Once upon a time, there was a librarian who liked macabre things. She also enjoyed choosing reading materials based on how eye-catching their titles were. One day, she found a book about murder, with a stark white and red cover showing a body impaled by an axe. She began reading the back cover blurb and was gripped with fearsome intrigue.
In “Bloody Murder”, author Michelle Ann Abate explores the act of murder in children’s literature. In case you are wondering, homicide has always been present in children’s fiction. Most of us remember this notorious chant from the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk:
I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he ‘live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
And the Queen of Hearts’ bloodthirsty cry: Off with their heads!
The fact that there exists the subject classification “Murder–Juvenile fiction” demonstrates the pervasiveness of the homicide theme in children’s literature. Bloody Murder contains a chronological examination of homicide in famous children’s literature from social and political perspectives. For instance, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) was created during the period when public executions created heated debates in England, which makes you wonder if the Queen of Hearts’ infamous line alluded to this issue. In another chapter, Abate examines Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes (1912) by using Cesare Lombroso’s theory of the “born criminal” to compare the features of the killer apes with those of the hero Tarzan. Among other topics, the book also examines the forces that have shaped the current obsession with zombies, murderous beings who are now the undead.
Bloody Murder makes us reconsider our frequent assumption that children’s literature is usually about positive events. Call it a wet blanket or destroyer of innocent dreams, but this book is not meant to recount the happily-ever-afters in children’s fiction. I enjoyed Abate’s attempts in interpreting the various well-known stories from a realistic representation. And for someone who enjoys most things macabre, this book served as a literary appetizer that whetted my interest in gory literature.
Bloody Murder: The Homicide Tradition in Children’s Literature by Michelle Ann Abate is available at the Central Library (PN1009.5 Hom.Ab 2013).