Not unlike nursery rhymes and fairy tales, cartoons are sometimes revealed to have been quite dark in hindsight. “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends” is the latest children’s program to be so reassessed, most recently in an extensive New Yorker essay about the show’s “repressive, authoritarian soul.” Its arguments are quite convincing.
Case in point: “The Sad Story of Henry,” a segment from the show in which a train named Henry refuses to do his job and receives a cruel, lifelong punishment. “We shall take away your rails, and leave you here for always and always,” the conductor tells Henry. He’s then imprisoned behind bricks for the rest of his (un)natural life, and the vignette ends with the narrator musing, “I think he deserved his punishment, don’t you?”
“It is clear from his work that [author Reverend Wilbert] Awdry disliked change, venerated order, and craved the administration of punishment,” writes Jia Tolentino, and “Henry wasn’t the only train to receive a death sentence.” Another train, this one named Smudger, is turned into a generator for his offenses and stuck in place forever. Read the full article (if you dare) here.