There is no subject, belief, faith or opinion that the entire population of this planet will agree on. Perhaps fewer wars would be fought if people were to agree on that. However if there is one thing that drives me to utter despair every time the subject is raised, it’s the modern-day subject of alleged racism, violence and censorship in children’s books.
It is an enormous debate covering many authors and books but I want to focus on one particular part of a report I read this week in the news. UK libraries have received complaints from parents now wanting to drag Roald Dahl’s – yes, you read that right – amongst others, name through the underage-violence-mud, and accuse him of “describing violence too graphically” in his children’s poetry. Apparently one of his collections, Revolting Rhymes, which has been in publication for over thirty years, has been complained about because if its “coarse language”.
As they say on Twitter in this day and age, *facepalm*
Let’s go back a couple of steps. I read Roald Dahl as a child as did many millions of people my age, and people that are older than me did too in their childhoods. I also watched films that would’ve made those at the BBFC despair at when I was underage. I read books some might consider “too adult” for me, and I read music magazines were pop stars swore like football crowds and listened to music with lyrics about tales of drug-taking, sex, violence and in Jarvis Cocker’s case, all of the above. I don’t for one minute believe that any of this consumption, no matter how “coarse”, has lead or influenced me to indulge in any of the lifestyles and excess that I was reading about or listening to. And very little, if anything, offended me. When I was a child the scariest and most graphically harrowing thing I remember which has scarred me emotionally to this day was Watership Down. Find me a child who doesn’t shudder with white fear when you ask them what it was like for them the first time they watched Watership Down, and then ask them how they felt about the first time they were read Roald Dahl’s children’s rhymes. Exactly.
Parents who are calling for a book such as Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes to be banned require a very hard reality check. The thought of Dahl being censored to me is one step nearer confirming that very little in this country today gets past the political-correctness-approval stamp, and an author who is regarded as the best of his generation, the master of children’s storytelling and carries influence like Dahl, having to have his body of work on bookshelves shrink-wrapped with a warning sticker on saying, “This book depicts and glorifies violence. Parental caution advised.” makes me weep at the times we live in. What possible words or phrases has Dahl used in a book such as Revolting Rhymes to be accused of damaging the happiness of children? How graphic have Quentin Blake’s illustrations been drawn to accompany these terrible words?
Further ridiculous argument, if further argument were needed, was the part in the report where one parent has used the word “satanic” to describe Helen Nicoll’s Meg and Mog books. Meg and Mog, I tell you! Harmless, colourful books aimed at toddlers about the simple stories of a cartoon witch and her black cat. These books are now considered to be influencing and sending subliminal messages to your children about Satanism and witchcraft. Unsurprisingly Harry Potter, a series of books which has sold in the 8-figure millions, gets accused of this constantly (though I doubt very much if JK Rowling could care less). To an extent I can see why Harry Potter has been accused of this, but Meg and Mog? Is this really what it has come to? Just how much are parents planning on censoring?
If some parents believe that Dahl’s brilliant and beloved stories can subliminally cause children to pick up guns and start shooting at conveniently-happening-to-be-passing-by wolves, or they will read his colourful tales in absolute fear, then there’s something clearly very wrong with the way we have changed in our digestion of children’s literature over the years. Television gets away with absolute murder – and I mean actual murder – if you’re talking about pre-9pm watershed telly. Take into account the storylines of a lot of today’s soaps; any child can walk into the living room as mummy and daddy are catching up on the latest tales of Sodom and Gomorrah in Albert Square as early as seven o’clock in the evening. The news too, and while I understand this is of course documenting real-life events, nevertheless the same words and even more graphically so, can be heard throughout the entire day on news bulletins on television, free for children to walk in and hear and “be influenced by” or “scared by”.
The point all this comes down to is choice. You have the power to choose whether you want to read your children a Roald Dahl book or go through a Meg and Mog story with them at bedtime. You can control the television and allow them to see only what you want them to see. Images and language on television can be graphic, of course. But to say that the harmless and fun stories of people like Roald Dahl’s imagination is now unsuitable for children to me is not only ridiculous but quite frankly highly insulting to the legacy the world’s greatest children’s storyteller left behind.
We really do need to lighten up.