The Tribulations of Tommy Tiptop isn’t your average nineteenth century illustrated fable book with a happy lesson at the end. Right off the bat, it features illustrations of what it would be like if animals got revenge on the spoiled little brats who have been torturing them since the beginning of time. The animal kingdom rises and does to poor, spoiled Tommy exactly what he would do to them.
In 1893 London, Tommy Tiptop appeared as the protagonist, or should I say, villain, of this super violent children’s book, in which he’s shown as all sorts of animals’ victim. Flies rip off his limbs; circus animals aggressively stare at him. He’s just the ultimate enemy of the animal kingdom. While this downright sadistic book might not get a G rating today, back in the late nineteenth century, it was intended for boy and girls.
The book is about a little thug, just like you and me, who drowns kittens, pesters puppies, and just generally tortures animals. Not so fast, though! Tommy gets a lesson taught in a series of dreams in which he is forced to live in an Upside Down World, where he goes from tormentor to tormented.
Signed only “M.B.” the preface makes it clear that the point of the book is to teach kindness, not counter-revenge on animals.
Our duty towards others, and especially towards animals is now so seldom insisted on, that little apology is needed for bringing an old-fashioned principle before our readers. The object of this book is to show that all unkindness towards the animal creation merits – if it does not at all receive- punishment, and that to obey the law of kindness is our duty as well as our happiness. M. B.
The book starts with a nursey rhyme: from Nancy Cock’s Pretty Song Book for All Little Misses and Masters, 1780:
Old father Long-Legs
Can’t say his prayers:
Take him by the left leg,
And throw him down the stairs.
And when he’s at the bottom,
Before he long has lain,
Take him by the right leg,
And throw him up again.
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As Gloucester says in King Lear: “As flies to wanton boys we are to the gods, they kill for their sport.” Not anymore, though.
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But, alas, this book features repentance. Tommy cries his eyes out when he realizes all of what he’s wronged and all of the ways in which he’s made animals suffer. The book thankfully ends with a quote from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the awesome romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Lesson learned, Tommy. Lesson learned.
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