It’s not the words but the sentiments

lifetime passion



As I have mentioned I joined a Banned Books reading challenge this year. Curious at the number of books I have read and enjoyed over the decades which have been banned at some time or other in some place or other. I began to question my memory of many of these books, the circumstances and age I had read them and decided this challenge may bring a new prospective if I re-read some of them after half a century’s gap.

I have a long held aversion to changing texts so will endeavor to find the originals I had read. On changing texts, because of the language used, I have resurrected a gentle rant I had about three or four years ago on another blog

Just a Rant

It is not new and I am sure opinionated people have been tampering with texts ever since texts began – maybe even those ancient clay tablets – I wouldn’t be surprised. History is ripe for tampering. Those with power or, those who seek power, will seek to change the past to make their present more to their liking. This is a given, I accept it happens, I also accept that we ourselves are continually tweaking our pasts , making sense/reinventing/ embroidering ever so slightly or more.

I accept it, it is not to say I like it.

However, I think it is, at heart, wrong to change a written text without a by your leave. Books are written in an historical time. They reflect the social mores of that time. Presenting a window through which we can view the culture and language of that time, giving us the reader a feeling of the past and changes through intervening years.

Fiddling to change history. Fiddling to change ‘incorrect’ language. Both wrong.

Recent turmoils seem to be because of inappropriate non PC words. Non PC ‘now’ – not ‘then’. It seems old words offend, are dangerous, must be eliminated. It is not the words at fault but the sentiments behind the words.

Words are only dangerous if used in a dangerous manner, they are words, collections of letters. The danger is in the minds of those who misuse them. Changing an offensively insulting word to another more ‘harmless’ word will never work – the harmless word then becomes the offensive, the insulting, and so it has to be changed again. It is not the word at fault but the society which uses it as insult. The society which seeks to make citizens non citizens, who wish to keep the powerless powerless. Change society and words no longer harm.

If the concern over children reading books such as Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird or even Noddy, is that they will be corrupted into bad ways then the adult, who at the end of the day is responsible for the morality of the child, should read the books with them. A good chance to explain the bad and demonstrate the changes for good. A chance to explore history and words with them. Expand their experience and knowledge.

When I was young I read all of the above books, I also read many ‘colonial’ books, Britain still involved with her Empire, believe me Britain has a ‘past’ as murky as any nation’s.  I read with relish books such as Jungle Jim and Saunders of the River, I also grew up on a musical diet of plantation songs played by my father on the piano and sung with great gusto by moi. I did not grow up a racist, I did not grow up thinking it was my God given right to push others around, to enslave them or treat anyone as a second class citizen. Why would I – from a book? What the books did was to ignite a burning sense of injustice towards slavery and discrimination.

To Kill a Mockingbird is never a raciest book, it is a hymn to decency and fairness, inspiring readers to see wrongs and burn to try and right them as Atticus tried, the opposite to racist. Huck himself brought up in a society that was raciest discovers the wrong in the society, the humanity in Jim. On a different track, I did not as a child assume that a wooden boy and a dwarf were homosexual because they slept in the same bed! – small children don’t actually think like that (unless the adult world around corrupts) I didn’t assume, while I read the Famous Five, that the whole of life was made up of the middle classes and cucumber sandwiches or that little girls were to be put down – it was just after the war and women were well aware they were good for anything -hadn’t we kept those whole home fires burning while the men were away.

I grew up as the world rapidly changed, as human rights were won one by one around the globe. There is still a long way to go but life is changing, society is changing – ‘life,society’- not by changing history but by learning from history; not by banning books, changing insults. Remove the historical texts there is no bad to hold up to show the good.

I have most likely offended many but I hope there are many who agree. Changing a book written about its own time, in its own time is a craziness, a PC world truly ‘gone mad’. Leave history alone and concentrate on the now and the future. Look back at those times as history, passed, gone, do not try and rewrite those times. We need to know what they were like, children need to know what those times were like, then they can learn what a force for good books can be.

Will I change opinion over the life of my challenge – who knows?


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