From 'Snow White' to 'Tarzan of the Apes' to 'Harry Potter', literature for children and teens has always been awash in violence and murder, according to a new book by Michelle Ann Abate, associate professor of literature for children and young adults at The Ohio State University. (Agencies)
"We tend to have a selective memory that forgets the detailed and sometimes graphic violence found in some classic books for children," said Abate from the College of Education and Human Ecology.
Abate wanted to talk in her book 'Bloody Murder: The Homicide Tradition in Children's Literature' about instances of murder in children's literature, which she first assumed would be relatively limited.
She soon learned that homicide is so pervasive in children's books that "Murder – Juvenile Fiction" is its own classification category in one major library database.
A search for the word "murder" in that database found more than 3,000 citations for novels, stories, poems and plays meant for young readers.
One needs to look no further than the quintessential children's stories, fairy tales, to find violence and murder, Abate said.
In the Grimm Brothers' version of Snow White, the title character is murdered not once, but multiple times.
Homicide is common in many famous American books for children, particularly boys' adventure stories, Abate said.
"Murder plays a key role in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Jack London's The Call of the Wild and Buck Wilson's The Lone Ranger and the Menace of Murder Valley," the study said.
Even the relatively mild-mannered Nancy Drew mystery stories that enchanted young girls for decades were filled with at least the potential of fatal violence.
"No one was ever killed in a Nancy Drew story, but every single novel always featured the threat of murder, often multiple times," Abate said.
Nowadays, young adult fiction still features plenty of murder and violence. In addition to books like The Hunger Games, young people have recently popularized zombie fiction, such as the 2010 murder mystery 'My So-Called Death', which Abate discusses in her book.
While violence in children's literature is not new, concern about it has seemed to increase in recent years, according to Abate.
Literary violence gets a lot more attention now than in the past, partly because of changing child-rearing practices and the desire to protect children from the evils of the world, said Abate.
From 'Snow White' to 'Tarzan of the Apes' to 'Harry Potter', literature for children and teens has always been awash in violence and murder, according to a new book by Michelle Ann Abate, associate professor of literature for children and young adults at The Ohio State University.