Grand Guignol for children

RicardusRicardus Shipmate
This week's book at toddler group was 'Hooray for Bread', which is about a loaf of bread being baked, sliced, and gradually eaten. Which is all very whimsical, except that the loaf of bread is vaguely anthropomorphic and dreams of wheatfields as it gets smaller on the shelf.

Now the loaf of bread is apparently fine with being eaten and children are amoral sociopaths, but even so, I'm sure I'd have found that as disturbing as a child as I do as an adult.

I remember as a child being read a story about a naughty little boy who was given a screwdriver, and who used it to unscrew every screw he could find, until eventually he tried to unscrew the North Pole and was fortunately stopped in time. For weeks afterwards I was terrified that someone would actually unscrew the North Pole without a responsible adult on hand to prevent it.

What other children's books do Shipmates remember as being full of Gothic horror where the covers promised light-hearted fun?

Comments

  • EutychusEutychus Admin
    edited April 27
    Ricardus wrote: »
    I remember as a child being read a story about a naughty little boy who was given a screwdriver, and who used it to unscrew every screw he could find, until eventually he tried to unscrew the North Pole and was fortunately stopped in time. For weeks afterwards I was terrified that someone would actually unscrew the North Pole without a responsible adult on hand to prevent it.

    Miles and the screwdriver.

    Happy nightmares :)


  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    When I was a teacher I told my class the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. And one child was left convinced that there was a troll living under his bed. :naughty:
  • The Mr Men book, Mr Messy, where two sinister men abduct him, break into his house and then assault him, after which he appears to develop Stockholm syndrome.
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    I think there must have been some diktat gone out from the Education Authority that there must be more Imaginative Literature in primary schools. At any rate, we were duly read one of the grimmer of Grimm’s fairytales - involving people being murdered and salted down and the crime being discovered via the ring on a severed finger. Actually that didn’t bother me - what I was indignant about was the teacher telling us the illustrated Philistines in the story of Samson were not carrying real swords but wooden ones. Even aged eight, I knew they would have been bronze.

    Otoh a modern sculpture in the museum showing two intertwined outline figures (omg people are hollow in the middle!) totally freaked me out.

    You can never tell with children.
  • Most fairy tales are quite dark before they are Disney-fied. I remember reading Hans Christian Andersen as a child and being both depressed and fascinated by the stories. His original Little Mermaid was particularly depressing for me.

  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    I had a boxed set of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. Disney had a lot of cleaning up to do.
  • daisydaisydaisydaisy Shipmate
    I had James & The Giant Peach taken from me because I was having terrible nightmares when I was reading it.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Didn't any other shipmate encounter Struwwelpeter as a child, or am I unwittingly revealing my age?
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    edited April 27
    The story of the tailor chopping off the thumbs of thumb-suckers was known to me... The rest sound intriguing.

    I had not heard of Grand Guignol either...so thank you [link for people as Philistine as me...]
  • I encountered Struwwelpeter as a child, and yes, real nightmare stuff, not helped by it being part of both my parents' childhoods and various bits of imagery having been introduced as threats previously. And we had Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales too, which were also recited at moments.
  • The odd thing is, I was never horrified by these kinds of gruesome things as a child. Not sure why. Possibly because I didn't see visuals, only read stories and imagined (or didn't). But then, there was a radio song that absolutely sent me into meltdowns (and still does if I hear the tune) and it had nothing worse in it than someone lying in a puddle of blood. No idea...
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    Not a book but when my daughter was wee, there was at the library a movie (VHS) called I believe "Ring of Bright Water" about a man who adopts a otter and takes care of it for some reason. The case said it was a heartwarming family movie. Near the end one of the neighbors is startled by the otter and kills it with a shovel. Daughter had nightmares for weeks. Who the hell thought that was a good movie for the family?
  • GalilitGalilit Shipmate
    When I was 7 someone gave me The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley (which had a lovely cover in gorgeous colours) and then inside told all stories of poor (English) children shoved up chimneys to clean them. Then later at 10 years old all the Dickens that got forced on me to stop me reading science fiction (Mission to Mars, anyone?). Living In Aotearoa New Zealand, on a suburban quarter-acre, it absolutely terrified me to read of the "poor children in England". Who were much worse off than "the poor children in India" I was taught about in Sunday School
  • Galilit wrote: »
    Mission to Mars, anyone?
    Only if you mean Destination Mars and every other book in that series.

    I recall a book about a kid who developed what was apparently acute appendicitis after eating a piece of birthday cake at what must have been about his sixth birthday party. Jinxed my birthdays for me forever after.
    mousethief wrote: »
    Not a book but when my daughter was wee, there was at the library a movie (VHS) called I believe "Ring of Bright Water" about a man who adopts a otter and takes care of it for some reason.
    I found Watership Down to be in similar vein and the followup The Plague Dogs, basically about vivisection from the animal's point of view, pretty troublesome too.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    Beatrix Potter's The tale of Samuel Whiskers gave me nightmares, so much so I fell out of bed, I was three at the time. It wasn't so much that he was going to be eaten, but that they didn't skin him first. The thought of eating fur made me feel sick.
    The there's The Tadpole's Promise by Jeanbe Willis and Tony Ross. A tadpole and a caterpillar love each other and promise mever to change. When tadpole becomes a frog he eats a butterfly and wonders what became of his friend. Black humour for five year olds.
  • BoogieBoogie Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Ricardus wrote: »
    I remember as a child being read a story about a naughty little boy who was given a screwdriver, and who used it to unscrew every screw he could find, until eventually he tried to unscrew the North Pole and was fortunately stopped in time. For weeks afterwards I was terrified that someone would actually unscrew the North Pole without a responsible adult on hand to prevent it.

    Miles and the screwdriver.

    Happy nightmares :)


    It’s a ‘Christian’ book - marketed to Sunday Schools.

  • Yes, we have the French version round here somewhere: Max et son tournevis.

    Perhaps it wasn't a success: Google doesn't appear to have an image of it. Maybe I have a rare edition on my hands!
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    For me it was "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" which my mother read us when I was about 6. I deliberately stopped my ears after the bit about the Turkish delight which would turn your mind so that all you wanted was more of the same, which seemed to me so horrible. (I got over it when I was older.)
  • CJCfarwestCJCfarwest Shipmate
    I loved the Narnia books but Prince Caspian could only be read by daylight as I was utterly terrified of the picture of the werewolf. Clearly if I even glimpsed it at night he would eat me...
  • BabyWombatBabyWombat Shipmate
    Oh my! I am the youngest of 3 children, part of the post WW2 baby boom. Reading all this makes me quite happy I was spared children’s books. Mother spaced her pregnancies every three years. I do not recall being read to at all, and while we had books about, I do not recall any of them being the ‘usual’ children’s fables. So I read the school books of my older sisters. When approaching first grade, I was reading 6th grade level books at home, and annoying my teachers because I was bored silly in school. When I was old enough to get my own library card the librarian kept redirecting me to the children’s section, while I was eager for ‘real books’ and would sneak by her to get the books I wanted. Thanks be to God I never encountered the Grimms until college!
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Most fairy tales are quite dark before they are Disney-fied. I remember reading Hans Christian Andersen as a child and being both depressed and fascinated by the stories. His original Little Mermaid was particularly depressing for me.
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    I had a boxed set of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. Disney had a lot of cleaning up to do.
    Or, depending on one’s perspective, did a lot of messing up. Give me the original Grimms’ and HCA any day. I loved them as a child. (Hansel and Gretel was my favorite.) I’ve never been able to sit through Disney’s Little Mermaid without fuming just a little that they ruined the story. (Come think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it all the way through in one sitting.)

    I’ve long thought there was a reason children were told these stories—perhaps the stories enabled children to learn to deal with the scary parts of life in a safe way, or to learn to deal with the fact that stories don’t always have happy endings. The only story I can remember giving me nightmares as a child was the TV show Dark Shadows. It had me looking under the bed before I went to sleep.
  • Bambi.

    Eventually my mother suggested I stop reading it. Whether that was to protect me from psychological scarring or protect her ears from my wailing anguish I have no idea.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    edited April 28
    Enoch wrote: »
    Didn't any other shipmate encounter Struwwelpeter as a child, or am I unwittingly revealing my age?
    I was happily reading this thread thinking about how I read everything without any qualms, until you brought Struwwelpeter up. I remember the first time I came across it it was a version with old slightly cartoony illustrations, which I thought were even more frightening than the stories. Then I came a version with illustrations in a more prettified realistic style, so I tried it and decided that actually the stories were too frightening on their own.

  • I keep thinking that this thread and the one about introducing children to the crucifixion are the same thing. Ultimately I think they are, in that the Crucifixion turns into grand guiniol if not handled with care
  • I also admit to wondering if one (thread) was not the product of the other.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Sarasa wrote: »
    The there's The Tadpole's Promise by Jeanbe Willis and Tony Ross. A tadpole and a caterpillar love each other and promise mever to change. When tadpole becomes a frog he eats a butterfly and wonders what became of his friend. Black humour for five year olds.

    I have to admit I'm a horrible person and have been sniggering at that ever since you posted it ... not sure what I'd have thought of it as a child though.
  • RicardusRicardus Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    I’ve long thought there was a reason children were told these stories—perhaps the stories enabled children to learn to deal with the scary parts of life in a safe way, or to learn to deal with the fact that stories don’t always have happy endings.

    That seems quite likely, and isn't unjustifiable in itself. What I was getting at with the OP was the sort of situation that shouldn't be creepy, which the writers probably intended to be funny, but which has the opposite effect either as a child or as an adult in hindsight.

    (Thomas the Tank Engine partly falls into the latter category inasmuch as the scrapping of steam engines by British Rail is a plot point in some of the stories, which makes the Fat Controller a kind of Oskar Schindler figure. Don't think it really bothered me at the time, though.)
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I read all sorts and in general it didn't scare me, though I was easily scared in other ways. Songs we sang in singing class in infant school when I was five - 'One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive,' and 'I'm taking home a baby bumblebee,' used to have me screaming in terror throughout the song, to the teacher's frustration. I think because they had the word 'I' and I was supposed to sing it, so it seemed it was about me - and I was terrified at the idea of being stung by a bee or bitten by a fish!

    Also in infant school we had books read to us, and our teacher liked reading Bobby Brewster books. I do remember getting nightmares from a Bobby Brewster story. I never took in the whole stories, because I used to sneak off to do other things, but my general understanding was that once Bobby Brewster learnt to wink, then he had magical powers that enabled him to have conversations with animals and other inanimate objects. I spent many hours trying unsuccessfully to wink too, convinced that I too would become part of the 'winkers' club' and have these magical powers if I succeeded. But with one story, I got a bit freaked out. Bobby Brewster grew an extra thick, extra long hair from his head, different from his other hairs - a hair that he couldn't pull out, and it talked to him, and argued with him. The idea of this horrified me, and I had many nightmares, for many years to come, about an extra thick hair growing out of my head, like a mutant worm!
  • I don't remember any book as being "full of gothic horror" but (like Enoch) I remember Struwwelpeter (shock-headed Peter), which was read (in translation of course) by most of my contemporaries. Not content with one moral, it had ten (I think) stories, including
    • Soup Caspar who decides not to eat and starves to death
    • Nicholas who catches 3 boys teasing a dark-skinned boy and dips them in ink
    • the girl who plays with matches and ends up being burned to death
    • Conrad, who sucks his thumb until a travelling tailor cuts his thumbs off
    • Struwwelpeter who doesn't wash, cut his nails or comb his hair so is ostracised by his peers

    The book itself was beautiful, especially the classic picture of Struwwelpeter with his great shock of hair. I know that some people blame Struwwelpeter for giving children nightmares but my siblings, cousins, and I loved it. And it certainly didn't stop us from sucking thumbs! I found my old copy of Struwwelpeter when the children were around 4 and they loved it too.

    The only book I can remember that gave us nightmares was Foxe's Book of Martyrs which we were fascinated and repelled by in equal measure. Some of the books in my childhood nursery had been passed down several generations and were wildly un-PC - I'm thinking of things like The Children's Wonder Book of Empire which we knew was something to be viewed with humour and derision even when I was little.

    In fact I can't remember any book having a cover that promised more/ different from the pages within.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Oh, I do remember a book of short stories by Edith Nesbit that I found in the library when I was around 7 or 8. I'd really liked The Railway Children and The Story of the Treasure Seekers, but this was something altogether different. One story (if I am remembering correctly) was of a little boy who told lies, and a magic spell was done so that any lie he told would become true. Which in theory was a nice spell because he could lie about nice things, but one day he lies, I'm not sure why, either for sympathy, attention, or to get out of something, to say his sister is deathly ill. And so she becomes deathly ill and he is devastated. It was really quite a horrible story - I think she is saved from dying by him lying that she is better, but the whole story had quite a horrifying, upsetting vibe to it, the idea that you can kill your little sister simply by saying something untrue. I didn't get nightmares, but I was quite upset by that story, and stopped reading the book after that.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Do Bible stories count? I can't, surely, have been the only child who was horrified at the story of God telling Abraham to kill Isaac. In amongst all the nice stories of animals marching two by two, and rainbows, and multicoloured coats, and Jesus saying the little children could come to him, there was God telling Abraham to kill his son (who was a little boy in the picture books). I must have been five or six when I first heard that story, and I became terrified that God might tell me to kill someone in my family. I knew God talked to children, because I knew the story of Samuel, so I thought that in the night God might call my name and tell me to kill my family, to prove I loved him. And I also knew what happened to people who didn't do what God told them to - I'd be eaten by a whale! I remember this whole scenario terrifying me for a long time.
  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    Nick Tamen wrote: »

    I’ve long thought there was a reason children were told these stories—perhaps the stories enabled children to learn to deal with the scary parts of life in a safe way, or to learn to deal with the fact that stories don’t always have happy endings.

    There’s a book by Marina Warner - From the Beast to the Blonde on this very theme. It’s some years since I read it, but I remember her point about the level of adult perinatal mortality in earlier times and the consequent relevance of stories about stepmothers.
  • This is getting far too Purgatorial.

    Our kids had Pince-mi, pince-moi et la sorcière which amazingly can be found in its entirety here.

    The plot is basically about terrible twins who outwit a wicked witch. I'd forgotten the picture at the top of page 1 of the PDF in which little kids hurtle down a playground slide into a steaming cauldron, but I especially like the one at the bottom of the same page with all the previously-stolen kids in the freezer ready to be chopped up .
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    In The New Adventures of Mother Goose Bruce Lansky rewrote traditional nursery rhymes to edit out the violence. So the three blind mice became the three kind mice. But psychologists have argued that the traditional rhymes and folk tales were a way to prepare children for real life and the concepts of good and evil.

    My brother and I used to watch Dr Who from behind the sofa - as did all the rest of our friends. So maybe kids like to get scared. Even if it does give them nightmares about darleks.
  • ClimacusClimacus Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    Our kids had Pince-mi, pince-moi et la sorcière which amazingly can be found in its entirety here.
    *tucks PDF away for a rainy day when I want to test and improve my French...*
    (every 5 years or so I go back to evening classes...)

  • For anyone who hasn't heard of the Grand Guignol, if you can get BBC Radio 4 Extra there is a half hour documentary about teatime today.

    As for traumatizing books as a child, I can't really think of any apart from a typically early 1970s book on the Crusades which took the typically early 1970s stance that Crusaders were all basically breadhead child murderers who invaded the lands of the lovely cuddly eco-friendly Saracens. It was removed from the school library in favour of the Usborne book of UFOs which was much more to my taste. We only had sixteen books in the school library so it was very noticeable when it went.
  • AravisAravis Shipmate
    I really hate the generalization that “kids love to be scared” or “kids love horrible stuff”. Some don’t, and they’re too scared to say so, and too embarrassed about their fear.
    As an early reader I wasn’t read to very much, so could abandon the books that bothered me. I do remember being disturbed by Samuel Whiskers - the idea that you could be tied up and lost in your own house and nobody knew, so that even your own home wasn’t safe.

    I have a friend who developed a lifelong phobia of potatoes as a result of a story she heard on TV as a child. There were little gnomes in the story who looked like potatoes so you had to check carefully. Later that evening, she was eating mashed potato and suddenly panicked that her mum might have accidentally mashed up one of the little gnomes without noticing. She then started to vomit, and choked (as you can do anyway with mashed potato). Even in her forties, and after hypnotherapy, she won’t stay in the same room as someone eating mashed or baked potato.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    If you do imaginative storytelling with children, then what are their stories about? Wolves!
  • HarryotomHarryotom Shipmate
    "If you do imaginative storytelling with children, then what are their stories about? Wolves!"

    How about dinosaurs?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I don't mind dinosaurs, or giants or dragons. But they certainly liked wolves best.

    For some reason they seem to haunt the human imagination.
  • I agree. Wolves have a strong hold on the collective unconscious in Europe, centuries on from the real threat.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    Yes. It's odd that that even applies in the UK, where as a result of human action wolves have been extinct on both islands for about 400 years.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I used to love the Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf books as a kid. The head teacher used to read the stories in assembly when I was in infant school. Though they never scared me, despite the fact that Polly was often very nearly eaten by the wolf!
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate
    Eutychus wrote: »
    ... I found Watership Down to be in similar vein and the followup The Plague Dogs, basically about vivisection from the animal's point of view, pretty troublesome too.
    Neither of those is remotely suited for children, although I have loved "Watership Down" as an adult, and recently reread it.
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Or, depending on one’s perspective, did a lot of messing up. Give me the original Grimms’ and HCA any day. ...
    I agree, but they are the stuff of nightmares.
    fineline wrote: »
    Do Bible stories count? I can't, surely, have been the only child who was horrified at the story of God telling Abraham to kill Isaac. ...
    No, I disliked that even more than I disliked (as a Terminally Responsible Firstborn with a prodigal brother) the parable of the Prodigal Son. It was the meanest trick imaginable, and totally unworthy of God.



  • FirenzeFirenze Purgatory Host, Host Emeritus
    Eutychus wrote: »
    I agree. Wolves have a strong hold on the collective unconscious in Europe, centuries on from the real threat.

    And not just on people... we had a cat city born and bred, never encountered anything other than birds, squirrels, maybe the odd fox. She was also unfazed by noise - she would sleep under the computer desk while all manner of shoot ‘em ups or monster-haunted dungeons broke loose over her head. Except when there was a sampled wolf howl, when she would leap up, everything twitching.
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