Until yesterday, I had not heard of Tracy Van Slyke. And, having now read her latest contribution to our understanding of children’s literature, I can safely conclude that, not only have I not suffered any disadvantage by not having heard of Tracy Van Slyke, I will suffer no disadvantage if the writings of Tracy Van Slyke are forever lost to me. This conclusion can be easily explained.
Ms Van Slyke has penned a contribution to the Guardian’s Comment Is Free (CiF), and it is to be hoped that this is a very occasional contribution indeed. Here, she tells that there is – to her, at least – “Classism, sexism [and] anti-environmentalism bordering on racism” embedded in a genre that is lapped up by millions of unsuspecting children worldwide. What is the identity of the culprit?
This supposed vehicle for the subversion of minors is none other than Thomas The Tank Engine. Yes, I too have struggled to see how the Reverend Wilbert Awdry – an Anglican priest – was able to write such horrors into those books which followed from his bedtime stories for son Christopher, who was at the time recovering from a bout of measles. What did everyone miss?
You’ll love this: “when the good engines pump out white smoke and the bad engines pump out black smoke – and they are all pumping out smoke – it's not hard to make the leap into the race territory”. Christ On A Bike, that’s desperate. And the Fat Controller does not wear a “tuxedo”, Ms Van Slyke. It’s called a Frock Coat. We’re talking about something particularly English here.
Oh, and the most damning indictment of the Thomas genre is that James The Red Engine got the piss taken out of him when he was summoned by the Fat Controller to do a job while still in pink undercoat. Well, have I got news for Ms Van Slyke: Thomas The Tank Engine does not contain any coded messages. For goodness’ sake, these are stories for children, no more, no less.
Small wonder that one of those stopping by to comment on this hyperbolic confection observed that “peak Guardian” had been reached. Few have taken it seriously, although some of those trying – again – to pretend that CiF equals Guardian editorial line have revealed their own shortcomings in the process. Step forward the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog.
The Great Guido took grave exception to Ms Van Slyke’s talk of engines emitting smoke: “It’s not white smoke you numpty, it’s steam. They are steam engines”. Staines and his rabble must have missed the overall roof at St Pancras before it was cleaned. Likewise King’s Cross, Manchester Piccadilly, Liverpool Lime Street, and yes, even Crewe. Of course they pump out smoke.
And now the smoke has gone, there are pundits to pump out guff instead.