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In 1993 Terry Deary came up with an idea to make history more interesting to get children to care. There are plenty of history books that tell you about castles, dates, politics, names, things and stuff.
Horrible Histories are full of battles, death, blood, guts, superstitions, gore, murders, comic panels and guts. Pretty successful all in all; not only are there a lot of books but they are quite accurate -- not really detailed, but Hollywood History it ain't.
The series proved hugely influential during the nineties and zeros, unleashing a raft of spin-offs and ripoffs, including Horrible Science, Horrible Geography, Murderous Maths, The Knowledge, Dead Famous, What They Don't Tell You About, and various other series of diminishing success.
The series has been adapted into an animated television series which ran from 2001-2002, a radio series and a live action series is now airing on CBBC.
The list of the books is as follows.
- The Angry Aztecs - (Aztecs)
- The Awful Egyptians - (Ancient Egypt)
- The Barmy British Empire - (British Empire)
- The Blitzed Brits - (The Blitz)
- Bloody Scotland - (History of Scotland)
- Cruel Kings and Mean Queens - (The Kings and Queens of England, Britain, and the United Kingdom)
- The Cut Throat Celts - (Celts)
- Dark Knights and Dingy Castles - (The history of Knights and Castles)
- The Frightful First World War - (World War I)
- The Gorgeous Georgians - (Georgian era)
- The Groovy Greeks - (Ancient Greece)
- The Incredible Incas - (Tahuantinsuyu - The Inca Empire)
- The Measly Middle Ages - (Middle Ages)
- The Rotten Romans - (Ancient Rome)
- Rotten Rulers - (Rulers in general)
- Rowdy Revolutions - (Revolutions)
- The Savage Stone Age - (Stone age)
- The Slimy Stuarts - (House of Stuart)
- The Smashing Saxons - (Saxons)
- The Stormin' Normans - (Normans)
- The Terrible Tudors - (Tudor dynasty)
- Terrifying Tudors (formerly Even More Terrible Tudors) - (Tudor dynasty)
- The Twentieth (20th) Century - (20th century)
- The USA - (The United States of America)
- The Vicious Vikings - (Vikings)
- The Vile Victorians - (Victorian era)
- The Villainous Victorians - (Victorian era)
- The Wicked History of the World - (Basic history of the world)
- Wales - (Wales)
- Wicked Words - (The History of Linguistics)
- The Woeful Second World War - (World War II)
Deary also wrote the book "Deadly Durham" outside of the main series. It took more of the format of a guidebook to the city of Durham.
The Books show examples of following tropes:
- Artistic License History: Generally averted, however there are still a few mistakes in the books. Nothing major, generally stuff like widely-accepted historical "facts" that are actually historical legend. They expose a lot of these as well. They're like Snopes for history books sometimes.
- Black Humor: Oh yeah. The books are made entirely of Black Humor. See also What Do You Mean It's for Kids?.
"I say, I say; what did they do when the Forth Bridge collapsed?"
"They built a fifth."
"In 1622 Turkish Sultan Osman was strangled by his own bodyguards. They led the rebels."
Sultan Osman: "My own bodyguards ...Choke!"
"In India the mighty emperor Akbar died in 1605 - he was probably poisoned by his relatives. You couldn't trust anyone."
Emperor Akbar: "My own family ...Ckkk!"
In England in 1649 the English chopped King Charles I. It was his parliament who signed the death warrant.
King Charles: "My own M Ps ...Chop!"
- Creator Provincialism: Deary is from the North East and likes to put in references to historical anecdotes in that area. This is most noticeable in The Vile Victorians.
- On a greater level, the books focus on the impact of their subject peoples on British history, if such an impact existed; perhaps the most notable example is Rotten Romans. Some years after he wrote that one, he did Ruthless Romans, which focused more on Rome itself rather than Roman Britain.
- Cruel Mercy: In one of the Horrible Histories books, Terry Deary writes an account of Lambert Simnel, a peasant boy who was chosen to be the figurehead of a rebellion against Henry VII because he resembled the Earl of Warwick. Henry crushed the rebellion and made Simnel one of his servants in a display of Pragmatic Villainy. In Deary's account, Simnel is left shellshocked by watching the rebels being slaughtered, and writes: 'Cruel Henry had the real Earl of Warwick put to death, but cruellest of all, he sentenced me to live'.
- Dartboard of Hate: One of the books features an illustration of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany/Prussia's leader in World War I, throwing darts at his grandmother Queen Victoria.
- Death as Comedy: A given.
- God Save Us From the Queen: Deary made a nice list of men who tended to drop like flies while in the personal care of Mary Queen of Scots in Bloody Scotland.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Lampshaded and played straight in one scene. The bit about Richard III is all about how his usual portrayal is pure Tudor propaganda, but they unfairly accuse Shakespeare of being responsible when in fact he was only using existing, and biased, historical sources.
- This is later address in the third series of the live-action show, in a song interestingly enough. Shakespeare did make up the phrase "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse" however.
- Humans Are Bastards: Some of the Horrible facts are about bastardly rulers. Roman Emperor Tiberius, for example, rubbed off the skin from the face of a fisherman with a fish, the very one, which the fisherman wanted to bring him as a present, and then proceeded to do the same again with a crab. Or Gen. Sherman, "The more I see of these indians, the more sure I am they all have to be killed."
- It Will Never Catch On: Happpens frequently. Lord Kelvin was quite good. He believed heavier-than-air flight was impossible and X-rays were probably a hoax. (He changed his mind about the second one after he saw the evidence.) In addition, Kelvin insisted that radio had no future in 1897 (he preferred to send messages by pony) and that it would take human beings two hundred years to land on the moon. Horrible Histories put it best in a section summarising this kind of phenomenon, noting in the section about the predicted short lifespan of talking pictures that "Lord Kelvin was dead by then, so he was not able to tell us that talking films were impossible anyway."
- The live-action TV series itself got this treatment when it when they won a National Televison Award for Best Documentary Series. "I bet we all saw this coming", indeed.
- Mood Whiplash: The Woeful Second World War was much darker than the other books, with quite a few less humorous moments, and alot of very grim, confronting stories. The parts on the Holocaust and Dresden, for example are completely devoid of any humour whatsoever, and are written in a very cold, confronting tone. (Unsurprising given the subject)
- Noodle Implements: Horrible Histories example: "Yay! Our gallant navy has captured the nasty Spaniards with only one small leaking boat, two men, one cannon, a pistol, a sharp stick and a sponge!"
- Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: A cartoon in the Horrible Histories book of the 20th Century parodies the infamous "cranberry sauce" lyric of "Strawberry Fields Forever", with John Lennon reading "Cranberry sauce, strawberry jam, milk and a packet of biscuits. Wait, these aren't my lines...".
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Would you believe, that in the beginning of WW 1, Zeppelins bombed soldiers and towns with... bricks... and... darts?
- Royally Screwed-Up: The main subject of Rotten Rulers.
- Sadist Teacher: Deary must have had this as his main motivation when writing these books, making fun of the educational programme, the school dinners, and the teachers.
"Yes, Caesarion was strangled by his own teacher. Would you believe it?"
Frightened-looking scholar: "Er - yes."
- From a section discussing claims that Hitler survived the war:
"The truth is that he escaped to northern England and became a teacher. I know. He taught me."
- Shaped Like Itself: As pointed out in The Frightful First World War, there is a WWI Era song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne where the lyrics are "We're here because we're here because we're here because...". This was a bit of gallows humour over the fact that most of the troops had no idea why they were there due to the incredibly complex arrangement of alliances and pacts that led to WWI.
- Speechbubbles Interruption: In the book The Awful Egyptians, the narrator refers to the fact that at times, after great military victories, ancient Egyptians would gather the genitals from dead enemy soldiers and pile them up in public. In a caricature illustrating such a pile, a son says to his father, Look at this huge pile of That's enough, son!
- It should be pointed out this is a children's history book, so already the fact that this trope is present there shows just how dark the humour of Terry Deary is.
- The Abridged History: Pretty much what the books and series provide.
- The Caligula: Beside the actual Caligula, there are many more examples in Rotten Rulers.
- Toilet Humour: Oh so much.
- Truth in Television: These books aren't called non-fiction books for no reason.
The Animated Series shows examples of following tropes:
- Elmuh Fudd Syndwome: Mo
- Excellent Adventure: The entire premise of the series
- I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Chickening-out version: the animated program featured a smart-mouth jerk attempting to get out of Grecian-style wrestling by claiming to have sprained his oesophagus.
- Interactive Narrator: The narrator constantly talks to the characters, and appears to be responsible for the time travelling.
- Lame Excuse: The animated series featured a smart-mouth jerk attempting to get out of Grecian-style wrestling by claiming to have sprained his oesophagus.
- Meadow Run: Starts when Mo and Stitch are reunited in the American Revolution episode. They decide against it at the last second.
- Red Shirt : generic man in the cartoon series always has this happen to him. he's dying in every episode...
- Wheel-O-Feet: Used in the animated series