>It’s Her Party

>Anne Fine offers a personal take on the Tintin in the Congo controversy, citing examples from her own work where she has revised lines to better speak to contemporary sensibilities and her own raised consciousness. P.L. Travers, you will recall, did the same with Mary Poppins, replacing the racial representatives of the “Bad Tuesday” chapter with friendly animals instead.

It’s interesting that Fine doesn’t do the same with her adult books: “I have six adult novels on the shelves, and wouldn’t dream of going at those with a red pen just because times have changed.” Her reasoning seems to be that children read both more intensely and in greater ignorance, that they don’t have a concept of books becoming “dated.” (Thus the pressure on Judy Blume to update Forever to include condoms.) But isn’t it the natural way of things that old books give way to new books? Not that people won’t continue to read a mix of new and old, but what Fine is advocating is a kind of artificial life support for books that might otherwise fall out of fashion or favor. Let ‘em.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

Comments

  1. >Very interesting and though I’m usually all for keeping things as originally written, warts and all, I find myself rolling along with Fine here. For me the key and convincing sentence in terms of explaining why she differentiates between her adult and children’s titles was, “A book given by an adult to a child includes a sort of imprimatur: this is a reasonable way of looking at the world unless the author somehow shows you that the behaviour is unacceptable.” I buy that.

    And as for just letting these old things fall out of fashion, sometimes the appeal of the book is strong enough that they just don’t. So the choice may not be, say, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or no “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory;” the choice may be “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with offensive umpa lumpas, or “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” without umpa lumpas.

  2. >I have to weigh in on the “leave them alone” side of the fence. Books such as Blume’s Forever do not need to be updated. Change it and we lose the bright reflection of that era and any subsequent historical significance for children’s literature studies.

    New books are being written dealing with the topic at hand and offer current voice and subject. Maybe the problem is we have yet to see anyone do it as well as Blume.

  3. yankeerat says:

    >I have not yet read the Anne Fine article (I’m supposed to be working!), but I’d like to dash off a quick comment on the subject in general: if a book dates itself because of the behavior of the characters, or the language of the author, then surely that is valuable to the reader. Reading a thoroughly dated book can be enlightning in a way that reading a sanitized or updated one cannot. And it’s not just books–remember when Stephen Spielberg removed all the guns from the 20th anniversary release of ET? That was daft!

  4. Roger Sutton says:

    >I agree, Yankeerat, but Fine would argue that such “enlightened” reading is done by adults, not children, who don’t always understand that two different books in front of them today can be very different ages. I think she’s right, but I’m not sure it matters.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a great example, thanks, Brian. Definitely a damned if you do OR don’t situation!

  5. >The Times won’t let me get to the Anne Fine article at the moment, but in general I’m on her side. I don’t agree with changing someone else’s work, but P.L. Travers making some small alterations to her own quite racist original version of Mary Poppins has kept that book available to kids a lot longer than it might otherwise have been. You’ve got the whole group of people (Oyate, say) that advocates very strongly for removing racist depictions from the hands of children, and if eventually the only place those books can be found is in historical collections then they become dead to children. An author who has written a fiction book is probably much more concerned with the characters and the story living on than they are that they have captured the prejudices of the time in which they were writing.

    Of course the original versions shouldn’t be burned–I certainly still have my childhood version of Mary Poppins. But I wouldn’t give it to my kids to read–I’d give them the new version, especially since Travers did it herself. If Judy wants to write in some condoms then by all means let her.

  6. Monica Edinger says:

    >Fine writes, “What was so wrong with airbrushing the buffoon black prince out of the enchanting Dr Dolittle?” This is a particularly difficult question. For anyone who knows the original book, it was way more complicated than removing a problematic character. It involved a fairly hefty plot alteration. I understand why it was done, but just want to point out that some of books require substantial plot changes not just changing the Oompa Lompas’ background or updating from sanitary pads to tampons.

  7. Monica Edinger says:

    >This makes me think of the Grimms (I’m currently teaching a fairy tale course so have them on the brain) who revised their tales in response to similarly perceived audience requirements several centuries ago. Seeing how appealing the stories were to children they worked (in later editions) to rid them of what, at that time, seemed unsuitable for this particular age group, say turning Hansel and Gretel’s mother into a stepmother to protect the virtuousness of mothers.

  8. Monica Edinger says:

    >Sorry to post so much, but I just took another look at Fine’s piece and I feel she is making some terribly broad assumptions. I’m fine with her reworking her own stuff, but not so fine (pun intended) with her insistence that Lofting, Herge, et al would jump at the chance to rid their works of the offending stuff. Hopefully, they would, but how can she possible know that? I don’t assume to know what others in my line of work (teachers) think and so wonder why she feels so confident to do so about dead colleagues of hers.

  9. KathryneBAlfred says:

    >Haven’t read the Fine article, but I will say that when I read Fifteen at eleven or twelve, I thought seriously about writing to the publisher and asking that they add a preface explaining that the book was written a really long time ago and it was now okay for girls to ask boys to dances.

    I’m not sure whose side that puts me on.

  10. >It’s an idea, Kathryne! Publishers could offer a subscription service by which they mail out regular updates as to what exactly in their books is or has recently become off-putting or offensive, and to whom, and under what circumstances. Subscribers would know what to avoid. Premium subscribers would receive alternate passages.

  11. >My understanding is that Herge was behind Tintin in the Congo going out of print. He was embarrassed by its casual racism and other failings. Political correctness hadn’t been invented when he pulled the book, although shame was still in fashion.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >I guess the next thing you know they’ll have a certain artist watercoloring Garth Williams and then they will have Harry the Dirty Dog in Full color!

    Oh, They already did that! (My mistake-)

  13. rindawriter says:

    >I did read the Fine article as I never like to make uniformed comments:

    What I dread most in all of these situations is lack of accessability for adults and the insistently inquiring curious child both to BOTH versions of an “air brushed” book for young folks–old or new.

    Having access to both old and new versions is the ONLY way in which a reader can make truly informed opinions about any book.

    I wish librarians would do more displays in libraries that initiate and support comparisons between different published versions of a book, displays that outline the bones of the conflict, and then you know promote discussion, debate, and THINKING FOR ONESELF for library patrons.

    If I were teaching a debated book in a classroom, I would NOT feel comfortable with having just the “airbrushed” version available to the students (of any age). Unrealistic, I know, to desire this, but I would much rather have both versions in the classroom and have the issues concerning the differences discussed openly.

    I AM bored with continually not seeing this very important point of accessibility not being raised in these discussions….If you do not have accurate facts about something accessible to you, how can you make wise choices about anything?

    Of course the really nagging question is WHY the authors allowed racial slurs to slip into their work in the first place, but then the really, REALLY nagging question is why readers continue to read racial slurs in books that do not contain them but instead expose them…such as Huckleberry Finn.

    Those questions are the scary ones!

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