This thread about shocking violence in classic film got me to thinking about a place where it can be even more shocking: children’s and YA literature.
Bear in mind that when we get to the realm of literature that’s mean for young adults there is such a thing as expected violence, so we shouldn’t include those stories in this thread. For example, The Hunger Games contains moments of completely expected violence, so that wouldn’t fit the topic.
Here are a few to start off with:
Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls - the mountain lion disemboweling poor Old Dan the dog was pretty unexpected in a book meant for elementary age readers.
After the First Death by Robert Cormier - the fact that someone in this story about terrorists capturing a school bus dies isn’t surprising given the title. That it’s a four-year-old whose body is then paraded around by one of terrorists is quite shocking.
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix - in this society having more than 2 children is forbidden. Luke, the narrator, is a thirdborn and lives his life hidden from everyone, and eventually learns that his neighbors have a third child too - Jen. Via secret message boards Jen helps organize a rally of third children…who are all gunned down by the Population Police.
This was said by Jim Hawkins (aged 13-15) to Mr. Hands right before the former shoots and kills the latter. I was a bit surprised to find that level of violence in a book aimed at children. But apparently authors didn’t fuck around in the 1880s.
Many (most?) of the stories in *Grimms’ Fairy Tales * have moments of violence that are excised in classic and modern adaptions.
“The queen, still believing that Snow White is dead, again asks her magic mirror who is the fairest in the land. The mirror says that the prince’s bride is the fairest. Not knowing that the bride is her stepdaughter, the queen arrives at the wedding to investigate. Frozen with rage and fear, she tries to sow chaos but the prince recognizes her as a threat. He orders that she wear a pair of red-hot iron slippers and dance in them until she drops dead for the attempted murder of Snow White.”
“The next morning, the prince goes to Aschenputtel’s house and tries the slipper on the eldest stepsister. The sister was advised by her mother to cut off her toes in order to fit the slipper. While riding with the stepsister, the two doves from Heaven tell the Prince that blood drips from her foot. Appalled by her treachery, he goes back again and tries the slipper on the other stepsister. She cut off part of her heel in order to get her foot in the slipper, and again the prince is fooled. While riding with her to the king’s castle, the doves alert him again about the blood on her foot. He comes back to inquire about another girl. The gentleman tells him that they keep a kitchen-maid in the house – omitting to mention that she is his own daughter – and the prince asks him to let her try on the slipper. Aschenputtel appears after washing herself, and when she puts on the slipper, the prince recognizes her as the stranger with whom he has danced at the ball.”
There is even a nice Little ditty to go along with it - I still remember my mother chanting “Ruckedigu, Ruckedigu, Blut ist im Schuh” (nonsense birdy sound to rhyme with “blood in the shoe”) to me. I did not really get what it was about until a much later age.
I woould add the rising level of violence in the Harry Potter books. Of course J.K. Rowling intended for children to age along with the books, but if you have a literate 8 or 9 year old he will be quite surprised by people actually dying in Goblet of Fire.
In the Battle of Five Armies at the end of The Hobbit, three of the main characters are killed.
The story as a whole evolves into a much more adult tale than in the earlier chapters, involving the complicated claims and counterclaims on the treasure by several different factions (the Dwarves, the Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Laketown), the descent of Thorin into gold-lust, and the Dwarves’ plight during the siege of the Mountain.