Some stories remain big in my memory, because of the effect they had on me when I was young. I’ve written about the first story I ever read, The Little Match Girl, and yes, I’ll never forget it. But there were others. I had recurring nightmares after seeing Lost in the Desert, also known as Dirkie, and called by some The Passion of the Dirkie for what the central character (not to mention his dog) goes through. That is, prolonged agony heaped upon agony.
I’m not even sure the circumstances or how old I was when saw Lost in the Desert. It was probably as a mid day movie when I was off school sick, but I was haunted by it. Apart from some select scenes though, I had to read a summary to know where it was set and when it was made and even how it ended because I’d blocked all of that out. For good reasons.
It’s an old film, I’ve seen bits of it again just to check and while it looks dated, it’s still traumatic. It’s the kind of film you’d let your offspring see if you don’t like them much. It turns out its Wikipedia page has a section dedicated to how this film messed up every kid who saw it. So yeah.
In a similar vein is the Australian YA novel, To the Wild Sky (1967) by Ivan Southall, and also its sequel. The hall marks of my favourite Southall works are: psychological pain, physical danger and kids cut off from adult help, so they too messed me up. However, To the Wild Sky was probably the effective as it was a bit like an Australian Lord of the Flies. This is despite Ash Road being more aligned with my personal experience (of humongous bush fires threatening my home).
The best-worst trauma, if I may, was seeing The Black Stallion. I’m not sure when exactly, but then and every time since (including as recently as today), I find the film breathtaking in its cinematography and painful in the extreme. The boat sinking! As others have pointed out The Black Stallion Returns also is full of boy and horse vs world trauma. All is forgiven though, for the vision of Alec and The Black dancing on the beach in Sardinia.
Storm Boy, by Colin Thiele, (book and film) is a story about the bond between, (this time) a boy and his pelican, Mr Percival. So. Many. Tears. Probably more than with the magical The Snow Goose written by, let’s say the out-dated Paul Gallico. Both explore the pointlessness of violence and defiance of societal expectation. Both will make you cry and want to retire to an isolated coast to contemplate the awfulness of human beings as you shiver alone in your hand-built hut with views of the shore.
If I can detect themes here, they’re abandonment and isolation. Kids find themselves alone, bar an Arabian horse or terrier or bird, and each must work out how to survive and then, how to get back home and (spoiler alert) even if they can get back home.
So-called adventures change the kids, who form special bonds, which are sweet, but they break their hearts. And ours. So I recommend these, in addition to therapy if you or your kid have recurring nightmares.
What I endured with no choice was a semester of nuclear war/accident themed books and films in high school. I was older, so was having less nightmares, but more angst. The stories didn’t help. I don’t recall the titles of the books, but that’s because they were eclipsed by the worst-worst experience – Threads. Do not see this. Especially if you want kids. Just. Never. Don’t. Even. No.