Ah, children’s literature, realm of innocent fun and magical beings who bring a sense of wonder and adventure to bedtimes everywhere. Assuming, of course, that your idea of innocent fun involves things like death, torture, monster attacks, and that most popular profession among characters in children’s books—kidnapping. The fact that many kids’ books sport seriously dark subtext isn’t news, but once you start thinking about it, it’s surprising how many of the characters most beloved by children are basically kidnappers. Sure, they’re whisking kids off on exciting adventures…but aren’t they also teaching generation after generation that kidnapping will 100 percent of the time lead to magic and fun, and never to being tied up at the bottom of a well? Consider the troubling implications of these eight books.
Peter Pan in Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
There’s a lot of darkness in Peter Pan. Barrie, who based the character somewhat on his brother David, who passed away at the age of 14, intentionally made Peter very much a typical child: selfish, self-centered, and occasionally cruel. There’s a clear implication that Peter kills off Lost Boys if they get too old, assuming they aren’t dead already, as it is also suggested they’re all abandoned infants Peter kidnaps after they’ve fallen from their carriages and remained unclaimed for seven days. Although the Darling children accompany Peter to Neverland voluntarily, he’s still very likely an epic kidnapper.
Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s books are filled with delicious sugary darkness, of course. Although the vile children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory walk into the factory eagerly and are accompanied by parents, Willy Wonka might as well be a guy driving around in a van with blackout windows, offering free candy to all the kids in the neighborhood. In the movie adaptation, he even sings ironic songs about them after he dispatches them in gruesome, candy-themed ways. Where do all those naughty children turn up after they’ve been sucked into pipes, processed, shrunk, or otherwise tortured?
The Big Friendly Giant in The BFG, by Roald Dahl
Just to bang home the point that Roald Dahl hated children, consider the BFG, who is easily the nicest giant, and the least likely giant to eat a human child—yet he’s still a kidnapper. When little Sophie sees him, he panics and takes her with him, and only the fact that Sophie’s not all that unhappy to be kidnapped from her horrible life (and the fact that he’s the only giant who doesn’t routinely eat children) make it seem like fun, until you consider that most children see the grown-ups already around them as gigantic, leading to a far more horrifying interpretation of the story.
Mrs. Trottle in The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson
One of the great things about this classic children’s book is the inverted kidnapping—the magical prince is kidnapped from a magical world by a woman from ours, and the magical creatures have to come here looking for him. Mrs. Trottle’s crime is inspired by her desire to have a child, and as awful as she is (she makes her nanny’s son, Ben, miserable simply because he’s a much better kid than her stolen, adopted child), she spares no expense to give the prince (who she names Raymond) whatever he wants. Still, she’s a kidnapper, and chances are, Raymond wouldn’t have turned out nearly so bratty if he’d remained merely a magical prince.
Miss Frizzle in The Magic School Bus, by Joanna Cole
We would very much like to see the permission slips that Miss Frizzle sends home to parents. Except we’re fairly certain there are none, and that Miss Frizzle is essentially taking her charges on dangerous trips into exotic places, usually without asking if any of them actually want to go. At this point, we wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Miss Frizzle doesn’t even teach at the school, and just drives around in her school bus kidnapping children.
Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
Four kids vanish into an alternate universe and, from their perspective, live for decades, unable to contact their parents, friends, or anyone else. Sure, they live as kings and queens, but at some point, the whole thing becomes psychologically disturbing—especially when these monstrous children return home, middle-aged inside but suddenly physically 10 years old. Over the course of the seven Narnia books, Aslan kidnaps quite a number of children for various lengths of time and forces them to take on dangerous tasks he’d prefer not to do himself. In other words, what you’ve always suspected is quite true: Aslan is a monster, and the Chronicles are essentially all about Stockholm Syndrome.
The Man in the Yellow Hat, in Curious George, by H.A. Rey
The Man in the Yellow Hat doesn’t get a name in the original Curious George stories, but he did get one in the 2006 film version (Ted Shackleford). Named or not, he’s awful. George (who we’ll note is not a monkey, as he has no tail) is a gentle, cheerful soul…who is literally kidnapped from his jungle home by The Man without so much as a moment’s hesitation, informed he will now live in a zoo, and almost drowned—all within the first few pages of the first book. George’s antics are undoubtedly the desperate attempts of a miserable animal to understand what’s happened to him as he navigates an unnatural world he never asked for.
The Cat in The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
The children never leave the house—true. But if some weirdo in a hat barged into your house when you’d thoughtfully left your children home alone completely unsupervised and “entertained” them for hours, you might not see it as an innocent jaunt, but rather as an in-home kidnapping. Dr. Seuss may be great for kids learning to read, but the moral of this story is, if strangers come to the house offering to take you on an adventure, by all means, open the door and invite them in.