Monday, 10 June 2013

Max, Nigel Molesworth, Just William, Horrid Henry - nasty/ mean kids made heroes


As a good kid (or, at least, one who tried to be good ) I thoroughly disliked the way some authors would portray bad kids in an approving fashion.

By bad kids, I mean nasty, mean, selfish, sadistic kids; the kind who would deliberately smash your toys for a laugh, chuck your hat into a tree where it was lost, or burst the football so nobody could play.

(You can tell a bad kid by the look on his face - this will be a sneer, of one or another type.) 

I now look back and perceive such fictional characters as early weapons in the anti-Good culture wars - part of a concerted, and almost-wholly-successful, attempt to subvert, ridicule and actively-attack those kids - or adults - who sincerely try to be helpful, honest, smart and truthful.



Titus Didius Tacitus said...


Some writers love to present the bad kids as spirited. They're not; they're exploiters of environments that favor them.

The spirited kids are the ones that defy the bad kids and the bullies against all odds: the junior Billy Budds. The authorities come down hard on them.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - What is interesting is that I sensed this strongly even as a child.

And, in the other direction, the vehemence of condemnation and vilification with which morally-educative children's writers - such as Enid Blyton and CS Lewis - are treated by the intellectual elite has to be seen to be believed.

It is a prime example of that moral inversion which is a staple of modern Western culture: encourageent to good is evil (being depicted either as snigger-worthy, dull, hypocritical, or classist-racist-sexist or something); and the glamourization of evil is good (being radical, subversive, anarchic, anti-establishment or whatever - these being assumed, without argument, to be positive attributes).

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

The phrase that pays is "deliciously subversive".

Delicious in whose mouth?

Subversive of whose enemies?

dearieme said...

Come, come: William Brown wasn't nasty. He was forever trying to do good in a daft, cack-handed way.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - You may be right, from an adult perspective - but that was the way I saw it as a kid.

Adam G. said...

This has been going a *long* time. American Civil War letters home are always full of surprise that its the clerks and deacons who were the bravest in battle, while the bully boys who had been held up as tougher and such often skedaddled.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - The difference being that now the brave ones would be regarded as hypocritical, stupid or mad; while the skedaddlers would be celebrated widely in the media as being more authentic, or charming, or something...

The Crow said...

I was one of those good kids, who was mercilessly bullied. But being 'spirited', I decided to become a better bully than the bullies.
At this I was quite successful, but for some inexplicable reason, adults would severely punish me for being a bully, while the real bullies were never censured for their activities.