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Ursula K. Le Guin’s April 1973 Letter to the Editor

Eleanor Cameron’s remarks on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the Horn Book may draw some fire upon her; it’s always perilous to do anything to a bestseller but adulate it. My response to her October article is one of relief and hearty thanks. It is good to have an accurate diagnosis of one’s vague feelings of unease, and to find that somebody else — especially a gentle and perceptive critic — has been feeling a bit queasy too.

That Mr. Dahl’s books have a very powerful effect on children is evident. Kids between 8 and 11 seem to be truly fascinated by them; one of mine used to finish Charlie and then start it right over from the beginning (she was subject to these fits for about two months at age 11). She was like one possessed while reading it, and for a while after reading she was, for a usually amiable child, quite nasty. Apparently the books, with their wish-fulfillment, their slam-bang action, and their ethical crassness, provide a genuine escape experience, a tiny psychological fugue, very like that provided by comic books.

Perhaps we all need an escape vent now and then, whether it’s Charlie, whisky, Goldfinger, or righteous indignation. Anyhow, kids are very tough. What they find for themselves they should be able to read for themselves. But I boggle at the thought of an adult-parent, librarian, or teacher — actually sitting down to read such a book to children. What on earth for? To teach them to be good “consumers”? The idea of education is a leading forth, isn’t it? — not a stuffing with endless candy, on the model of Mr. Dahl’s factory.

URSULA K. LE GUIN
Portland, Oregon

From the April 1973 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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