Still Scared: Talking Children's Horror

Still Scared: Talking Children's Horror

The Water-Babies

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In this episode we discussed the 1863 novel The Water-Babies, by Charles Kingsley.

If you want to follow us on twitter we are @stillscaredpod, and our email address is Intro music is by Maki Yamazaki, find her work at Outro music is by Joe Kelly, and his band Etao Shin are at Artwork is by Letty Wilson, find her work at

The public domain sound effects in this are: water effects by Benboncan and Scratchikken, both of which were reduced in volume. Ghost voice guide Audacity by Flick.


Ren Welcome to Still Scared: Talking Children’s Horror, a podcast about creepy, spooky and disturbing children’s books, films and TV. I’m Ren Wednesday, my co-host is Adam Whybray, and today we’re talking about the 1863 novel The Water-Babies, by Charles Kingsley. Enjoy!

Ren Good evening, Adam.

Adam Aye, Cockalorum!

Ren Yes, indeed. (Deep sigh) I just felt like I needed to start this with a sigh.

Adam Yes, get all your sighs out early. Get them out of your system.

Ren One thing I will say for this, is that it was free.

Adam It’s best when suffering comes free.

Ren Yeah. I’m glad I didn’t pay any money to read this book.

Adam This book being The Water-Babies or The Water-Babies, a Fairytale for a Land Baby, by Charles Kingsley.

Ren From all the way back in 1863, so older than we’ve done before by a good 50 years.

Adam Yeah, trekking back to the origins of children literature. In as much as I guess there were instructional works for children, or works for adults re-written for children, like obviously stories from the Bible, or stories from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb, but this interestingly bridges the gap between a sermon for children and what we would now consider children’s literature.

I think most kids today would be fairly unimpressed. I mean, the reason I know of The Water-Babies is that my mum was read it as a child, by my grandma, and I think my grandma tried to read it to me as a child, but I was quite resistant. But my mum said it really horrified her as a child

Ren I imagine so!

Adam So it has a special spot of repressed horror for her and she really hates The Water-Babies.

Ren It was popular well into the twentieth century.

Adam God, poor kids. Not only did they have to go up chimneys, but when they got out of the chimney they had to be lectured about how going up a chimney was probably a sign of their sinfulness.

It reminds me very much of Victorian day in primary school, did you ever have to do one of those?

Ren No, I was always kind of sad I never got to do one.

Adam I wouldn’t be! No, no. It was basically just a means by which teachers could be more awful to the kids than they’d normally be allowed to get away with! Under the guise of it being Victorian.

I remember that I was told that I was going to be caned, because of how badly I did on the mathematics problems, and I was very sincere and earnest and thought ‘Oh dear, I’m going to get caned then’ and I spoke to my best friend Stuart at the time, who I might have told you before, notably once tied me to a chair with a skipping rope and left me in the toys storage beach hut, all through lunch time. And when any children went into the beach hut and said ‘are you okay Adam?’ I said ‘Oh yes, yes’ and just sat there.

But he insisted that actually, yes, I was going to be caned, and I should go to the headteacher of the school and ask about my caning. So I went back into the school on my lunch break and found the teacher and said (small, tremulous voice) ‘Oh miss, is it time for me to be caned?’

Ren Awww.

Adam I didn’t have to wear the dunce cap though, which Daniel did. But the other thing that really sticks in my mind, and was certainly not a very good thing for a child with OCD to be singing, was this hymn we had to sing which went:

(sings) Cleanliness is next to Godliness! To Godliness! To Godliness! Cleanliness is next to Godliness! It doesn’t cost anything to be clean!

Which, if it came from The Water-Babies, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Ren No, no, that’s quite a summation of the plot really.

Adam There we go, done!

Ren So I was reading an article on the Guardian about the novel, which was a vicar defending to a certain extent, saying ‘Well, you know, Charles Kingsley did do a lot for the rights of children, bringing the plight of chimney sweeps to the attention of parliament’, but even he described it as being ‘close to unreadable’.

Adam which I think is fair! So what would you say, having just read it, makes it close to unreadable?

Ren Okay, well. I find the tone extremely annoying, for one thing. It’s written as if it’s being told to a small boy, and it’s got this kind of irritating ironic lecturing tone, and then it also has these very long rambling satiric digressions, but what they’re satirising has been lost to time so it’s just these quite odd heavy-handed digressions sprinkling the text.

Adam And it’s odd because the same could be said for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but that remains eminently readable, right?

Ren Yes. Also, it’s very racist.

Adam That’s true, yes.

Ren Which I think is the main reason why it fell out of favour, one of the main reasons.

Adam It was written partly in support of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and obviously in this mid-to-late Victorian period, The Origin of Species was used a great deal to prop up racist narratives.

Ren Yeah, I don’t know if that was quite happening yet?

Adam Yeah, maybe not, but it was the time when Darwin was being heavily disputed and there were lots of different evolutionary theories.

Ren I was reading the Wikipedia article and it was like ‘people have pointed out his bigotry towards the Irish, Jews, Americans, the poor…’. He had a lot of prejudices, Mr Kingsley.

Adam And it’s definitely this kind of paternalistic racism, right? The same kind of racism that might characterise the evangelical Christian who goes off to Africa to convert all the natives.

Ren Yes, there’s a lot of ‘Oh dear, these poor heathens, they don’t know what they do, we need to convert them’.

Shall I give a little bit of plot?

Adam Yeah, focussed on the poor heathen —

Ren — the poor heathen, Tom, our unfortunate child chimney sweep protagonist who has never been taken to church or learnt his prayers. His master, Mr Grimes, is cruel and drunk and sends poor Tom up chimneys.

Adam They’re definitely from the Dickensian school of how to treat children.

Ren Yes. They go to a large country house to sweep the chimneys, and Tom gets lost in all these branching stacks of the chimneys and comes back down into a little girl’s room.

The housekeeper sees him and believes he’s stealing, and in his fright, he scampers out of the window and runs away over the hills, pursued in this slightly comical, farcical chase by Grimes and the residents of the houses.

He gets really far away, but ends up falling into a stream, and drowns/becomes a water baby.

Adam What a punchline!

Ren Yeah. And that’s the part with the most plot, the most straightforward plot is the beginning and after that he’s under water and a water baby, and the rest of the novel is this kind of digressive, underwater moral adventure as he learns the difference between right and wrong and becomes an upstanding Victorian gentleman.

Adam He’s informed of the existence of other water babies like him, and that there’s a place where they all hang out — do you remember what it’s called?

Ren Um, no.

Adam Oh!

Ren I thought it was the Shining Wall, but I think that’s where the goddess is.

Adam It might just be the deep waters, or the deep part of the sea. But in a conventional episodic, road-journeying novel, our protagonist would make their way there, overcoming obstacles. But because Tom’s underwater he’s mostly just pulled by the currents, so he doesn’t get much of a choice where he’s going. Most of the time he’s just being pulled hither and thither, occasionally being pursued by big fish who want to eat him.

Ren In an effort to be fair, I wrote down some things I liked about the book, and one of them was that there were some pretty good descriptions of underwater scenery and animals. Charles Kingsley apparently wrote a book about rock pools and what lives in them, so he clearly was interested in nature and sea-creatures so there’s some quite evocative descriptions.

Adam But you get so overwhelmed by the narrative voice, and as you hinted at, it’s a very strange narrative voice, because it’s engaged in this semi-ironic lecturing tone, in which it’s winkingly oh-so-clever, but obviously most children reading this or being read to, aren’t going to get that.

They’re just going to find it patronising. So it’s quite odd, because if Kingsley is trying to make fun of the patronising nature of educators in the Victorian period, this isn’t going to be very clear to the children.

Ren Yeah. I don’t think it was particularly clear to me, exactly what he was trying to do.

Adam It’s a very perplexing book for a modern reader. There’s lots of bits where it’s like ‘what are you doing?’, just not quite understanding.

Ren I don’t know how to quite get across the rambling oddness of it.

Adam Which is perhaps partly what makes it horrifying, is it does, maybe inadvertently, manage to get across the confusion of being a child and being subject to these seemingly arbitrary rules and systems imposed on you by the adult world that aren’t given much explanation, so charitably, he could be trying to recreate that experience.

But there’s no differentiation for a child listening to The Water-Babies is just going to be another bewildering and terrifying lecture they might have already suffered at school.

Ren Yeah. I think this is one of our key sites of horror. How do we explain — there’s two fairy sisters, Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid and Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid is the punishing one, who doles out relevant torments to people who have been cruel to children in various ways.

Adam Yes. So, Tom has joined this school of water babies, but is found to be less slightly less innocent and cherubic than some of the others, so is being given lessons to make him a good Christian child, and he also gets to witness the punishments of various people who have mistreated children. So this is Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid introducing herself.

(bubbling sound affect starts)

“And I am very ugly. I am the ugliest fairy in the world; and I shall be, till people behave themselves as they ought to do. And then I shall grow as handsome as my sister, who is the loveliest fairy in the world; and her name is Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. So she begins where I end, and I begin where she ends; and those who will not listen to her must listen to me, as you will see.

Now all of you run away, except Tom; and he may stay and see what I am going to do. It will be a very good warning for him to begin with, before he goes to school.

“Now, Tom, every Friday I come down here and call up al who have ill-used little children and serve them as they served the children.”

And at that Tom was frightened, and crept under a stone; which made the two crabs who lived there very angry, and frightened their friend the butter-fish into flapping hysterics: but he would not move for them.

And first she called up all the doctors who give little children so much physic (they were most of them old ones; for the young ones have learnt better, all but a few army surgeons, who still fancy that a baby’s inside is much like a Scotch grenadier’s), and she set them all in a row; and very rueful they looked; for they knew what was coming.

And first she pulled all their teeth out; and then she bled them all round: and then she dosed them with calomel, and jalap, and salts and senna, and brimstone and treacle; and horrible faces they made; and then she gave them a great emetic of mustard and water, and no basons; and began all over again; and that was the way she spent the morning.

And then she called up a whole troop of foolish ladies, who pinch up their children’s waists and toes; and she laced them all up in tight stays, so that they were choked and sick, and their noses grew red, and their hands and feet swelled; and then she crammed their poor feet into the most dreadfully tight boots, and made them all dance, which they did most clumsily indeed; and then she asked them how they liked it; and when they said not at all, she let them go: because they had only done it out of foolish fashion, fancying it was for their children’s good, as if wasps’ waists and pigs’ toes could be pretty, or wholesome, or of any use to anybody.

Then she called up all the careless nurserymaids, and stuck pins into them all over, and wheeled them about in perambulators with tight straps across the stomachs and their heads and arms hanging over the side, til they were quite sick and stupid, and would have had sun-strokes: but, being under the water, they could only have water-strokes, which, I assure you, are nearly as bad, as you will find if you try to sit under a mill-wheel. And mind — when you hear a rumbling at the bottom of the sea, sailors will tell that it is a ground-swell: but now you know better. It is the old lady wheeling the maids about in perambulators.

And by that time she was so tired, she had to go to luncheon.

And after luncheon she set to work again, and called up all the cruel schoolmasters — whole regiments and brigades of them; and when she saw them, she frowned most terribly, and set to work in earnest, as if the best part of the day’s work was to come.

More than half of them were nasty, dirty, frowzy, grubby, smelly old monks, who, because they dare not hit a man of their own size, amused themselves with beating little children instead; as you may see in the picture of old Pope Gregory (good man and true though he was, when he meddled with things which he did understand), teaching children to sign their fa-fa-mi-fa with a cat-o-nine tails under his chair: but, because they never had any children of their own, they took into their heads (as some folks do still) that they were the only people in the world who knew how to manage children: and they first brought into England, in the old Anglo-Saxon times, the fashion of treating free boys, and girls too, worse than you would treat a dog or a horse: but Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid has caught them all long ago; and given them many a taste of their own rods; and much good may it do them.

And she boxed their ears, and thumped them over the head with rulers, and pandied their hands with canes, and told them that they told stories, and were this and that bad sort of people; and the more they were very indignant, and stood upon their honour, and declared they told the truth, the more she declared they were not, and that they were only telling lies; and at last she birched them all round soundly with her great birch-rod and set them each an imposition of three hundred thousand lines of Hebrew to learn by heart before she came back next Friday. And at that they all cried and howled so, that their breaths came all up through the sea like bubbles out of soda-water; and that is one reason of the bubbles in the sea’.

So, I… appreciate the sentiment! Clearly Kingsley is very much against the mistreatment of children and corporal punishment in schools and by governors and governesses, but I don’t know if describing such a vengeful litany of abuses which Tom has to witness is quite the right way around things!

Ren Yeah! Violent childhood revenge fantasies under the sea.

Adam (sings) Under the sea! They’ll be no consternation just friendly degradation under the sea!’

Ren I think it’s indisputable that Charles Kingsley had a strong moral dislike of adults who were cruel to children in any way. That definitely comes across. In masters like Mr Grimes, and school-teachers and parents. That was clearly something that he wanted to get across.

Adam And something that he clearly shared with Dickens, in Oliver Twist says, the characterisation of Squeers is quite similar to the characterisation of Grimes here. A bully, and a sadist and someone who gets their kicks by abusing children, basically.*

Ren But it’s quite an odd thing to come across in a children’s books!

Adam You could understand it in a political pamphlet, and that’s the odd thing about the book is that sometimes it feels like a sermon or a political pamphlet, and sometimes it feels like a fairy tale, and it moves between these different modes in quite a confusing way.

I mean, I can’t quite think of an equivalent. I suppose if you were really opposed to animal abuse you probably wouldn’t go to a barnyard and show all the animals horrible pictures of farmers being garrotted and ground up? I mean, you could, but you’d run the risk of seeming a little scary.

Ren It veers between being very twee and soft, with the water babies and goes quite quickly into quite violent punishment.

Adam And arguably Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass do the same, but I guess the violent things in that tend to seem quite ludicrous. Yes, the red queen is quite a scary figure for children, but she’s inherently quite comic.

Whereas obviously Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid isn’t a comic figure, she’s a figure of pure justice. And that’s quite scary. I guess it’s similar in a way to the figure of God you’re often given as a child, which again I found very scary as a child. I have clear memories of the Church of England primary I went to and singing When I Needed A Neighbour. Which again, has a very well-meaning sentiment, it was written by a Quaker.

Which for those of you who don’t know, goes: (Adam sings) When I needed a neighbour where you there, where you there? When I needed a neighbour where you there? And the creed and the colour and the name don’t matter, Where you there?

And then it goes on to:

I was cold, I was naked, where you there, where you there? I was cold, I was naked, where you there? And the creed and the colour and the name don’t matter, (aggressively)Where you there? Where you there?

Ren Stern stuff.

Adam And as a child I thought, ‘what can I do to help this cold naked person, I’m only five?!’ and it was very overwhelming.

Ren I think that the theology of The Water-Babies is that Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid is only one aspect of God, and that her and Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mother Carey, who’s the ancient goddess who creatures creatures who Tom meets, there’s a moment at the end where a figure’s face flits between all of these different women and they’ll all meant to be a part of God?

Adam I guess you have a similar thing in the Narnia books with Aslan, where sometimes Aslan is kittenish, and sometimes Aslan is a terrifying roaring beast.

Ren It’s kind of interesting that they’re all women, maybe wouldn’t expect that from a mid-Victorian book.

Adam Yeah, I think that’s true, and that’s something that’s carried into the film adaptation from 1978, which mostly is very twee, and keeps all the cutesy aspects of the book and eradicates all of the harsh moralising aspects.

So it’s certainly more palatable, but it’s also kind of pointless. Because as you said yourself, there isn’t much plot in The Water-Babies, not vey much happens, so if you take out all the satirical and instructional aspects, you’re not left with very much, to be honest.

Ren No. A couple of children die…

Adam Although, I understand that you bailed out of the film.

Ren I didn’t make it all the way through.

Adam That’s okay, but it does mean that you missed Terrence the seahorse.

(short clip plays of a loud roaring underwater noise and then a rather camp voice saying ‘hello)

Definitely the best addition to the film who is not in the book, who is a flamboyantly camp seahorse. Voiced by a guy called Lance Percival, who was apparently best known for his appearances in satiric comedy shows of the 1960s, and his ability to improvise comic calypsos about current news stories. He later became successful as an after-dinner speaker.

Ren That’s an excellent career span!

Adam And he definitely gets to do a lot of comedy business. As Terrence the seahorse, who has a tiny little bowtie. Camp vaudevillian seahorse, basically.

So that’s definitely the best aspect, Terrence’s inclusion.

Ren From what I saw Tom was definitely much less filthy than he’s described in the book.

Adam Yeah, it’s definitely a sanitised portrait of Victorian London, almost pantomime. James Mason who plays Grimes is certainly villainous, but it’s a kind of pantomime villainy. He’s got black face-paint under his eyes to accentuate the bags, and he spends lots of time booting the child actors about and cackling to himself. He’s just a silly old sadist basically. You can’t take him terribly seriously. And generally it has a lot of pretty weak-sauce humour, to be honest. The humour’s all very loose and fall-about and daft.

One difference I did find striking is that, you mentioned in the book that Tom is pursued by the people of the mansion who believe that he’s stolen the silverware, and he gets away and then drowns, but in the film I found it interesting that they actually had Sir John, who is a character in the book, he’s the patriarch of the manor, and he actually sees Tom drown in the film and says quite ruefully ‘Jesus, I’ve killed a child’.

Ren (sceptically) Like that?

Adam It was a moment of real pathos!

Ren Okay!

Adam I found that interesting because a lot of the darker aspects aren’t there in the film.

Ren The way it describes them finding Tom’s body in the book, is that we see him swim off as a water baby and it says:

‘The fairies had washed him, you see, in the swift river, so thoroughly, that not only his dirt, but his whole husk and shell had been washed quite off him, and the pretty little real Tom was washed out of the inside of it.’

(distressed noise) There’s something quite disturbing about the husk there.

Adam It’s like Under the Skin with Scarlet Johansson. Have you seen that?

Ren No…

Adam It’s about an alien, played by Johansson, who’s harvesting humans for some kind of intergalatic meat factory. The men in the film are seduced and end up walking into this sinking black sticky void and are suspended kind of underwater, and you know how when you’re in the bath for too long you get prune fingers? It’s kind of like that, their skin becomes loosened and then somehow their flesh is slooshed out of their loosened skin.

Ren Arggghhh.

Adam Pretty horrid! So Johnathan Glazer version of The Water-Babies.

Ren So one of my least favourite instructional digressions was the whole saga of the Doasyoulikes. Do you remember that?

Adam Not really…

Ren It’s this long didactic segment….

Adam Is that the especially racist bit?

Ren It is the especially racist bit. In which Tom and Ellie are told about a group of people called the Doasyoulikes, who leave the land of (weary tone of voice) “Hardwork” to live in the land of “Readymade” and who are so lazy that they progressively de-evolve until they become ape-like.

And at the end it has this very racist dogwhistle that says that one of them ‘remembered that his ancestors had once been men, and tried to say, “Am I not a man and a brother?” but had forgotten how to use his tongue’

Adam Urgh.

Ren And “Am I not a man and a brother” for those who don’t know, is a famous abolitionist phrase that was produced on a medallion by Josiah Wedgewood on the late eighteenth century with the image of an enslaved man in manacles kneeling, and that became an often-used abolitionist slogan.

So. Yeah. That’s horrible.

Adam It is! Looking on Kingsley’s Wikipedia page he’s listed as a social reformer, was particularly associated with Christian Socialism, the working men’s collage and forming labour co-operatives. But that’s not to say that the left don’t have their own history of racism.

Ren Yeah. I guess he definitely had some pretty major blindspots in his liberal outlook particularly around race and nationality.

Adam But I guess you could say that it is tied up with the theology of the book, that while say, it’s a sympathetic vision of England’s poor, it’s also very paternalistic and it’s very bound up with ideas around worthiness, and the idea that the poor are heathens because they don’t know better, but they need to be instructed to be better.

Ren Yes, and you kind of get the feeling that his concern for children is perhaps partly because he wants to save them from their parents who are too far gone, to rescue them to become good Christian men and woman of the middle class.

Adam I guess it treads on similar territory, perhaps, to some anti-sex work campaigners, I mean that’s a whole other issue! But sometimes, and obviously there was a lot of that in the Victorian period too, Dickens himself was very involved in that movement, and sometimes it’s not really about the autonomy of the individual women but about what’s good for them without listening to them.

And I think that’s one of the main flaws of The Water-Babies, is that it’s not really listening to children. While it’s trying to criticise adults who talk down to children and hurt children with their assumptions about what a child is, it just kind of ends up doing the same thing to some degree. Do you think that’s fair?

Ren Yeah, I think that’s fair. It never stays far from this moralistic core of the story.

Adam Which I think Lewis Carroll does.

Ren Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. That’s why the Alice books are so much more enjoyable, because you get to be in the story and just enjoy the world and the characters rather than being constantly pulled back to this moral that the author wants to hammer home.

Adam Yeah, and everything’s problematic! I mean, obviously there’s been lots of writing about Lewis Carroll or Charles Dodgson, but for whatever reasons he definitely seemed to understand children. I think when you read the Alice books as a child you feel like this is a book that gets your experience.

There are a few joyous moments that make their way into the film. My favourite moment, perhaps, I’ve written as ‘a small child slow-motion throwing a whole suit of armour down the stairs, in order to incapacitate and possibly get his abusive father figure hanged’.

So at the end Tom comes back to the mansion alive again, and Grimes tries to rob it for a second time and it’s a bit ‘fall me once, shame on you, fall me twice shame on me’. But basically to capture Grimes he throws a very big suit of armour down the stairs to trap him, and there’s a slow-motion shot of this that I really enjoy.

Ren If there’s one thing I’d praise the book for, it does have some good textures, Adam.

Adam Is it time?

Ren I think it might be time.

(rattling and plinky-plonk noises)

Ren Texture… texture….

Adam texture…

Ren texture…

Adam of the…

Ren of the…

Adam and Ren weeeeek!

Ren It was very genteel this time.

Adam Genteel, and kind of under-watery.

Okay, you go first because my Texture of the Week is from the film.

Ren Okay, this is quite a long one. It’s a weird list of cures from a particularly bewildering digression that I didn’t know entirely what it was about, to be honest. But I liked this list.

Adam I appreciate your honesty. It’s good that we’ve both been honest that this is quite a bewildering book. Hopefully this doesn’t mean that we are less clever than Victorian children.


(echoing sound effect starts as Ren reads)

‘Bezoar stone. Diamargaritum. A ram’s brain boiled in spice. Oil of wormwood. Water of Nile. Capers. Good wine (but there was none to be got) The water of a smith’s forge. Ambergris. Mandrake Pillow. Dormouse fat. Hares’ ears. Starvation. Camphor. Salts and senna. Musk. Opium. Strait-waistcoats. Bullyings. Bumpings.’

Adam It’s like a list from Borges!*

Ren Yeah, I just quite like that as an abstract list of items.

Adam It reminds me of his list that divides animals into fourteen categories from the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge:

-Those that belong to the emperor -Embalmed ones -Those that are trained -Suckling pigs

  • Mermaids (or Sirens)
  • Fabulous ones
  • Stray dogs
  • Those that are included in this classification
  • Those that tremble as if they were mad
  • Innumerable ones
  • Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  • Et cetera
  • Those that have just broken the flower vase
  • Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

Ren Yeah, I’m quite a sucker for those taxonomies of odd things. The other one, just because I often talk about how I feel like I’m made of string and bits of paper, is describing… some character, I don’t even know, but it says:

‘He was made up principally of fish bones and parchment, put together with wire and Canada balsam’.

That’s a mood! As the kids say.

Adam We’re really trying to up our listenership today!

This old Victorian text may seem old and creaky kids, but we know the memes as well as anyone.

Ren Sorry, it’s very warm!

Adam It is very warm, I fell asleep this afternoon when I should have been reading Das Kapital. I fell asleep meditating. Like, you want to relax but you need to stay alert. Either when I’m meditating I’m itching and I can’t settle down, or I meditate and I fall asleep. Never get that perfect middle point that you want.

Ren I fell asleep reading this book. At the point where it was lecturing me about the importance of hard work.

Adam Good for you! That shows it. So my texture is from the film, and one notable thing about the film is that the animation is done by a polish studio. For those listeners who don’t know, my area of expertise is Eastern-Central European animation. And it has this sketchy quality typical of Polish animation of the time, and it has some really good graphical matches and transitions between the animated segments and the live-action segments.

One of which is a kind of match-cut or dissolve between seaweed, and a child’s flaxen hair. So it has seaweed undulating animated, which then transitions to a child’s hair. Which is really good and really well done.

And I’ll also say, just to make my introduction and probably sign-off explicable, the film is filled with the refrain (echoey sound effect) ‘Aye Cockalorum’. There’s a whole song about this phrase. It’s kind of like Hakuna Matata, except I have no idea what Aye Cockalorum means. And I looked it up online and the only references I could find where to this film.

Heaven knows. But it’s said a lot of times. Any final thoughts?

Ren My final thought is that I liked that the book mentioned Blondin, the french tightrope walker who crossed Niagara Falls with a man on his back. Because a while back I got quite interested in Blondin and did some art about that.

Adam Neat! Can you link to that art?

Ren No, long lost I’m afraid.

Adam As often goes with your art. Made it’s way to the river and became a water baby.

Ren So yeah, shout out to Blondin.

Adam Wherever he is.

Ren Wherever he is. Probably still over Niagara Falls in spirit.

So you’ve trailed your sign-off.

Adam Yes, but I can say it again. Shall I say it now or after the credits?

Ren I’ll do the credits.

Adam Yeah, build up the anticipation.

Ren Our intro music is by Maki Yamazaki, our outro music is by Joe Kelly, our artwork’s by Letty Wilson. You can find us on twitter at @stillscaredpod, or email as at, and I’ll put all the details in the show notes.

Adam (awkward silence) You still need to introduce my sign-off.

Ren Oh okay, Adam, do you have a sign-off for us?

Adam I do! Aye Cockalorum creepy kids!

Ren Aye Cockalorum spooky kids!

Adam Bye!

Ren See you next time… for something more recent and less arduous!

  • Squeers is actually from Nicholas Nickleby, but you get the idea.
  • Jorge Luis Borges, twentieth century Argentinian short-story writer.


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About this podcast

A podcast in which one film lecturer and one scaredy-cat discuss creepy, spooky and disturbing children's books, films and tv.

by Ren Wednesday, Adam Whybray


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