Today Piglet and I went to the library. The reason for this was that I had a book on helping child language development which was due back (having been barely touched. I have resigned myself to the fact that Piglet’s vocabulary is likely to consist of no more than “ball” and “A-DA” for some time to come, as I have written about here). However, while we were there I availed myself of the opportunity to look like a shining example of motherhood by reading books to Piglet and successfully not allowing him to pull piles of them off the shelves or rip out any flaps that happened to be lurking inside. I steered him towards Charlie and Lola, which turned out to be a bit too long to hold his attention, and after briefly being interested in some books with pictures of animals in, he settled on several of the apparently limitless collection of books known nowadays as Thomas and Friends.
I’m assuming that the words “tank engine” were removed simply because no one knows what a tank engine is anymore, since there is barely a person still living who remembers steam trains when they were actually a thing, right?
However, despite the removal of “tank engine” from the title, very little else appears to have changed in the past 60 years in Thomas-Land, also known as the Isle of Sodor. Based on the Thomas books I have seen so far (I admit I haven’t seen the TV series in a while), let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
1.) Thomas and his Friends are all steam engines. And unlike Real Life present-day steam engines, they are not lovingly restored museum pieces that run on special lines a couple of times a year staffed by enthusiasts. They do ACTUAL REAL WORK, like pulling passengers and freight around the Isle of Sodor. Given that the entire Isle of Sodor was probably shut down by Beeching around 1962, this is surely a lie of epic proportions. I am more inclined to believe that the moon is actually occupied by the Clangers in their natty fabric body-armour outfits than I am to believe that the Isle of Sodor is representative of any real present-day island.
2.) As Thomas and Friends are all steam engines, there is an underlying current of menace and threat surrounding the few resident non-steam-powered trains. Diesel, for example, is considered the enemy. Luddites, much?
3.) Thomas and his Friends all have massive faces. This is seriously creepy. I have seen some books where everything at Brendam Docks has a big, scary face, even the cranes. A CRANE WITH A FACE, people. This will HAUNT MY DREAMS.
4.) Where there are traces of modernity, these appear to be glaring anachronisms on Ye Olde Sceptr’d Isle of Sodor. For example I have seen a helicopter in one book-a helicopter! In the 1950s! Pass the smelling salts for I hath glimpsed the future and it is TERRIFYING! A flying machine with a great big propeller on top. Who’d have thought it? The helicopter is called Harold. As in, 1066, or tuba-playing Neighbours character of yore. Who would even call a helicopter Harold?
However, the fifth, and most important beef I have with Thomas (and his Friends) concerns the Friends themselves. Let’s take a look at these Friends: James, Henry, Gordon, Edward, Percy, Victor, Harold (don’t forget Harold!), Douglas, Diesel, Bertie, the Fat Controller…..are you noticing a pattern here? Of course, how could I have missed it, these Friends are, without exception MALE.
So apparently there are no females on the Isle of Sodor.
Oh yes, of course there are, I had forgotten Annie and Clarabel! Ah, Annie and Clarabel, Thomas’ CARRIAGES.
I get it now, on Sodor the females are seen and not heard, quite literally. They are mere passive vessels, to be pushed and pulled about by the men. I’m starting to think that this Sodor isn’t quite as idyllic a place as it likes to present itself.
Not only that but even the characters who are humans as opposed to inanimate methods of transportation are male. Take this guy, for example.
Surely there can be no better representative of patriarchy, the world as literally controlled by pompous middle-aged white men-possibly wearing top hats-than this one. I also particularly like the fact that the other characters in this picture are also white males. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any railway worker in a Thomas book-and there are quite a few-who was not a white man. I’m also enjoying the future leaders of Sodor-apparently public schoolboys-in the corner here. Do the girls on Sodor not go to school? Was it wash day when this picture was taken, or were they all on their period and hence confined to some outbuilding for a week or so, so as not to pollute the crisp air of Sodor’s houses with their uncleanliness?
Come on Thomas, get with the programme. Chuggington has a female mayor you know. And she’s black. Sodor is over. Embrace the future!