Sarah Ditum*2 “The tyrannical world of Thomas the Tank Engine” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/04/tyrannical-world-thomas-the-tank-engine
The awful truth is: kids love Thomas. They love him so much that Barbie-hawker Mattel has bought the entire stable of Hit Entertainment, apparently mostly in order to get their corporate fingers on the Rev W Awdry's coal-powered progeny*3. They love him, even though the island of Sodor belongs to a far-off postwar world where things like "coal" and "steam" and "public transport" – unimaginable to the modern child-brain – were still comprehensible concepts. And they love him, despite the fact that his stories are the crazed authoritarian fantasies of a father figure who would make the sternest Freudian blanch.
In the Railway Series, mechanical whimsy (Look! A steam train! With a face!) is balanced by a taste for punishment that is both brutal and peremptory. The very first book in the Railway Series includes The Sad Story of Henry*4 – in which a sentient engine is immured in a tunnel as punishment for being a tiny bit vain about keeping his paint job out of the rain.
There are few more chilling parental moments than looking on that last page, with Henry's imploring eyes peeping out over the wall that the Fat Controller (to all attachment-anxiety-invoking intents and purposes, Henry's own father) has erected in order to teach the poor engine that trying to stay dry is a wicked, wicked business. And then you turn to your hopeful youngster and say: "That's the end. Sleep tight!"
And it's not just Henry who receives the Reverend's fossil-fuelled justice. Sodor experiences its own miniature version of the cold war with the arrival of Bulgy, a red (yes, red, just like a Soviet) double-decker bus who cries "Free the roads!" and anticipates the revolutionary overthrow of rail transport.
Bulgy gets trapped under a bridge, painted green and converted into a henhouse. That's what you get for being a blow-hard socialist. But in terms of class warfare, Bulgy's doom has nothing on what's done to the truculent Troublesome Truck who refuses to learn his place during one of the later stories. Having caused intolerable levels of confusion and delay, the offending blue-collar worker is coupled (see how much I've learnt about railway management from these terrible bedtimes?) between two engines pulling in opposite directions and yanked until he flies apart.
The climactic frame of that story, with a wincing truck-face lying splintered on the ground, is one of the most disturbing in children's literature. Is he dead? Does he suffer? Could he be recombined – and if he was, would he feel the thirst for vengeance against those who tried to murder him?
*3:See Katherine Rushton “Mattel sounds out buyers for Hit Entertainment’s Barney and Angelina Ballerina” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/media/9371099/Mattel-sounds-out-buyers-for-Hit-Entertainments-Barney-and-Angelina-Ballerina.html