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In the classic movie Children of the Corn, two adults find themselves stranded in a town where all but two children have become members of an adult-slaughtering cult worshiping 'He Who Walks Behind the Rows'.

This tiny town (Gatlin, Nebraska) is overrun and all the adults murdered within a very short timespan - there are references to a few adult survivors of the initial murder-spree, but they apparently didn't last very long. We clearly see that the children have taken steps to ensure that word doesn't spread: phone lines are cut and travelers who stumble across them are butchered.

The movie completely lost me, however, when it became apparent that this had been the status quo for years. Vicky, an adult who just became trapped in town, discovers a magazine in one of the houses and says, "This is three years old." Even if the magazine (which appeared to be a TV Guide) was older when the adults were all murdered, it still implies that a long period of time had passed.

For me, this broke my suspension of disbelief completely. Is there any evidence for how a town full of children could have completely hidden the lack of adults for that amount of time? Surely they couldn't have cultivated all that corn, reaping and harvesting it, sowing new rows, and maintaining the equipment that allowed it to grow? Wouldn't the people who subsidized the corn production, or who had already arranged to buy it, be wondering where their shipments were? Where did the Children get the seed corn?

What about other things like taxes, electric bills, etc? Surely, even in rural America, an entire town failing to pay their bills or taxes for three years straight would have warranted an official investigation?

  • @NapoleonWilson: Thanks for adding the tag, I didn't have the rep to create it myself. – Jeff Oct 13 '14 at 20:24
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    If I remember the movie correctly, the max age of the kids was 18. On family farms, it's not unusual for children to help run the farm, including running farm equipment. It wouldn't be unusual for a 13 year old to run tractors and harvesting equipment (even if not allowed under the law), and 16 year old probably has all of the basic skills needed to keep the farm running, including maintenance. – Johnny Oct 13 '14 at 21:55
  • @Johnny This is kind of off topic, but I've heard there is no age restriction for driving a motor vehicle if it's on private property, such as a farm, in the United States. (Friends who owned a farm told me that.) – BrettFromLA Oct 13 '14 at 23:32
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    @BrettFromLA Federal law prohibits those under the age of 16 from engaging in "hazardous occupations" on farms, which includes operating tractors over 20 horsepower, and operating many other types of equipment. Though that doesn't mean that small family farmers follow the law (and in my experience on farms run by relatives, when you're "old enough" to run equipment, you'll run it, regardless of actual age). – Johnny Oct 13 '14 at 23:43
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As I recall, in the beginning of the movie, they tried not to go to Gatlin, but every time they turned away from it, the next sign they saw said they were headed toward it again, until they gave up and went in.

The town was isolated from the world by more than just cut phone lines. You would go to Gatlin if and only if He Who Walks Behind The Rows wanted you to.

The detail of Burt and Vicky being drawn into Gatlin against their will isn't in the original story, but the issue you bring up is not ignored. The impossibility of completely isolating the town is spelled out explicitly as direct evidence of a paranormal influence. As Burt is looking for clues in the church, his thoughts are basically the same as your question:

People must go through Gatlin all the time. There must be people in the neighbouring towns who have friends and relatives here. The Nebraska SP must cruise through from time to time. And what about the power company? The stoplight had been dead. Surely they'd know if the power had been off for twelve long years. Conclusion: What seemed to have happened in Gatlin was impossible.

and after he learns enough to understand what's happened, his answer:

But how could such a thing be kept secret? How could it go on?

How unless the God in question approved?

He Who Walks Behind The Rows also seems to be helping the corn grow in some supernatural way (the complete absence of crows, weeds, and insects is noted, and Burt can't find a single imperfection on any of the stalks).

The general arrangement is that the Children do as they're told (sacrificing everyone over the age limit) and the demon takes care of the rest.

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  1. not sure about us but there are plenty of reclusive villages out there that do not usually communicate with the outside . Usually a few members go once a month or a couple of months to pay the utilities and do some trade. But if they do not I doubt there are many people going there just to investigate. About the electricity company maybe they sent some people but when they went missing no one wanted to go anymore. Before the internet everything would have been settled at this poit and even now there are such places.
  2. You underestimate children. Even if they are not put to do actual work on the fields parents on the farm do train them for this. So this will explain things. Also I am under he impression they did not do almost anything in relation to the fields and the entity tended them.
  3. the seed corn comes from corn. You actually do not have to do much at all if you do not aim for high production. The seed will fall on the ground and next year you have corn again. Is not that complex.
  4. About people paying for the corn the answer is simple: most people do not know or care where their corn comes from, or anything else for that matter. Also in most communities most corn is for internal use and the rest someone just goes and sells it to someone (usually without papers , dealing with cash and no extended info). Basically the person who buys the corn will not know from were it came from o no worries there.
  5. The movie makes a very interesting claim. Aparrently the town is not on any map and someone passing on the highway will most likely not notice.
  6. As a side note in the book the situation in Gatlin is much older and the current kids are at least the 3rd generation (this implies child pregnancy and inbreeding two issues most do not really address)
  • I'm sure that even those reclusive villages have to pay their taxes, it wasn't an Amish town. And with respect to the corn: the corn that is grown commercially is not seed corn. It will grow new corn, but commercially farms use field corn, which is grown differently. And you don't grow huge fields of corn without having someone lined up to buy the crop from you... – Jeff Nov 1 '15 at 13:24
  • Plus, you'd think an all-powerful corn-demon would give the older kids some guidance beyond just how to butcher grownups – PoloHoleSet Apr 3 '17 at 17:03
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It's a Stephen King story. You need to completly suspend disbelief or it's not going to work. Every single one of his stories leaves gaping holes in reality.

I don't recall the entire story, but certainly older children could have learned some automotive tips from their fathers before they were killed. Most farming communities don't really abide by child labor laws, so reaping and harvesting corn wasn't impossible. And this was the pre-Internet age, so communication and news wasn't lightning-fast.

However, you're correct that running a power plant wasn't likely, and not paying those bills to whatever municipality provided energy would have been suspicious. I don't recall the proximity to surrounding towns, but surely someone would have made the trip for one reason or another and realized no adults were around. The adults could also have been regular visitors to certain local establishments and their sudden lack of patronship would probably have thrown up a few flags too.

There are a million details like this that can be cited, but you're not supposed to think about the minutea when it comes to a Stephen King story. You're just supposed to let it scare the crap out of you. :o)

  • Darn :( My suspension of disbelief was broken so thoroughly that I ended up feeling mildly insulted instead of scared. It was an excellent movie from a pacing and characterization standpoint (less a few minor nitpicks) but it just couldn't scare me once my SoD was gone. – Jeff Oct 13 '14 at 20:30
  • Child labor laws (in the US at least) have exceptions that allow kids to work in their family's farm. – System Down Oct 13 '14 at 20:37
  • Are areas of a story that don't explain all the semantics that don't matter all that much to the plot really "holes?" Stephen King books are already very long. The beauty of books is that the reader gets to fill in gaps with their own imagination. The author builds enough "seed material" to allow the individual reader to contribute to their own experience. Could a child in their early teens have the wherewithal to write some words and numbers on a check and put it into a prepaid, pre-addressed envelope, keeping the power going? Sure. Is that only plausible if spelled out by the author? – PoloHoleSet Apr 3 '17 at 17:08
  • That's not intended as a "your viewpoint is wrong" comment - actually interested in exploring what people think about that. Maybe I need to post it as a question. – PoloHoleSet Apr 3 '17 at 22:04
  • And when that check bounced...? I get that King doesn't need to spell everything out, and some things should be left to the reader's imagination. But not explaining how a town essentially survives is kind of a glaring omission. – Johnny Bones Apr 4 '17 at 12:59
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According to many sources, there are town and villages in many parts of the United States that are "not on the map". For years the homeless set up "Freedom Town" in California, on the northern coast, including a food store, exchange, school, and a form of government. For twenty five years they were not discovered, running the town of 1500 so efficiently that when they were found, the authorities were astonished. Many forests and even national parks are documented to have wild children roaming them, written about in the Missing 411 books.

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Being someone who grew up on farm/ranch it is possible for the children to have the know how to plant and harvest but they still have to get the seed from somewhere. Typically this is from a seed dealer and the fields have to be registered with the county for what is being planted. Also you can't use the corn you grew to replant. As somebody has already said its a Steven King story and they don't conform to natural laws.

So my explanation is that Gatlin is outside regular space and time and the field is supernatural. This does remind me of a story of a time i discovered that not everybody knows how corn works. A reality TV show did a home remodel that my landscape company was apart of and they wanted to plant a corn maze in the back yard. The designer asked if they could just transplant the corn from the nearby field. We said it doesn't work like that. Corn doesn't grow back and has to be replanted every year. We were totally dumbfounded that a professional wasn't aware of this.

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