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The Little Engine that Sucks

Anyone confused after reading yesterday’s post should rest easy, it was a book review of a kid’s book that someone gave little Gwen before she was born, or just after I don’t really keep track of all of that. It’s called “Bon Bon on the Go Go” and is full of bright pretty pictures of the aforementioned ultra-hip Bon Bon.

Before Gwen was born people just started unloading baby stuff on us. The more they gave the less we had to buy so it was good. When the books came in, I did what any normal person would do, I went through all of the kids books to see which ones I had as a kid and which ones were completely new. I think we all share the same bias when it comes to kid’s books, television, toys, and games: the ones that we had when we were younger had achieved the fulcrum of balance between fun, education, and brand. Everything now sucks, everything prior to our birth was practice for the stuff we remember so fondly as children (think if the Star Wars movies now versus then, they all contain horrible acting [with some rare exception] and terrible writing).

Most of the newly published books are tolerable. They focus more on engaging the baby with bright colors and textures. The classics are classics from my childhood. My thinking on the new books is that they are written by people who have either A) never had kids or B) hate themselves; being forced over and over again to read these things is a hell that not even Renaissance poets could have dreamed up.

Back to the classics, one of them was titled, “The Little Engine that Could.” I remember this story from my own childhood so when Gwen waddled over with it in her hand saying “bookie bookie,” then placing her hand around mine and opening it saying, “read it.” I shrugged and said, “ok” all the while thinking that at least it isn’t that Bon Bon book again. Then I began to read it wherein I realized that the previous generation has screwed us over once again (the previous problems being the middle east, oil, the environment, and the economy) because The Little Engine That Could reminds me of that church group that was editing all of the “R” out of rated “R” movies so that real true Christians would be able to stay relevant among the pop culture without actually having to deal with the sex and violence that made those movies what they are.

The story I was always read about the Little Engine and whether or not he “could” was important because it contained the element of suspense. Briefly summarizing: there was a little engine and there was a large load that he needed to carry over a mountain. At some point, the little engine was unsure and became stuck. But he reminded himself that, yes he was a train, it was his job to do the exact thing that he was doing, and that he could do the job. Whereupon he does the job and carries the load over the mountain. On the way down from the mountain, he tells himself that all along he knew he could. Which is kind of a lie because like Protagoras there was always that doubt, but it doesn’t really matter because what almost undid the engine was not trying. He was going to give up until he buckled down and gave it a whirl.

This new version is sanitized. Re-reading the story it’s like some asshole just tore out the important part of the book, the whole doubting phase which is the crux of story. Without that story ontologically the title makes no sense. It’s not “The Little Engine that Could” it’s more of “The Little Engine Went From A to B.” Literally the story is that the engine picks up his load and then drives it over a steep mountain.

That’s it. No struggle, no stalling, just up one side and over the next. Action wise the two stories are the same in this respect, but it’s that psychological aspect that makes one version of the book a nice life lesson and the other a stupid trite observation of the functioning of trains. I understand sanitizing some of the racism from books from the 20s but taking the life out of these books isn’t doing anyone any good.

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