Five Fucked Up Children’s Stories That Will Scar You For Life

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Disclaimer: Yeah, yeah bad language yada yada. The giveaway is right there in the title.

Bambi (1942 Disney Movie)

Billed as “a great love story”, Bambi is actually a Quentin Tarantino movie dressed up as a children’s fairy tale. Imagine a magical forest full of happy little animals twittering in adorable little chipmunk voices and scampering around without a care in the world. Here, we meet Bambi and fall in love with his inquisitive nature, delighted by his clumsy attempts to navigate this enchanting new world…

…until five minutes later a terrifying figure steps out of the shadows and violently massacres Bambi’s mother in cold blood.

I mean sure, it’s meant to be symbolic of environmental destruction or the orphan’s journey or the fact that Walt Disney was a sick fuck or whatever, but five year olds don’t exactly have a nuanced understanding of symbolism.

To a five year old, that scene says: WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT SOMEONE WILL COME ALONG WITH A SHOTGUN AND BLOW YOUR MOTHER’S HEAD OFF. YOU WILL BE DESTINED TO WANDER THE WORLD ALONE – FOREVER.

The sight of Bambi gently nudging his mother’s lifeless corpse with his quivering little nose signalled the immediate end of my childhood. By the time he was almost incincerated in a forest fire and torn apart by a pack of vicious hunting dogs I was too numb to care.

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Watership Down (1978 film)

If Bambi is “a great love story” then Watership Down must surely qualify as the Love Actually of children’s movies. Not only do we get to know and love an ensemble cast of whimsically-named bunny rabbits, we also get to follow them on an emotional journey to their increasingly gruesome deaths; as they get killed by hawks, caught in snare traps, shot by farmers, maimed, mutilated and torn apart by large predators.

Needless to say it doesn’t have quite the same cheery ending (or the Colin Firth eye candy). You’ll need a bereavement counsellor on speed-dial for this one.

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Black Dog – Pamela Allen (1992)

If Bambi is the literary equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino film, Black Dog is in many ways similar to the surreal dysfunctional mindfuck that is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

Readers be warned: this is a book about depression, suicide, self-harm and co-dependency – all dressed up as a fluffy dog story for kids.

I made the mistake of reading this book to my three year old, and to say that it “raised some difficult questions afterwards” is kind of like saying “Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights had an average-sized cock”.

Here’s what happens: a girl and her black dog are best friends. When the girl becomes obsessed with a beautiful blue bird that sits in a tree outside her window, she neglects her canine BFF for months, completely ignoring him and his attempts to engage with her. He physically and emotionally withers under her total indifference, and in a grief-stricken attempt to regain her attention he THROWS HIMSELF OFF THE TOP OF THE TALLEST TREE HE CAN FIND.

The black dog barely survives and suffers extensive injuries. The girl lavishes him with attention because he is hurt, and before you can say “dysfunctional relationship”, he is happy again.

The End.

It’s fucked up.

There are three reviews for this on Good Reads.

One of them includes the phrase: “The illustrations are what can only be described as terrifying. Proceed with caution.”

Another simply reads: “I don’t get it…?”

Neither do I, mate… Neither do I.

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The Story About Ping – Marjorie Flack (1933)

When I purchased this I was labouring under the misconception that it was going to be a feel-good story that my kids would rather enjoy; this being a classic children’s book and all.

I was wrong about that. So wrong.

The Story About Ping is about a man who savagely beats a family of small ducks with a large whip. One of those ducks escapes because he is tired of being savagely beaten with a large whip. He misses his family and wants to go back home but he is scared that he will be savagely beaten with a large whip. Homesickness wins out and he eventually makes the journey home, only to be savagely beaten with a large whip.

Actually, to be clear: he chooses to return home and be savagely beaten over the slightly less desirable alternative, which was to be eaten by the random people who capture him midway through the story. Better the whip than the wok. Poor little Ping has some pretty shit life choices to make.

That’s it. That’s the story.

WHY THE FUCK HAVE WE BEEN READING THIS SHIT TO OUR CHILDREN FOR THE LAST 80 YEARS?

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The Little Match Girl – Hans Christian Andersen (1845)

Aaaah, they don’t write children’s stories like this any more… It’s a shame that our mollycoddled, cottonwool generation of kids will never know the joy and whimsy of The Little Match Girl – and by “joy and whimsy” I mean “misery and death”.

The little match girl wanders barefoot through the snow all day and night trying to sell matches. She is afraid to go home because her father will beat her. Someone stole her slippers and she hasn’t sold a single thing all day. She is cold, hungry, alone and in the early stages of hypothermia. To add insult to injury, it is New Years Eve and she can smell delicious food coming from all the houses around her.

I won’t drag this out, suffice to say that the ominous foreshadowing makes good on its promise:

But in the corner, leaning against the wall, sat the little girl with red cheeks and smiling mouth, frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The New Year’s sun rose upon a little pathetic figure. The child sat there, stiff and cold, holding the matches, of which one bundle was almost burned. 

The “happy ending” is that she is DEAD and never has to suffer again (this was literally the author’s intention – death as a happy ending). These are the messed up fables we grew up on.

Kids today get saccharine fairy stories like Frozen, with good prevailing over evil and ice skating and tiaras and happy princesses yelping “Do you want to build a fucking snowman?” or whatever.

A generation earlier, our classic stories ended with FROZEN DEAD GIRLS in the advanced stages of RIGOR MORTIS. Is it little wonder we are so utterly fucked up?

Forget about Toy Story and Happy Feet, we grew up on fairy tales full of cannibalism, murder, infanticide, death, poverty, starvation, abuse, neglect, ghosts who wanted to kill you, witches who wanted to eat you and whopping big giants who wanted to stomp the fucking shit out of you.

That shit will scar you for life.

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112 thoughts on “Five Fucked Up Children’s Stories That Will Scar You For Life

  1. Oh I loved this post and so bloody true. Especially loved the Dirk Diggler reference Ha! My children have shelves and shelves of crappy books, I got to the stage where I would make them up as they went along, this usually consisted of naughty children who didn`t do as they were told being sold to a band of gypsies for a bag of wooden pegs and a donkey 🙂

  2. I am still scarred by the Little Match Girl and the Water Babies which is remarkably similar. Oh God. Poverty stricken children are exploited for child labour but mercifully they die whist still young. Nope. Nope.What the fuck was that shit about?

    • Oh good grief – the Water Babies. I haven’t thought about tome that for 25 years. Those stories terrified me. And thinking back, they were not only super scary but incredibly racist and anti semitic, too [shudder]

      • YES!! Only looking back now do I realise how horribly racist and sexist Enid Blyton’s books often were. I remember them as being such magical stories and now they are definitely tainted by that now that I know better.

  3. I hope Diggler’s average-sized cock did not in fact form part of the explanation for Black Dog. Otherwise, I don’t think the kids’ nightmares are about Black Dog’s tumble from the tree.
    I think Black Dog needs to come with a parent warning (to read it before sharing with kids so you can decide if you want to and how you’ll handle it), but I think there’s a lesson in the book. It’s about not pinning your hopes to something you maybe might have perhaps once caught a glimpse of and ignoring what’s in front of you. But terrifyingly, of course.
    Meanwhile, your description of Bambi? Me, every time I watch The Lion King. “HELP! SOMEBODY! Anybody. Help.” GAH.

    • Yeah, I’ve actually written about Black Dog on here before and have had some really fascinating conversations with people about it. There seems to be a really range of responses to this book, numerous different interpretations. Whilst on the surface it seems to be a fairly straightforward fable, people have read so many valid things into the metaphor. I have such a love/hate relationship with it – and by extension with all of Pamela Allen’s work. She is a very dark and incredibly intriguing children’s author and there is really no one else like her out there.

  4. Ohh, you brought back so many, ummmm, memories, that I tried to repress for so long. Thanks.

    It’s funny how our era had so many lovely stories (back then) but now when we look back, they are quite a bit fucked up. My mum tried to read Jungle Book to my 3Yo the other night, and I said, Nah let’s not do that. I will have too many fucking questions forever for the rest of my life eg. why is 5 year old being brought up my monkeys?, why doesn’t the panther eat him?, where is his mummy?

    Awesome, Hugs! x

    • LOL see, I love how literal kids are. “Why doesn’t the panther eat him?”. EXACTLY, KID. WHY NOT? So many messed up things, and it’s funny trying to edit stuff on the hop. I was reading one of the early editions of “There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake” the other day and I had to edit out the Dad smacking the kid for drawing on the wall or something and the mum being on a diet and eating salad. WTF.

  5. Mel, I cry every time I watch ‘Home’ and nobody even dies in that movie. I don’t think even I could cope with The Little Match Girl, let alone my kids!!!

  6. Haha those Black Dog book reviews are brilliant. No wonder so many people in the world are fucked up learning their life lessons from that pile of misery. You best friend ignores you? Pretend to kill yourself then! Winner winner chicken dinner. No wonder Disney has had so much success with the happily ever after model. Did you see The Good Dinosaur over the holidays? I took Monkey (4) and to be honest I found it pretty intense. Papa dies in a big storm and Monkey spent the next half an hour traumatised by it. There was none of the happy lightness and jokes you seem to normally get in these films and although it ended with him finding his way home he did lose his trusty human sidekick to other humans. Hardly a happy joyous flick for a kid!!!

    • Oh boy, one of my friends took her 3.5 year old and was full of criticism for that film. I googled it and apparently LOTS of kids were crying and totally traumatised by it. I suspect it might be their Bambi. LOL!

  7. What hope did we have of being sane? I’ve spared my kids from all of these stories. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty also make my fucked up children’s stories list – not one but two stories extolling the virtues of necrophilia.

  8. You don’t realise just how terrifying something is until you watch it/read it as an adult with your small child. I cried more as an adult watching The Lion King than I did watching it as a six year old.

  9. Is the giants reference to the BFG by Roald Dahl? If you’ve never read that one it’s not as sinister but was a fav of mine as a kid. I read a lot when young, but the only one of the above mentioned books/movies I knew was Bambi… sounds like that was a good thing.

    • Oh no, I was more thinking Jack and the Beanstalk, but I LOVE the BFG and I LOVE that he broke stereotype! I think that was the turning point for kids’ literature. Someone turned around and said “Hey! Maybe we can make the monster FRIENDLY!”. LOL. Thank you Roald Dahl.

  10. Yep- you have to carefully scan any kids books before actually reading them to actual kids or they could end up as jaded and callous as our generation. Maybe I’m on to something there…!

  11. Oh my goodness – the little Match Girl – I remember crying over that story as an 8 or 9 year old and wanting to write things just as bitterly depressing.

  12. As soon as I began reading, I thought of The Little Match Girl. Glad to see that it made the trauma list! I had a book of The Brothers Grimm Fairytales, including tellings of all of the old favourites, but they were not sanitised in those days. They were downright terrifying. Hansel and Gretel who endure slavery while waiting to be eaten by a witch? Still, I already had enough to deal with, what with my Dad’s penchant for screening the best of Stephen King while mum was out. A healthy dose of The Shining does wonders for your 8 year old dreams…

    • OMG yes I had a massive book of Grimm fairytales too and was mildly obsessed with it for a very long time. Oh god to The Shining though! I love that book and film, but could definitely not have handled that at 8 years old.

  13. Oh you speak the truth woman!! These stories are pure evil!! I’ve never heard of Little Match Girl- just as well. I would of sobbed for weeks. Even reading Snow White I felt myself slowing down reading the story as the Wicked Witch orders the Huntsman to bring back her heart – it’s like were watching an episode of Dexter with our kids?!! “She’s just a nasty lady, no one really asks those sort of questions!!” – WTF!!!?? Maybe these books exist to give balance to all the Toy Story and Frozen fluff our kids read now. Like when the oldies say “I used to walk 20 miles to school in the rain, hail and snow WITHOUT shoes or even a jumper!!” Haha! Thanks for heads up on these reads, poor Ping 😦 and Black Dog?!!

    • Oh man, all the wicked witch and wicked step mother stories we copped. I mean, Cinderella. What the actual fuck? All of those stories were disturbing – Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty. Messed up. LOL!

  14. Most of the old school fairy tales are actually all rather wrong when you really delve into them. I’ve had many interesting conversations with my son (who asks ALL the questions) about concepts that perhaps shouldn’t be discussed with a child after reading some of these. In all honesty some of these books make In The Night Garden look much less like a product of a drug induced psychosis (and that’s REALLY saying something…)

  15. I had a TERRIFYING book when I was little called “The Flat Man”. He was made of cardboard and could fit through the cracks in the wall and under the door. Dad had to sleep on the floor till I fell asleep because I was petrified the flat man would get me!

  16. And here I was thinking the witch from Snow White was scary. I’m still scarred from Bambi and won’t be putting my tornadoes through that. Shit – I even cried in Tinkerbell and the Neverbeast when they had to part at the end. I was not made for these kinds of stories. Ping and Black Dog are bad enough. As an aside – I’d love to see Tarantino come out with a kid’s movie – that would be VERY interesting (and most likely 3 hours long – I don’t think Mr TT could handle all the dialogue).

  17. You are so right even though I’ve only ever seen Bambi and haven’t ever read any of those books which is probably why I’ve got to the tender age of 44 relatively unscathed. However, you can’t go wrong with The Hungry Caterpillar. Just sayin’!

  18. Hans Christian Anderson wrote some weird stuff! I remember my mum telling me the ending of the original Little Mermaid, and I was so glad Disney came along.
    Mind you, that might have been because I had banished all thoughts of Bambi from my mind. I sobbed like crazy in that movie. So thanks for bringing those memories back.
    Also I had totally forgotten about Watership Down. Does it make me a masochist that I wouldn’t mind rereading it?

    • Yeah I’ve actually thought I would like to re-read that as an adult as well. I imagine we’d bring a much more nuanced interpretation to all of the power dynamics and brutality in that book. Kind of like George Orwell’s Animal Farm I bet – lots of complexity underlying the surface story.

  19. My Aunt bought my three year old the Bambi book and DVD and a host of paraphernalia. All I could think was nooooooooooooo!! I changed the words in the book, but I could not run nor hide from the DVD. There were tears, screaming and questions. Awesome.

  20. The Velveteen Rabbit left a massive scar on both my brother and I, we’ll never forgive our auntie for giving it to us. WORST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!

    • Yeah, a friend of mine mentioned that to me as well and I looked the plot summary up on Wikipedia. And yes – VERY loosely interpreted I think. It’s like they went “Ahhh SNOW” and “royalty”. That’s pretty much where the similarities ended for me. LOL.

  21. Reading ahead and editing on the go are the go… Til the little buggers learn to read anyway! Everyone’s comments on childhood cultural trauma have also reminded me of Phoebe in Friends and how she watched Old Yeller with her roomies as an adult… Thinking it had a happy ending… Hilarious!

  22. I really worried about letting my children watch Bambi and Land Before Time, I remember being distraught as a child, my children to my horror weren’t even slightly bothered by the poor motherless Bambi or Littlefoot.

  23. Brilliant!

    Have you seen these ?
    http://m.mentalfloss.com/article/67896/12-creepy-lullabies-around-world-will-keep-you-night

    I have a really odd set of Grimm fairy tales with different endings to the ones we know now.

    I got banned from reading them after my wife heard me tell a story of a stepmother beheading her step child, tying the head back on to fool her son with the instruction “box his ears if he doesn’t answer” and then forcing the poor traumatised boy into making soup of his step brother salting the broth with his tears. I just couldn’t stop reading…

  24. “The sight of Bambi gently nudging his mother’s lifeless corpse with his quivering little nose signalled the immediate end of my childhood.”

    That’s weird. I have seen Bambi several times and have NEVER seen him nudging his mothers lifeless corpse – have I always been seeing an edited version? I’ve heard about people being traumatised about Bambi’s mother’s death before, and I could never understand why it didn’t affect me.

    I’m usually an emotional wreck at such stuff – I CANNOT read ‘Little Match Girl’ aloud due to sobbing, and dear me, but Oscar Wilde’s short stories…everyone dies… ‘It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost’ gets me every time. My recommendation for death being a happy ending in a fairly recent book is ‘Sophie’s Masterpiece’ – it’s actually really lovely, like a little potted version of Charlotte’s Web (by the way I was outraged the undeserving Wilbur lived, and Charlotte, the unsung hero…well it was SO unfair).

    Nevertheless, I deeply appreciate children’s stories and films which are capable of producing such a reaction, so I’m looking forward to reading Black Dog 🙂

    In contrast, my little girl easily managed ‘Watership Down’ aged 7 and watched it repeatedly (traumatised my son though) and was completely fine with other things which I found unbearably sad – Neverbeast saying goodbye, the trauma that is Up, and Jessie the Cowgirl being given away – but she could not, and still will not watch the scene where Wreck-it Ralph smashes up Vanellope von Schweetz’s car (I can’t watch that either).

    • Oh sorry I was using a recollection from about 35 years ago so I might be remembering it as more traumatic than it actually was – I’m too scared to watch it again! LOL. For all my commentary, there was something very compelling about Black Dog, and by all of Pamela Allen’s work. I remember I bought our first copy from an op-shop and I literally threw it in the bin after reading it once. Yet… something about it intrigued me and I actually purchased another copy from another op shop a few years later (and we still have it – it’s grown in my esteem). It’s funny though…. I see donated copies of Black Dog all the time. I think lots of people must get rid of it!

      • I think your imagination was so vivid concerning the death of Bambi’s mother, that you filled in the missing bits which were never shown (I did a search to make sure) The image you have there, of Bambi next to his mother’s body, not part of the movie – all we see is Bambi running, a gunshot and then Bambi stumbling around in the falling snow, sadly calling out ‘Mother!’

        Sorry.

        Just thought of another one that deeply affected me as a child (and still does) Dumbo – the mother getting wrongfully imprisoned and labelled ‘Mad Elephant’, and then rocking baby Dumbo on her trunk. Can’t watch that.

      • Ooooh, isn’t that interesting! The mind works in such incredible ways, doesn’t it? I have a vivid memory of something that never actually happened! Hahaha I wonder how much other stuff I think happened in my childhood that never did. Dumbo was hard going as well – I was such a sensitive little kid, and I could really feel that sense of rejection and alienation.

  25. Oh yes the Velveteen Rabbit that someone mentioned. Don’t read it unless you want to cry and cry and be horribly traumatised for life.

  26. My 5 year old was traumatised by Frankenweenie when the little mutt gets squashed then electrocuted by some weird kid that digs up his body in the middle of the night. She had watched Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpe Bride but that was just one step too far on the Tim Burton mess with your head film list

    • LOL is it bad that I laughed at the name “Frankenweenie”? But as soon as you mentioned Tim Burton I knew exactly what you meant. Now that guy has a very dark and twisted creative brain.

  27. I was, and still am, traumatised by the Little Match Girl. My 8 year old is a little bit fascinated with it though – she’s read it loads of times. However, Watership Down has been my favourite cartoon since I first watched it as a 7 year old, back in 1985! The book is also excellent.
    I haven’t let my eldest (the 8 year old above) watch Bambi yet because she gets so emotionally involved in everything she watches (yet is absolutely fine with traumatic books, weirdly?) and I think Bambi would be the final straw. She even cried at Wall-E when the little robot disappeared and left the cockroach behind temporarily! Mind you, I can’t really talk – I once sobbed for 2 solid hours after watching A. I. and realising that the teddy was henceforth going to be alone for the rest of eternity.

    • Oh I am the biggest cry baby in movies! I think I’m all tough or whatever and I am deadset the first one to turn on the waterworks. My eldest son – who is 6 – is quite sensitive as well, and like you I know that watching something like Bambi would really effect him. Maybe one day when he’s older I’ll be brave enough to watch it again and hopefully not cry!!

  28. There is no scene with Bambi nudging his dead mother. The mum death scene is a little upsetting, but my 3 yr old was more bothered by the rabid-looking dogs. I do get random questioning on why people like hunting, though.

    • LOL I have since discovered this as many people have pointed it out to me. SO weird that I have this vivid memory of something that NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENED. The brain works in very strange ways. Still so disturbing.

  29. Lol…when I read this post the other day, I cracked up. Did you know, I haven’t actually watched Bambi yet? Dunno why. But that would have scarred an already anxious kid. I used to have separation anxiety and fears of my mum dying even without watching Bambi so this would not have helped! And those books??? Oh my goodness!

    I have recently bought the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales in the original format…not the sweetened ones for kids. Although with evil stepmothers trying to kill everyone, what hope is there for kids?!

    • I KNOW RIGHT! Where are all the evil stepfathers, is what I want to know!? And you really dodged a bullet with Bambi (and now I am giggling at myself for using such an apt little pun… I need to get a new hobby)

  30. I can’t believe you’ve mentioned Watership fucking Down. I can’t even. Scarred for LIFE.

    Hey, I was reading the Gingerbread Boy to my kids the other night, the original ladybird version, which belonged to me back in the day. I’d forgotten how it ends, and couldn’t think fast enough (cos DUMB) to change the ending, which sees our gingery biscuit friend get eaten piece by piece by an arsehole fox. It’s spelled out quite graphically. Sorry kids!

  31. Bambi, OMG that was traumatic! Hansel and Gretel used to freak me out, you know the cannibal witch and all…..

  32. When my children were born, I lovingly retrieved from storage a book of fairytales from my own childhood. As it happened, my husband was the first to read it to the kids and later, he wondered aloud just how any decent parent could communicate the terrifying tales within to a small and innocent child. The pictures were as adorable and enchanting as I remembered but the stories were so gnarly and gruesome that I dispatched the old tome to goodwill post haste. Somewhere in Melbourne tonight, another unsuspecting family is enjoying the horrors of my childhood. Giving makes me feel so selfless!

    • “Somewhere in Melbourne tonight, another unsuspecting family is enjoying the horrors of my childhood.” BAHAHHAHAHHAHAH! OMG, that is fucking poetry. That in itself could be another disturbing fairy tale, updated for the new millennia.

  33. Holy crap–I ended up writing a little about Bambi today–and of course the Warners’ response to it a-la Animaniacs (hee hee). Seriously, “Bumbie’s Mom” has to be one of the best shorts ever, and it did well with the trauma induced by Bambi. Doesn’t hurt that it produces the most nostalgia and laughs of any cartoon I’ve ever showed teens.

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