Many of us can recall watching Thomas and Friends as kids, reveling in the antics of Thomas the tank engine and his pals in the mythical world of Shining Time Station. These trains were constantly on the go, and that only encouraged us to tune in. With a conductor voiced by Ringo Starr — in the beginning of the series anyway — how can you possibly go wrong?
Shining Time Station appeared just as it sounds — bright, sunny, and filled with enjoyable characters. Although Thomas and his fellow train pals seemed to have quite the life, looking back as an adult makes the scenery look much more dreary. There may have been some dark plot twists we viewers originally overlooked.
It turns out that the entire world of Shining Time Station may have been pretty depressing, despite the feel-good demeanor of the show. An article written by Jia Tolentino of The New Yorker dives into the less than welcoming world of Thomas and Friends, and some of her findings may shock you. Being a train is apparently no easy life.
Thomas the Tank Engine was the idea of an Anglican minister named Reverend Wilbert Awdry. He began telling his son Christopher stories of talking, living trains in 1942, which he then put into a series of books called "The Railway Series" in 1972. This book series was then adapted into a television series, Shining Time Station, which began to air in 1982. Upon further examination of the show, viewers can see that Awdry pushed his societal views of order and proper punishment within the plot of this childhood favorite.
As one viewer on Twitter stated, the show has "CORPSES rusting out in the open." As Thomas and his other train companions travel throughout the station they are literally passing massive graveyards of trains that have died and been left to rot. Sort of grim, right? It only gets worse.
One Tumblr user explains that the show "canonically takes place in a train post-apocalypse where the Island of Sodor is the only safe zone in a totalitarian dystopia in which steam trains are routinely killed and their body parts are sold or cannibalized for repair." The Tumblr user goes on to explain that the island of Sodor — where Shining Time Station is located — is under the watchful eye of the Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt), who is constantly punishing trains that aren't performing up to par.
The character Diesel — a black diesel engine train — continuously struggles to keep up with the steam-powered trains throughout the series. This reflects reality at the time of Awdry's writing since diesel trains were becoming less common due to the rise of steam engines. The female trains within the series — Annie and Clarabel — are even lower on the totem pole, and these trains are actually gifted to Thomas as if they are possessions.
In the episode of Thomas and Friends entitled "Get Out, Henry!" a green train becomes afraid that going out in the rain will ruin his paint. He then refuses to come out of a tunnel, and the railroad director's response — also known as the Fat Controller or Sir Topham Hatt — is to punish him for the rest of eternity. He has a team of people barricade Henry in the tunnel with bricks. That escalated quickly.
The Fat Controller turns a train named Smudger into a generator after he got too confident. The railroad director claimed he would "make him useful at last," and that involves keeping the train stationary for life. Obviously, Sir Topham Hatt was quite the controller, both literally and figuratively — and his frightening nature was overwhelming.
The Fat Controller runs a tight ship, and no train on the island of Sodor escapes his wrath. When he isn't busy condemning trains to death, he is making sure all business is running smoothly, and his demeanor throughout the series is condescending and rather — dare I say — controlling. It doesn't help that his appearance is utterly off-putting.
He bears a striking similarity to Pennybags from the game of Monopoly, and that should serve as an insight into what he values. His stare is creepy, and he isn't afraid to "take away your rails, and leave you here for always and always." This type of dictatorship is never good for the wellbeing of a society, but apparently, we let it slide in children's television programs.
The Dark Side Of Thomas Is Interestingly Intriguing
"I have become a little obsessed with the show’s repressive, authoritarian soul," Tolentino wrote. You can't really blame her, revisiting one of your childhood shows in a knowledgeable light is kind of thrilling. Hindsight truly is 20/20.
There Are Entire Blogs Dedicated To These Theories
Fans of the show can't get enough of these dreary realities of this childhood show, and some are dedicated to uncovering the grim truth. Websites such as Thomas & Friends Wikia cover these dark aspects of the show, and it's hard not to get wrapped up in these unlikely perspectives. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Reality is not always butterflies and rainbows, and this is especially true on the island of Sodor. Whether you were a fan of Thomas and Friends or you just like a convincing conspiracy theory, this friendly locomotive will never really look the same. All aboard! Next stop: loss of childhood innocence!