Let’s frighten some children

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Take a children’s book called Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, with empersoned flowers and fruits of the Australian bush as main characters, supported by a cast of small animals, heavily illustrated with pictures of little cherubic Gum Nuts running hat shops and cooking, and scenes of bush folk parties or sea horse races.  Sounds cute, right?

On the contrary, the strange dark colours and themes of this story emerge from the first page.  The protagonists are repeatedly lost, adopted, forgotten, rescued and abandoned by the good characters, and are kidnapped, threatened with being eaten, hunted down, and marked for murder by the wicked ones.

Disturbing events take place and are disturbingly illustrated:  Mr. Frog is buried alive in Mrs. Snake’s dungeon which is also her larder; in an art gallery, the picture of a big bad Banksia man metamorphoses into the real thing; little Ragged Blossom falls into the black deeps inhabited by the giant squid; and then there’s the strange interlude of the Fish Sauce Shop and its inexplicable mantra.

Creepiest of all are the strange relationships.  What are we to make of the Gum Nuts’ friend, Mr. Lizard, kind and brave but also feckless, untruthful and deeply unreliable?  What of poor Mrs Fantail pinned, weeping, to the ground by her changeling lizard offspring, unable to feed or fly?  And down in the sea, what about sensitive Ann Chovy, appalled by the totally genuine adoration of her terrifying lover, John Dory?

There is a sustained quality of nightmare running through the book, punctuated by enough harmless jokes and pictures of little chubby characters to make it bearable.  As a young child I interpreted only the parts for which I was ready, gliding over the rest, but always compelled to return to the story for a subsequent, more mature, reading.

Genius.

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3 responses »

  1. I you think that’s scary, try the Hobbyas. Gave me nightmares for weeks, did the same to my mother. why do parents pass these stories on? They should be for adults only, which I think is the origin of most of the fairy stories – Jack Zipes has racked down the original Grimm stories which are far less suitable for kids. Rapunzel asks the old woman why her belly is getting bigger hence is discovered.

    • I missed out on the Hobbyas, so can’t speak to them. Don’t think it is necessarily a bad idea to frighten children a little in creative ways – I loved this book, and it seemed to veil different elements of scariness until my head had grown up enough to enjoy each one. Like one of the old travelling funfairs, which came round each year, and each time you would go on a bigger ride!

      • Absolutely. I think kids are too sheltered from scary stuff. John fowles at the end of the maggot, I think, said that when electric light wsa invented, we lost a lot of the maigc in our lives. Darkness is great for imagining…

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