A Laptop Naptime Mama

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Move Over, Thomas the Tank Engine. Come on Down, Little Engine that Could

By Joanne Rendell

Call me a sourpuss, but I’d just like to say… “Thomas the Tank Engine, take your idiotic, chubby, eyebrow-less face and your inane little stories about you and your boy pals and go jump!”

I know, I’m sorry, a lot of people love Thomas. And even if they don’t care either way, their kids love him so they are happy for the peace and quiet which a clutch of “Thomas and Friends” DVDs offer. I totally understand. Benny would happily watch Thomas the Tank Engine all day everyday and, if I let him do that, I can only imagine how many blogs I would write, the hoovering I could finally get done, the piles of dirty clothes I could launder. Hell, I could finish a novel or two while Benny sat slack-jawed in front of the darned engine.

But, I’m telling you, Thomas the Tank is a menace. And it’s not because of his lack of eyebrows or the mischievous things he gets up to. No, it’s because behind those plump cheeks, doe eyes, and toot-toot whistle lurks a girl-hating, patriarchal oppressor.

Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh. But, have you ever noticed how “Thomas and his Friends” should more accurately be called, “Thomas and his Boy Buddies”? There are a few female engines, it’s true. There’s Emily and, er, who else? Oh, of course, Lady – who, just in case we couldn’t tell from her pinky-purple coat, has a name that makes it a hundred percent clear she’s a “lady.” But, two female engines compared to over twenty-five male ones? (yes, I’ve been counting). Please.

And then there’s the matter of the coaches, most of whom are female. Not only are they relegated to this secondary role of being pulled around by the boy engines, but they’re also portrayed as giddy and silly and in need of disciplining. For instance, in the story “Thomas and the Big, Big Bridge,” our hero (!?) Thomas arrives at a precarious, big, big, bridge. While he and guy-pal Henry thoughtfully consider the dangers of crossing, Annie and Clarbel the coaches cry, “Hurry, Hurry,” and get “so excited” that Thomas has “trouble keeping them in line.” Oh poor Thomas, what a trial it must be for him to keep those naughty girlies in line!

Now, I know what some of you might say. Thomas the Tank Engine was written years ago and their Reverend W. V. Awdry who created him didn’t know any better. However, it’s worth pointing out that the first Thomas the Tank Engine book was published in 1946 – sixteen years after the Watty Piper version of “The Little Blue Engine that Could.” Even though “The Little Blue Engine” portrays cutesy trains with smiling faces, this picture book – which is a retelling of the 1910 story “The Pony Tale – shares little else with Thomas the Tank. Indeed, “The Little Blue Engine that Could” kicks Thomas’ ass!

In case you haven’t read it in a while, I’ll give a you a quick recap. A little engine carrying toys and treats to kids on the other side of the mountain is chugging happily along when all of a sudden *she* breaks down. A big engine, an arrogant engine, and a tired engine – all of whom are male – refuse to help. A little blue engine arrives, however, and even though *she* is small and inexperienced, she saves the day. “I think I can, I think can” goes her famous chant, as she hauls the coaches up and over the mountain.

So, okay, the book might be a little second-wave feminist for many people – i.e. girls are best, boys suck. But, when Thomas the Tank Engine and all the other boy-club stories (think “Cars” and “Bob the Builder,” to name just two) still rule the airwaves and dominate the shelves or Barnes and Noble, I think “The Little Engine that Could” and its celebration of girl power is very much needed!

Puff, puff, puff, chug, chug, chug. Ding, dong, ding, dong! Little Blue Engine, you rock!


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