency.

(And for a whole bunch of Shel's grown-up links, here's a previous thread on the Blue.) I love "I Got Stoned and I Missed It". Afroman of "Because I Got High" fame had nothing on Shel.
posted by Spatch at 8:33 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's not that Silverstein is scary, he's creepy, both his picture and most especially the story of the Giving Tree. Look, I'm a Taoist. I'm completely down with leading by take the lowest position, etc. But that book is a masochistic celebration of self-abasement, even deeper than Story of O. The tree seems to be a clear metaphor for mothers and sons, which makes it yet creepier for a son to write.
posted by msalt at 8:38 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

I like most of Silverstein's stuff, but The Giving Tree I never liked, even as a kid. If Silverstein intended it as a cautionary tale, he did a good job. Spatch, do you have any linkage for that? Because if its supposed to be a worrying, disturbing, tale of codependency and creepy wrongness in a relationship it does a damn good job.

I did like his adult stuff a lot. Boy Named Sue is one of the few examples of Country music I can listen to, his Hamlet is fantastic, etc.
posted by sotonohito at 9:16 AM on March 19, 2009

Spatch, do you have any linkage for that? Because if its supposed to be a worrying, disturbing, tale of codependency and creepy wrongness in a relationship it does a damn good job.

I'm trying to find the quotes I ran across about it. Some of the insight comes from Lisa Rogak's unauthorized biography A Boy Named Shel but checking the Amazon page, it's a little more simplistic and not quite as cynical as I remembered:
Shel didn't set out to write The Giving Tree to send a message to society, a point he continually reiterated with many of the books, songs and cartoons he would write in the future.

"It's about a boy and a tree," is how Shel described the book. "It has a pretty sad ending."

"It's just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes," he said. "I didn't start out to prove a message. It started out to be a good book for a kid. I imagine it reflects my ideas, but it is for children. I would like adults to buy and read it, and I hope they can find enough in it."

In fact, given his disgust with the me-first attitude among the folksingers and other artists in the Village who were creating art as a form of self-experiment, it almost sounds like he wrote it as an experiment, a reaction to their own mushiness. While he clearly wanted to tell a story with universal implications, he also wanted to keep it deliberately murky.
and then
...and even when a member of the audience--who just happened to be a high school teacher who was also a nun--asked him the kind of message-behind-the-story question that he hated about The Giving Tree, he answered graciously.

"What did you mean to say?" she asked.

"It's about two beings," Shel replied. "One who likes to give, and another who likes to take." All she said was, "Oh."
posted by Spatch at 9:33 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Giving Tree is creepy as fuck.
posted by Artw at 10:03 AM on March 19, 2009

I *hate* this book, just as I hate _The Rainbow Fish_. Both teach children that, in life, you can be selfish and demanding and get everything you want, or you can be a doormat. Even as a child, it hit me wrong.
posted by QIbHom at 10:46 AM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

"It's not that Silverstein is scary, he's creepy, both his picture and most especially the story of the Giving Tree."

I never felt that way, and I grew up reading his books and now give them as gifts to nieces and nephews, and my whole family loves him. Clearly, opinions can differ.

I always loved The Giving Tree, but I have noticed a lot of people project their own baggage onto it.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:00 AM on March 19, 2009

I prefer the broader, ecological reading to the personal relations one. Odd that I seem to be in the minority, even among religious scholars.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:06 PM on March 19, 2009

I have noticed a lot of people project their own baggage onto it.

I think you're right about that. Strange to me that someone would have an aversion to it.

The book doesn't seem negative at all to me, quite the opposite .
posted by Liquidwolf at 2:00 PM on March 19, 2009

Just because people (including me) find The Giving Tree to be questionable or even creepy, doesn't mean people are "projecting their baggage onto it". How annoying that people can't have an opinion contrary to yours, without being accused of bringing their "baggage" into the issue.

I'm relieved that Shel Silverstein himself thought this book depicted an unfortunate progression of events.
posted by Coatlicue at 3:54 PM on March 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

the broader, ecological reading to the personal relations one.

You mean, "trees love us and want us to cut them down so we'll be happy" ?

Reminds me of the Reagan years, when he claimed that trees create more pollution than factories, and a protestor dressed up as a tree holding the sign "Cut me down before I kill again!"
posted by msalt at 4:33 PM on March 19, 2009

You mean, "trees love us and want us to cut them down so we'll be happy" ?

No, more like "our myopic self-serving race will create its own suffering and meet an end as pitiable as its environs' if not moreso," but um, good guess.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:06 PM on March 19, 2009

I love Shel's work. Except The Giving Tree. My son doesn't like it either. We've read almost all of his other stuff over and over and over, because Boy thinks it's hysterical. (Which it is, but is also helped by the fact that his dad and I do voices and sound effects and add tickles where appropriate.) Boy will pick a Shel book off the shelf for story time pretty regularly. Except The Giving Tree.

That was the first book I ever saw him willing to give away. He loves his books. He hoards his books like a magpie hordes shiny things. He still has picture books from before he could read. We had to build him more shelves. Loves his books. But the last time I was pulling together a charity box, he trotted up and dropped it in. When I asked why he said: "That boy is horrible. And the tree is stupid. I don't like this book at all. It makes me sad."

Which gave us a great opportunity to talk about works of art making us feel things, but he went on to say that it wasn't a "good" sad (like when Wall-E didn't remember who Eve was), it was an "angry" sad, and he didn't want to feel angry sad, he just wanted to get rid of the book and not have to see it any more. So we did.
posted by dejah420 at 8:59 PM on March 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

Heh. This thread reminds me of the time my college boyfriend's sister, who was at Bryn Mawr, asking me in "gotcha" fashion whether I liked The Giving Tree, then going on a feminist tirade against me when I said I had. Guess my hairy legs and furry pits weren't enough to tip her off that, um, sisterhood is powerful, or something like that.

Love the poetry books. There's an eyeball in the gumball machine!
posted by Sublimity at 9:45 PM on March 19, 2009

poetry rulz yo :D
posted by zorzini at 6:16 AM on March 20, 2009

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