Saturday, September 17, 2011

Age Inappropriate

I was cleaning out my study today -- an event as bizarre and freakish as a rainfall of frogs -- when I came across a little gem called "Lullaby Land", published in 1898. The front cover has been missing for as long as I've had the book, but the title page is still intact. Most of the poems are meh. There's a lot of talk about going to sleepy land and saying your prayers and someone called the Hushaby Lady from Lullaby Street. It's all very cloying. But there's one poem called Little Boy Blue by Eugene Field, and it's not the nursery rhyme about the kid falling asleep while the cow's in the corn. This one traumatised me as a child, and it still does. So, if you don't know it, now I'm going to traumatise you. All you have to do is remember that this is a bedtime poem for small children

Little Boy Blue 

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.

Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
"And don't you make any noise!"
So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
He dreamt of the pretty toys;

And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue---
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
Each in the same old place---
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face;

And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.

Of course, it doesn't help that Blue looks like some sort of creepy soulless china-doll-come-to-life: 

I think I was about eight when I first read this poem, well above the intended age. I remember telling Endors, my stuffed elephant, that if an angel tried to kill me in the night that I wouldn't leave her behind. I might have been eight but I knew one thing: how could it be heaven if they didn't let you bring your toys? 

(I've always had very strong ideas about theology. I once walked out of a Sunday School class when I was five, and I refused to go back. Not until Jesus apologised. He knows what he did.)

But the point is -- I'm almost certain there was a point -- why are we worried about what our kids are reading? At least in modern stories, however terrible, however scary, we're not letting kids go quietly into the night. And we're not telling them that the things they love will wait for years, wondering, hoping, until they turn to dust. 

I was similarly disturbed by The Story of Ping. I blogged about that here.
Any literary childhood traumas you feel like sharing? 



  1. That poem is stunning. “But Gramma, what happened to the boy?”

    I remember flipping ahead in the textbook they’d given us in third grade and seeing an illustration of a woman bound up in rope, and thinking, well, this is interesting. And I got far more than I bargained for.

    I didn’t think I could find it, but a search revealed it’s The Highwayman. A very tragic tale, and one they never had us read, for good reason.

  2. Sound like Toy Story gets the idea from the poem. I think nowadays children have too many toys, they don't care for them as our generation.

    Every Savage Can Reproduce

  3. You only have to look at the original fairy tales for inspiration. Writers of today have nothing on them for violence :-)

  4. Uh, YES. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of this book, but I read a story when I was younger about a family of hedgehogs that pick up the creepiest-looking stray cat (cat? dog? I could never tell) ever. I mean, the thing had ice climbing boots on all four feet. With spikes.

    It didn't help that the cat was the biggest, most obnoxious nuisance ever, and they eventually had to think of a way to get rid of it.

    I still shudder when I think about it.

  5. MC, I remember The Highwayman. I also remember wondering why the heck she didn't just fire a warning shot. Or, you know, try and shoot her way out! And, really, why did they leave her with a musket anyway?
    (I was very traumatised by this as a child as well, but I loved the drama of it.)

    @ Enid: Toys are certainly cheaper these days, and a lot less spooky!

  6. @ True, Sarah! Most of the original fairy tales ended in bloodshed, didn't they? I think Little Boy Blue affected me so badly because I hated the idea of my toys having abandonment issues. And I also wondered why none of the adults had explained to them what happened. I assumed everyone knew toys had feelings.

    @ Francesca, that sounds horrible! A mutant animal whose species you can't discern sounds as scary as creepy china dolls with glass eyes that come to life!

  7. That's a poignant poem, but how do you ever persuade a child to go to sleep again after that?

  8. LOVE the Sunday School class story.ha I never walked out but I think I was sat in a corner several times for asking inappropriate questions (this meant they didn't know the answer).

    My brother babysat me when I was 5 and let me watch the movie Carrie by Stephen King. I'm pretty sure this warped me forever and nothing really had the ability to traumatize me after that. I still love Stephen King though. It wasn't his fault.

  9. Your blog has me smiling. And please tell me youg oing to use the line .... rainfall of frogs ... in one of your pieces.

  10. Wow. *Heavy* stuff. What a nasty angel for forcing those poor toys to be abandoned? Where's Woody and the gang to save them?!

    ...Forget childhood trauma, I'm traumatised now!

  11. @ Botanist, exactly! "There now, dear, lie down and close your eyes. And remember, if you die, your toys won't ever know what happened to you."

    @ Marsha, I had strong opinions as a child as well! I don't remember seeing Carrie at that age, but I saw Jaws scared the hell out of me.

    When I was six my sister told me that those twigs tapping on my window were actually the long fingernails of vampires who were waiting until I went to bed before smashing through the window to murder me. I had a lot of sleepless nights around that time. Thanks, Kath.

  12. Hi Pauline! I think I already have used "rainfall of frogs" somewhere. I will have to try and track it down!

    @ Miss Cole, I know! You can't stay happily in heaven while your toys are suffering, right? Stupid damn angel.

  13. Wow that's one disturbing poem for a child. I remember reading a book of scary stories when I was eight or nine. There was one about a vampire that really got under my skin. When Dad came into my room that night, he found me fast asleep, clutching a clove of garlic in my hand! :-)

  14. It's awful, isn't it Cally!

    I love your vampire story. I'll bet your dad was impressed by how you were ready to defend yourself, though!

    My four year old niece asked me not long ago, "Aunty Jen, are vampires real?"

    No, Meg," I said in my most serious voice. "Vampires are not real."

    "Mum," she asked my sister, "is Aunty Jen being sarcastic?"

    Such mistrust in one so small. I'm so proud!

  15. For me it was Return to Oz, the lesser known sequel to the Wizard of Oz. Or was there a 3rd movie? Either way, the Queen had a hall of heads and it freaked me out for DAYS. I was afraid to sleep because I thought the queen would chop off my head and add it to her collection.

  16. LOL, TL! I used to think that gnomes would cut off my toes while I slept, but I have no idea where that came from!

  17. Hahaha, love your niece's cynicism. They start young these days, don't they? :-)



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