5 Children’s Stories that Destroyed my Childhood

So, I woke up early on Saturday morning and decided to hit the gym. I just go to a local 24 hour fitness, it’s nice, but not too fancy. There are several television screens that they have tuned to various channels to keep you pumped during your workout. This being Saturday morning, they were all turned to cartoons. While watching television shows about Troll Dolls (they still have those now?), remakes of Scooby Doo, and various Japanese exports that still make no sense to me I was struck by how different modern children’s stories are from my own childhood. Namely, they don’t seem designed to scar you for life. You see, my childhood was riddled with disturbing ‘children’s stories’ in which the protagonist essentially learned that life is hard and to expect tragedy. In this post I present to you the top five children’s stories that shattered my childhood, in particular order:

5) Darby O’Gill and the Little People – this is by far the most frightening film ever made, and not just because Sean Connery sings. To this day, the images of this film haunt me. It’s why I fear Leprechauns and banshees. In fact, it’s probably why I have avoided visiting Ireland in spite of several opportunities to do so – I’m terrified that I’ll be on the foggy moors of Ireland and confronted by these terrifying creatures. Seriously, I cried myself to sleep for weeks. It’s the tale of a drunken Irishman who attempts to outsmart the King of the Leprechaun and even defies death. So, let’s present this here: it’s a children’s tale about wanton drunkenness, evil creatures, and death – I mean, a *lot* of drinking and drunkenness, and drunken brawls, and other drunken shenanigans. Did I mention how freaking scary that banshee is?! Yep, cheery.

Enjoy this video of a young Sean Connery pretending to be Irish (notice that his accent never changes whether he plays a Scot, an Englishman, an Irishman, or a Russian boat captain).


4) The Red Badge of Courage – For some reason this book was required reading in the fourth grade. In fact, it’s considered excellent reading material for children 4th-8th grade. It’s an incredibly graphic novel about a young man going off to the Civil War, watches his friends and comrades die in battle, listens to Generals essentially declare his regiment as cannon fodder, and other disturbing imagery. After the primary character flees from battle, he endeavors to redeem himself by exorcises his demons in suicidal attempts. Disturbing… Apparently, the horrors of war is considered good reading for ten year olds:

“Once he thought he had concluded that it would be better to get killed directly and end his troubles. Regarding death thus out of the corner of his eye, he conceived it to be nothing but rest, and he was filled with a momentary astonishment that he should have made an extraordinary commotion over the mere matter of getting killed. He would die; he would go to some place where he would be understood. It was useless to expect appreciation of his profound and fine senses from such men as the lieutenant. He must look to the grave for comprehension.”

3) Where the Red Fern Grows – On the surface, this story seems like it would be good, clean, childhood fun. After all, it’s the story of a boy and his two dogs and the hunt adventures they experience today. However, this seemingly innocent and endearing premise, is a facade for an incredibly disturbing story that includes dog fighting, horrific bullying, abusive grandparents, graphic scenes of hunting (including detailed images of raccoon beings hunted, killed brutally, and then skinned), and the accidental death of a teenager involving an axe (yes… an axe). Ultimately, the little boy has to deal with the death of his beloved coon hounds (one was mortally wounded saving the boy from a mountain lion and the other dies from grief over the loss of her buddy). The little boy (yes, the boy) then digs a grave for his two dogs and buries them in the forest. Good times. I was forced to read this book at 8.

2) The Little Mermaid – I’m not talking about the Walt Disney version here. I mean the original Little Mermaid written by Hans Christian Anderson. If you have been blessed to have only seen Disney’s Little Mermaid, allow me to inflict some emotional trauma on you. You see, in this version of the Little Mermaid, the 15 year old girl (unnamed)

Things Didn't End this Way Originally

does not get the man and all does not end well. After seeking out the Sea Witch for the opportunity to become mortal and win the Prince with whom she fell in love on her once in a lifetime visit to the surface, she is robbed of her voice and granted legs – however, walking/dancing would always feel like walking on daggers (awesome). Also, she would only remain human so long as she married the love of her life. If he married another, she would die and turn into sea foam the morning after his wedding. When she catches back up with her Prince, he repeatedly requests for her to dance for him and she willing does so (in spite of the excruciating pain).

However, the Prince ends up marrying someone else and, keeping with the Sea Witch’s original words the Little Mermaid prepares to die at first dawn. Her sisters show up with a dagger (selling their hair to the witch). All she has to do to save herself is to stab and murder her Prince and let his blood fall on her legs – she would get her tail back and could return to the ocean. However, she couldn’t do it and instead plunges into the ocean at first light and turns into sea foam. Yep, she dies.

The first time I saw this story was in movie form at a friends’ birthday party. And this was pre-Disney Mermaid movie so the mother had no excuses showing this to children. She knew how this story ended. I distinctly remember a group of eight year old girls (and one nine year old boy – mine friend’s other brother) finishing up this birthday celebration sobbing on the couch. In fact, this friend’s brother grew up and in high school was in a hard-core metal band, even wearing a spiked dog collar. I blame that phase on his shattered childhood (a shared experience).

1) Old Yeller – This was a children’s book that Walt Disney turned into a movie – without their characteristic ‘let’s change everything to a happy ending.’ If you’ve never seen/read Old Yeller, do not see it!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Whoever thought that this was an appropriate story for children is a sociopath. I don’t remember how old I was exactly when I saw this film, but I recall that I had to have my mother read one of the signs for me – meaning I was less than five years old.

Long story short, Old Yeller is the story of a young boy and his dog. Again, sounds like a loving and innocent premise right? A child and his beloved pet. He and Yeller (a mastiff-golden lab mix) form an intimate bond. Yeller becomes a member of the frontier family and helps with hunting and even saves the children from a bear attack. How wonderful. However, one night, Yeller saves the family from a rabid wolf that attacks them. Sadly, he sustains a bite in the process. As he is now infected with rabies the young boy then has to shoot his beloved dog in the head. Yes, this ten year old boy has to shoot his beloved pet in the head as he contracted rabies saving the family from a wolf.

Here’s a brief video of it, warning: you will cry!


So, these were the shattering “childrens’ stories” of my youth. Here is what I learned from these lovely stories: life is about pain, tragedy, death, depression, suicide, unrequited love, worthless self-sacrifice, and killing your childhood pets. While the Trolls television show isn’t going to raise any I.Q. points at least the children aren’t sobbing and scarred for life when the show is over.

12 thoughts on “5 Children’s Stories that Destroyed my Childhood

  1. glennstelter

    Agreed! I experienced “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “Old Yeller” around the same time when I was 10, and was afterwards convinced that something horrific WOULD happen to one of our dogs, and I would have to bury them. Looking back thats far too morbid a thing for a 10 year old to be preparing for.

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      At five, I though that I would ultimately have to kill the family pet. Who thinks that this is good stuff for children?!

  2. Michelle Nelson

    I have never watched the movie for Old Yeller but I read the book. That is the only book I have read and actually cried. I do remember going and hugging on my dogs for the rest of the day. It is a very upsetting book and I haven’t read it since. I was about 11 or 12 years old when I read it.

    Another book I thought was odd for a 6th grader to read was Bridge to Terabithia. I remember re-reading the chapter in which the young girl dies. I couldn’t and didn’t want to believe it. I also didn’t like reading The Giver in 6th or 7th grade. Not sure if I was mature enough to understand the importance of these books, especially when it came to death of young people.

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      I nearly included that one and Little Women – because Beth dies. However, the deceptive nature of the top five is how they made the list. You think that it will be all fun and games, but then it’s not (except Red Badge of Courage which is a horror show from start to finish).

  3. norm

    And I was thinking what a great remake the Darby movie would make with all of our fancy video tricks we have today. The earth opening up was always my favorite part in that movie.

    You forgot that Bambi movie-now there is a scary movie.

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Bambi nearly made the list… it was terrible. However, I think that by the time I saw Bambi I had already been scarred for life.

  4. rhulshofschmidt

    Great list! I fell asleep 20 minutes into Darby O’Gill the one time I was subjected to it as a child >whew< The Little Mermaid definitiely makes my list. Perhaps the creepiest of the fairy tales, and that takes some doing. My personal most horrifying:Struwwelpeter. I stumbled across a copy while visiting an aunt in my youth; the stories and the pictures disturbed me for years.
    Burning children and wandering avulsive tailors? Egad!

  5. Jim Wheeler

    Coming late to this post, I know. I guess my life in retirement is too full. Who knew?

    When I was about 7, Disney’s Snow White scared me so badly I had to go to the lobby during part of it. Powerful? That was 67 years ago and I still remember it. Later, the images of The Yearling (Gregory Peck starred) also seared themselves into my brain permanently – a boy raises a pet deer only to have his father have to shoot it dead after it destroys the garden on which the poor family relies for food. Talk about your good times! So you see, Jennifer, your generation is not the first to be subjected to such powerful stuff.

    Then there are the aptly-named Grimm’s fairy tales, which I found fascinating. I think they were so outrageous that I didn’t take them seriously, but had I been a child of the Middle Ages I probably would have perceived their verisimilitude. I also recall reading many animal stories including those of a then-famous explorer, Roy Chapman Andrews. Almost every animal story ends sadly and for that reason I eventually shunned all such. However, one I recall with great fondness was “The Black Stallion” by Walter Farley.

    This post poses an important dilemma, I think. For literature to be appealing, I submit, the subject matter must be compelling and therefore must arouse strong emotion. The Red Badge of Courage is (or was) ubiquitous on reading lists for that reason I think. Therefore I ask of Jennifer and other teachers this question: Has substituting the more bland entertainment of today for yesteryear’s emotive gruel (as in this post) diminished the current generation’s interest in or capacity for self expression in writing?

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      You know, that is such a difficult question to answer. Now, I must say, that I am most moved by art (literature included) that is conflicted, emotional, and even at times painful. Obviously, this was a tongue-in-cheek post with a grain of truth. I certainly don’t think I should have watched Old Yeller at 5… even at (let’s say older than 5) it’s a painful story.

      Perhaps stories about killing your pets or child abuse should be reserved for over 12… you know, once that teenage angst kicks in 😉

  6. Pingback: A Memoir of Dreams | Still Skeptical After All These Years

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s