Jia Tolentino describes The Repressive, Authoritarian Soul of “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends”, that most cosy and all-conquering example of English bullshit for children.
through the dedicated and comprehensive Thomas the Tank Engine Wikia, as well as asmattering of critical assessments and message-board threads from dedicated viewers, I have become a little obsessed with the show’s repressive, authoritarian soul.
It is clear from his work that Awdry disliked change, venerated order, and craved the administration of punishment. Henry wasn’t the only train to receive a death sentence. In one episode, a manager tells a showoff engine named Smudger that he’s going to “make him useful at last,” and then turns Smudger into a generator, never to move again. (There are several “R.I.P. Smudger” tribute videos on YouTube.) In another episode, a double-decker bus named Bulgy comes to the station and talks about revolution—“Free the roads from railway tyranny!” he cries. He is quickly labelled a “scarlet deceiver,” trapped under a bridge, and turned into a henhouse. A recurring storyline involves the “troublesome trucks,” which are disciplined into fearful obedience through public, symbolic punishments. Their leader, S. C. Ruffey, is pulled in two different directions until he breaks into pieces—“I guess the lesson is that if someone is bullying you, kill them?” a YouTube commenter writes—and, in another episode, a “spiteful” brake van is crushed into bits.
By the time Awdry wrote “The Railway Series,” the railway industry had shifted away from steam and toward diesel and electric. But on the Island of Sodor steam locomotives are permanently on top.
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