When we grow older looking back on the things that once scared us either verifies the validity of that fear or shows us that there was never anything to fear in the first place. The monster under your bed? Still scary. The Fear Street books? Not as scary. The Turn of the Screw will always be scary. Bedtime stories like Abiyoyo? Also still scary. There was another book my parents read to my sisters and I when we were young–The Rainbow Goblins by Ul de Rico. This story was terrifying as hell, but we still asked for it every night.
The Rainbow Goblins is a simple story about a group of rainbow devouring goblins. The cover seems innocent enough:
These could be rainbow creating goblins. They’re good creatures, just trying to help the world out by giving it rainbows. But if you look closer at the image you see they’re leaching the color out of the rainbow…to eat. Again, this book tricks you into thinking that nothing but positivity and joy will follow opening it up. The inside cover is full of vibrant colors dripping from flowers. And we get our second seemingly-not-evil image:
These goblins could be discussing anything. It could be a board meeting of a new rainbow design, maybe ROYGIBV instead of ROYGBIV. They’re smiling a lot because they love their jobs! There doesn’t have to be anything sinister about this book, which may be why my sisters and I initially gravitated towards it. Nothing with this many colors could be scary. No one ever had a nightmare about rainbows. But as soon as there is text there is fear: “Once there was a land that lived in fear of seven goblins.” I mean come on.
With that change in text the images get darker and more sinister. What makes it worse is that there is still a rainbow lurking in the background. This book is trying to make rainbows scary.
These rainbow goblins travel to this (not actually very well hidden) hidden valley where rainbows are born to gobble up the colors of the rainbow at their source. We see them scheming and gleefully planning the destruction of rainbows for the next nine pages.
Their shadows on the wall of the cave are still sinister, even though I am way past grown. And still the book tries to pepper these vibrant moments throughout these pages. We know at this point that these goblins are super evil, yet we see them dreaming in these bright yellows, blues and greens.
There is joy in their big bellies, but their bellies are big because they are sucking the colors out of a poor innocent rainbow. And now that I think about it, these brilliant colors look like a creepy oozing membrane. I am no longer fooled by pretty colors.
After their plan fails (because of eavesdropping roots) they are trapped by their own lassoes, “a grunting, groaning mass of goblins on the ground,” and drowned in the very colors they were trying to eat. So they did get to drink of the rainbow (but it was a deadly drink – *puts sunglasses on*).
The story ends on a cheery note about rainbows being more careful about where they land, but we can’t forget that this rainbow and the flowers that share its colors are murderers. It was self-defense, but still.
Looking back I think that the pictures try to deceive us. There’s no danger here. These goblins want to be your friends. But we know that there was (and is) evil happening within these pages. I don’t even think there’s a moral involved. Even if a book is creepy there’s usually some message about listening to your parents or never talking to strangers, but don’t steal rainbows is a bit too out there for a 7 year old. I don’t know that I’ll introduce my kids to The Rainbow Goblins, although I probably will just to mess with them.
What books scared you when you were a kid? Looking back on them do they hold up to your terrified memories?
//Images copyright Ul de Rico