Skullduggery Pleasant and the problem of violence

Dudelet (who’s nine) has recently got into Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant in a big way. He’s devoured the first one in about two days and is currently storming through the second. There are, of course, various things about the books I’ve forgotten. Like the swearing, for example.

“You know how I’m not supposed to swear?”


“So how come this children’s book has so much swearing in it?”

“No it hasn’t.”

“This character says ‘Damned key!’”

“Ah. Well. That isn’t really swearing.”

“Can I say Damn? Damn!”

“No you can’t.”

“What about ‘bloody’?”

“Can we talk about something else?”

“It’s not my fault – you gave me the book!”

“Yes – but…”

Yes, but what?

Actually, the swearing in the Skulduggery books doesn’t go any further than the occasional ‘bloody’ and only ever by the bad guys. Mostly. The violence, though, is another thing entirely. My God, but Skulduggery Pleasant and his friends are pretty bloody violent individuals. But according to the discreet little note on the back, the novels are suitable for children of “9+”.

One swipe of the sword took the fingers on his left hand and he howled in pain and staggered back and she jumped. She planted her feet on his chest and swung, the blade flashing in the bridge’s lights as it took his head.

Eek. Or is it different because it’s happening to a troll? And am I a hypocrite because I’ll let him watch this or Avengers Assemble but I won’t let him see Skyfall? Supermum’s puzzled about the last one. She thinks the Marvel films are too violent (but I’d argue her tolerance of little elf’s Barbie fixation ceded the moral high ground long ago) and she used to worry about Doctor Who. So what’s the difference? Why is Skullduggery acceptable? Why are The Hulk and Thor positive role models? And why does the idea of my nine year old watching James Bond make me queasy?

Supermum asked me this in the car once, with dudelet listening attentively (we’re pretty open about these discussions).

“It’s because it’s too sexy, isn’t it?” dudelet said.

“What’s ‘sexy’?” asked little elf.

As it happens, I do have an answer (though not about what sexy is) and it’s to do with that old fashioned fall guy, the Moral Compass. Skulduggery Pleasant has one. The Mighty Thor has one. Even Ironman has one.

James Bond doesn’t.

Bond might as well be Loki. He likes killing. He enjoys watching his enemies suffer. He treats women with contempt and uses them as toys. He stumbles through the kind of ambiguously grey moral universe that only adults should be asked to navigate. For all of the cartoon dismemberments, beheadings, eviscerations, zombifications and sundry other horrors, there is never any doubt about right and wrong in Skullduggery’s universe, even if the characters themselves struggle to orientate themselves along the compass points they know they ought to follow. And, compared to The Hunger Games or the horrors of Garner’s Red Shift, it’s fairly knockabout stuff.

Barbie, though. That’s plain unforgivable.

Do you draw the line at particular books or films? I suppose we all have a limit. What’s yours?

About Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

Writing, reading, listening, parenting... On Twitter as @dadwhowrites. View all posts by Dad Who Writes (Gabriel)

7 responses to “Skullduggery Pleasant and the problem of violence

  • Folio and Ink

    For children, I’m all for works accompanied by parent and child dialogue more than not allowing a child something that never gets discussed. Our children will be all the more able to cope in this world understanding topics that we try to dissuade. But with that comes the discourse, which is the responsibility of the parent to facilitate and engage.

  • J

    I always thought that Peter wiping the blood and fur from his sword in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” was fairly gory and violent. I had no problem with letting my daughter read it, however. I didn’t mind her seeing sex so much as I did films that objectify women. (I say didn’t, because she’s 17 this Friday, and we let her see whatever she wants now). So a sex scene on Battlestar Gallactica, which actually did get pretty racy, is OK. Bond, probably not. A good guess as to whether the woman is being objectified is whether the man has any clothes on. if they only show her, but not him, it’s most likely objectification. I’m sure there are 20 billion examples one could use to disprove my theory.

    Barbie…gah. We had a no barbie rule for years, because I HATE them, and their sole purpose is to have big boobs and wear high heels and acquire clothes and so on. It backfired and they became forbidden fruit. Eventually, we caved, though she had to buy them with her own money, we wouldn’t buy them for her.

    Similar issue with Disney. We had a no Disney rule, mostly because we didn’t like the hyper-consumerism that went with the movies, toys everywhere, etc. She became obsessed. It’s easier if they have zero contact with other children. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain that you don’t want your child to have something that their friend’s parents clearly have no problem with.

    Which I think comes back to your point, about how if you can’t explain the morality, or lack thereof, behind a main character, and they’re too young to get the complexities, then they’re too young to see the film.

    Nice to see you blogging again. I see I’ve missed a bit!

  • P

    Hi Lovely

    Dragon ‘did’ Loki at school, part of the curriculum. Lori is “untrustworthy” and Lori is “sly” says his sleep over partner, 11 and 10 respectfully. This school curriculum allowed them to meet Lori at 9. They did the Norse tales obviously and in the same year Enkidu and Gilgamesh. (Tales may have been somewhat tamed … … )

    I have in the past not allowed my child to read certain books, or ‘hidden them’, The Machine Gunners is one that comes to mind, he’s started reading it again now. I felt 6 was too young as I nearly choked on the contents over breakfast as I read ahead … I’ve learnt the children’s section in the library is not always innocent …

    The hunger games has created conflict in our house. I said no, only to be told ‘everyone else has read it’ so I allowed it with feelings of guilt. He’s said though he feels other books he’s read are worse.

    Swearing … who needs to worry about swearing when he has me as a mother, the only words I don’t use begin with C and W, everything else is used properly so he’ll know how to use them grammatically. I am an Essex girl after all. There are some advantages to the view a shopping trolley has a greater sense of self. (maybe).

    As for James Bond, oh I like the old one, PB, I could lick the screen all day, and that in itself leads to questions from a child.

    However films are not allowed until the book has been read or the age specified has been reached and isn’t Sky-fall a 12? As for Barbie and the Princess delights of animation … I have to say Tangled really spoke to me when I watched it at Christmas … and maybe its just something they grow out off. Let them have it while they’re young and by the time they are 11 its just babyish and not what they’re after at all …..


  • phoenixaeon

    I’ve not really stopped Princi from reading anything, but of late she’s become slightly disillusioned with reading because of the rubbish her school has her read. I’ve been trying to get her interested again by suggesting books we have that are full of adventure, but she’s still mainly absorbed in building plasticine models and watching Pokemon – her new favourite addiction. And speaking of violence, that’s all about cute little creatures whaling on each other at the behest of their ‘owners’, who have to forcibly catch the cute little creatures to own them in the first place! She’s addicted to the X-Men cartoons too. There’s hardly *any* violence in those… Oh well…

    There’s only one film I’ve stopped her from watching after she asked if she could, and that’s ‘Evil Dead.’ Yeah, like, no! She asked because she had been playing a cartoonised tower defence game based on ‘Army of Darkness.’ I had to tell her she was too young for that. But I’m thinking that ‘Army of Darkness’ might not be too bad now – I mean, just look at the amount of violence in cartoons. But I’ll still leave it a few more years, especially as she caught me watching ‘The Walking Dead’ the other day. It was a particularly gory scene and Princi put the frightened look on and banned me from watching it when she was around. And besides, I don’t really want her acting out any of the scenes from it at school, do I!

    As for Barbie… She’s never been interested. The one thing she has said about herself for years is that she much prefers playing with boy’s toys than girlie dolls. Give her a water gun and a pirate costume and she’s happy. Although she’ll happily watch a Disney film.

  • markpearsonatkopjeking

    With you on the Loki thing, have four young boys learning the Norse myths but they don’t yet know Loki’s ultimate fate — got to feel sorry for an eternity of wolf acid dripping onto someone

  • Me

    If you think Bond is brutal then wow compared to a skeleton detective that for 5 years was possibly the most evil character before becoming good again Bond is an Angel. Skullduggery seriously killed thousands including his best friend’s mom. But then again Skullduggery did have the control to come back (in one universe) so 1/2 a point.

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