When Children’s Books Were Terrifying…
Being a parent with macabre interests, it stuns me how sanitized a version of reality we share with our kids today. For example, my kids have both the original Beatrix Potter books and reprints that were done in the 2000s. In the reprinted version of Squirrel Nutkin, there are so many changes and omissions that it blows my minds. For one thing, the whole point of the story is that the owl freaks the fuck out of Squirrel Nutkin for acting like a little douchebag, and pins him down in classic owl fashion with a taloned foot to the neck so that he can take him into his house and eat him – the original version. The new version apparently thought that children may be too scared by the image of what actually happens in nature, and instead the owl catches him under his wing. His wing? There’s no fucking way an owl is going to trap a rodent under its wing – there’s nothing sharp and deadly to grasp its little squirmy neck with. I was so offended that had to explain to my girls that this was a ridiculous thing for the owl to do. Nature is not to be fucked with. Prey is prey and predators are predators. An owl is not likely to hug a squirrel.
Long story short, there was a time when we were more unflinching in our representation of the ways of the world, when evil was real and something to teach our children about. Case in point, The Illustrated Book Of Japanese Monsters (1972) by artist Gojin Ishihara, a delightful collection of very scary and mind-blowingly awesome illustrations showing the ghosts, ghouls and insect hybrids that prey on humanity in Japan’s myths and legends. Ishihara’s fantastical illustrations are full of menacing movement and evil intent, with the creatures often preying on a sleeping, defenseless human being. OK, your kid may be freaked out, but they will also gain a healthy respect for good art and for the stories that have inspired human imaginations for millennia. How will they learn fight or flight if they’ve been taught there’s nothing to fear?
Below is a collection of Gojin Ishihara’s illustrations from that book and several others, all dating to the 1970s. Bring reality back into children’s media! I would way prefer my daughters to be looking at these images of vengeful monsters than any of that disgustingly gendered Monster High/Disney Princess shit they’re being force-fed by corporate interests.