I recently read an article by Brian Feinblum from his blog, Book Marketing Buzz. (http://bookmarketingbuzzblog.blogspot.com) The article entitled Santa Quits Smoking! Is it Right to Alter a Classic Book? told of how Pamela McColl, a Canadian child advocate decided to edit the classic Night Before Christmas poem to exclude the line regarding Santa and his pipe. She removed the pipe reference without changing the text, meaning or story line. The reasoning was because the passage promotes smoking that may influence young children. The article continued to discuss changing other classics to protect the reader from potentially harmful influences. My question is: When will it stop? The banned book list is full of books that have historical value. These books tell our history in a simple entertaining fashion.
The tales of human history are the most exciting and gruesome stories ever told. History is not a storybook neatly tied up to put away. History is life that evolved us into who we are today. If we change our history, we lose the chance to study and learn from it. Classical stories reflect the times in which they were created. 190 years ago, it was acceptable to smoke. Today we have found smoking causes many illnesses and cancers. Yet as many people who advocate against smoking. As many people still smoke. Their influences either directly or indirectly will influence their children. Changing a story will not affect children as strongly as the adults around them.
Classic stories such as Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, all have significant relative history in them. The reader learns about the characters life. A life influenced by religion, morals and political trends of the time. It is easy to jump onto a soapbox to tout the injustices of these times. Anger over cruelty against people or the language they used to talk about others. I am positive everyone wanted to do the same back then. What’s important to remember is what circumstances that prevented the character from doing so. Hester from the Scarlet Letter would have liked everyone to butt out of her business instead of being publicly humiliated. The moral/religious laws of the land exposed her to ridicule. Hester lived in a judgmental time where everyone’s indiscretions were publicized. Hester turned out to be a stronger character, still doing good for her community.
Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom’s Cabin both talk about the plight of slavery and the cruel effects of the time. Do not forget these books talk about the injustice of slavery too. All of these instances have truth to them. These truths ring clear because passion of the time is real. This is not an issue of right or wrong, this is an issue of plain truth. If we want to stop repeating history, we need to take a good look at where we came from and change it. Racism will never go away, if we do not understand its past. We will never evolve our history until we stop perpetuating one side of the story. Until we teach our children how history got it wrong there will not be change. If we cover it up or ban it from our bookshelves, we will repeat it.
History is not a subject for the faint of heart. If you do not like a subject, don’t read it. However, in that same instance, do not stop others from wanting to understand and learn from history. All of the books on the banned book list have relevance. Instead of changing them, challenge yourself to learn from them.