“Peep, peep!” All aboarrrrd! FOR OBSESSION.
It didn’t take long for Gorgonna to begin paying tribute to a new deity. Although she’s been idolizing both Daniel Tiger and Thomas the Tank Engine for nearly the same length of time, our ebullient engine has been swiftly picking up steam as the primary divine power.
But from my standpoint, all’s not well with this latest change in faith. The Island of Sodor, where Thomas & Friends reign, has been well-known to the likes of Man (and Man’s Childs) for over seventy years, with TV programs, books, and toys serving as the holy word and scripture. To this day, its perverse nature has been seriously understated — like a thinly veiled Shyamalanian plot, something dark and twisted has been lurking amidst this well-to-do English island of industry…
A Thomas Upon Us
Sentient trains populate this depraved hell-dimension. Faces have been carved into them –by whom I know not — making them the steam-powered counterparts to the Game of Thrones‘s weirwoods. As impulsive and vindictive as Norse gods, the engines bicker and fight amongst themselves in the name of “hard work” and being “Really Useful.”
Deifying these denizens of diesel and steam are an enslaved human population. They’re at the mercy of these loco locomotives — literally along for the ride, as every driver seems utterly powerless to stop his engine from fucking up the countryside or getting into who-knows-what kind of tedious mischief. That “Sodor” rhymes with “Mordor” can’t be coincidence — the twisted world of Thomas & Friends is every bit as bleak as Lord Sauron’s domain.
Now, I’m all for Gorgonna getting stoked about new stuff — especially when it comes to male-dominant vehicular pursuits (it’s 2017, trucks and trains ain’t just for boys). And although I may have embellished in the previous section for entertainment’s sake, I can’t say I entirely support the conceptual pillars that have held up Thomas & Friends for three decades.
For one, the adventures that the engines have — and by extension, the books and television episodes we indulge Gorgonna with on a daily basis — rarely have a wholesome message to them. I wasn’t kidding about likening Thomas and his engine pals to Odin, Loki, Thor, and Co. — when you get down to it, when the boiler runs dry, they really do seem like a bunch of juvenile brats. There are few substantial lessons tying the stories together — no morals to transmit onto impressionable young minds. The fictitious world of Thomas & Friends is portrayed as a series of random, unrelated, ultimately pointless events:
- Episode One: Trucks cause mischief for the engines. They fuck up everyone’s schedules. The end.
- Episode Two: Sir Topham Hatt’s car wants to go fast. He does, and he is admonished for it.
- Episode Three: The naughty Diesel has to stop being naughty because Thomas saw that he liked some ducks.
Like, you don’t have to bust a blood vessel picking out thematic elements to all of those scenarios — tidy little morals you could feasibly wrap up into tidy little vignettes — but are they present in the actual episodes? Nope. Shit just happens on Sodor; the wheels turn and turn, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. It’s an autonomous world that doesn’t care how many kids are watching or what educational value it imparts. Maybe there’s a zen quality you can get from that, but there are FAR better sources for that, I think.
Also, “Usefulness” isn’t a quality I’m thrilled that Thomas & Friends is projecting onto its young viewers. I understand there’s probably some kind of brand guide, possibly bound in the grotesque, leathery skin of Rev. W. Awdry’s corpse (may he rest in peace), but the Thomas team could afford to be a little flexible. It’s a tough time for the Arts, and every offering needs to pull its weight.
His Dark Materials
The primary difference between Thomas and other, newer gods is his sheer presence. Criticize him all you want — the merchandise is ON POINT. What started as a few board books here and there for Gorgonna’s reading pleasure has proliferated into two pajama sets, a coloring book, a shirt, and several wooden toys. She’s delighted when she gets to wear the Steam Team to bed, and she could flip through her Thomas “mazagine” all day. He’s omnipresent, the Alpha and Omega.
And it’s not just the relics we have in our home — Gorgonna has found houses of the holy in the local library, as well as the Barnes & Nobles scattered across our fair county. Each one houses an altar — a coveted train table — upon which his disciples enact the engines’ earthly adventures. And while the entire steam- and diesel-powered pantheon are available to her, Gorgonna choo-choo-chooses Thomas — even if another kid is currently playing with him. Gorgonna would bust into a confessional if it meant getting one-on-one time with Tommy Boy himself.
She has, however, begun devoting her affections to Gordon, the big, haughty express train; her smitten reactions to the very sight of him would be enough to make ol’ Tom jealous.
Pulling into Incantation Station
Thankfully, we don’t own any Thomas videos; they’re strictly stream engines (sorry). But that doesn’t keep me from panicking every time we boot an episode up because I know the insufferable theme song is going to drill deep into my skull and make itself at home for the next few days. Singing British children are a universal fear, a horrifyingly contagious force that compels you to follow them into whatever hell they’ve got planned for you. (Although I’ll admit that “Shunting trucks!” makes for an appealing alternative swear-word.)
Still, as excruciating as it is, the main theme is worlds better than the Thomas team’s attempts at appealing to a modern, hip crowd:
I don’t normally associate cock rock with iconic train-themed children’s shows, but someone over there clearly has the right vision.
Despite all this, I find that trains, in whatever form they happen to take, are still pretty fucking neat. Powerful metal machines, racing noisily along, blasting their horns belligerently — I don’t know, man. Maybe the kids are onto something…
Wait — what am I saying? Oh, good one, Thomas! You almost got me there! You see, his allure is more potent than I’d anticipated. I’m already buying into Gorgonna’s obsession — every time we find ourselves at a toy store, I feel an irresistible pull toward the wall of Thomas toys, thinking how neat it’d be for Gorgonna to own all her favorites…
We’re metalheads; collections are in our blood.
My advice to you is if you value your wallet as much as your sanity (or if you simply think a train with a face is freakish), you could do worse than to stay far, far away from Thomas and his brood. Save yourself a heap of trouble. But if your kid’s got an eye for the classics, like her father before her, then be prepared to invest.