July 25, 2014

IT'S DOWNRIGHT PRE-LAPSARIAN:

How I learned to relax and embrace the plutocratic world of Thomas & Friends (Peter Weber, 7/25/14, The Week)

[T]he world of Thomas & Friends is deeply retrograde and anti-democratic. It celebrates logging and mining and the burning of coal and diesel; values efficiency and following orders above individual initiative and entrepreneurialism; has only a handful of female engines and characters; and is subject to the whims and fancies of Hatt and his titled peers, the Earl of Sodor and the Duke and Duchess of Boxford.

The highest praise for a Sodor engine is being "really useful," and the worst thing is "causing confusion and delay." There is a strong competitive spirit -- the engines want to be the fastest and most useful -- but it seems driven at least partly by the (apparently unfounded) fear that underperforming trains will be sent to the smelting yard of banished from Sodor. Sir Topham Hatt may be an "imperious, little white boss" whose attire suggests that he's "the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island," as Van Slyke says, but he's mostly a benevolent despot.

The rest of Van Slyke's critique reads like a parody of postmodern literary criticism. Sodor "seems to be forever caught in British colonial times," she writes, and "if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages."

Well, yes, Britain was a colonial giant back in 1945, when the Rev. Wilbert Awdry, an Anglican minister, published the first Thomas book, based on his memories of childhood. And not much has changed on Sodor since then: the cars are still vintage-looking, like Cuba with aristocracy; the main form of transport still seems to be steam engines; and Sir Topham Hatt hasn't aged much in the last 70 years.
Posted by at July 25, 2014 8:02 PM
  
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