Saturday, January 8, 2011
Does anyone else dislike it when older books are altered to be more with-the-times, more politically correct?
The updating of Huckleberry Finn to remove the N-word is the best example of this, but I also noticed it with reprints of Enid Blyton books. Anyone who’s grown up in the United Kingdom or in one of its former colonies has probably been exposed to Enid Blyton books, and one of my favorites was the Malory Towers series. This is a set of books set in a boarding school and told from the point of view of a girl called Darrell as she goes from the first to the final form.
In the first book, Darrell is impulsive and still hasn’t learned to control her temper. Therefore, when she sees another girl being a bully, she slaps the girl hard – four times. Later on she realizes she was wrong to do so and apologizes.
In 2005 I started working at a school library in Dubai, and they had new copies of the Malory Towers series. I flipped through those, feeling happily nostalgic – until I came across the slapping scene. It had been rewritten so that Darrell shook the bully instead.
I couldn’t see the point of this. Is a shaking supposed to be less violent than slaps? Were there concerns that children would read the original scene and think it was all right to slap each other? It was especially puzzling since the original scene never painted the violence in a positive light, and instead showed that it was the wrong thing to do.
I kept on reading and realized that further changes had been made. Blyton’s books came out in 1940s and ‘50s, so of course things were different back then. In another boarding-school book, a girl receives a pound from her family and is overwhelmed by how much money this is.
Well, inflation has taken its toll, because Blyton’s schoolgirls now seem to get pounds as pocket money much more routinely. I think that’s sad. Sure, it may make the books more accessible for children these days. But to me, part of the books’ charm was that glimpse into another place and time, when people had different values. I don’t want to read an updated Little House on the Prairie where Laura gets a dollar in her Christmas stocking rather than a penny.
That being said, are there cases where older books could benefit from corrections? For instance, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None was originally called Ten Little Niggers. And one of the girls in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons is called Titty, though a film adaptation renamed her Kitty for obvious reasons.
On the whole, though, I think this should be done for better reasons than to keep older books in step with modern values. What do you think?