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Monday, June 25, 2018

The Wilder Flap

My husband's maternal grandmother and her parents were half Akwesasne Mohawk and half French Canadian. Nevertheless, Michael's North Country Gram found it in her to complain about tourists who were "so damn French they can't speak English!" It didn't slow her much. Gram was the most talkative woman I have ever known, and the most opinionated, and the quickest to complain to town officials about what she did not approve. She was the most lively person in a clan divided between the reservation and the nearby town, and I still think of her often.

Although Michael has never in any way attempted to use a thread of native ancestry for gain, he has rather enjoyed the idea that he might be related to Kateri Tekakwitha. Come winter, the Roman Catholic saint used to chop a hole in the Raquette River and plunge into the icy waters. Now that's mortifying the flesh in the morning. Now that'll startle the Jesuits!

Human beings of all stripes were tougher back then, it seems. When Mohawks chewed off the fingertips of Isaac Jogues, he sailed back to the Old World to have what was left of his fingers blessed by the pope, so that he could administer the Eucharist. Then he sailed back to the New World because he wasn't done carrying the gospel to the Iroquois. They eventually killed him, of course. Those who chewed and those who were chewed in those times seem considerably more robust and earthy than we expect. The Association of Library Service to Children would probably say that their "legacy is complex" and "not universally embraced." They might like to clean up history and de-access any book touching on those topics because history is so dratted bloody and messy and unjust, and people in various eras have opinions shaped by their own times, culture, and experience.

The latest literary flap is the removal of the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award by The Association of Library Service to Children board. You might suspect that the new name would be simply Award. But no. The new name is nice and bland: Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is somewhat surprising because the ALSC appears to be uneasy about the legacy of the past, which is invariably complex and includes thoughts different from and often less acceptable than our own, but all right.

Putting aside any immediate hot-blooded reactions flying around the internets, what are the compelling issues rising from this action? Which are interesting tendencies or problems, whether you agree or whether you disagree with the decision? 1. We are judging the past by our present. Let's try flipping that upside down for a change and see what we learn. 2. The current times will look just as strange and wrong (perhaps even stranger and more ridiculous and wrong--who knows?) to the future as Wilder (i.e. the past) looked to a bunch of librarians determined to do the right thing by children. This is obvious and unavoidable, alas. 3. Jettisoning history and knowledge of how people used to see the world has been tried in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and various other places. It has not proved to be a healthful idea. 4. The bestseller list has often made it extraordinarily clear to us that the "universally embraced" book is not very good. 5. I have noticed that recent college graduates seem to know a minuscule amount of history, including literary history. It seems that English majors can now graduate without knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and various other essential writers. Young writers wielding the English language, young writers of all colors and creeds, have a need to stand and dance and frolic on the shoulders of giants, even when they are a.) dead, b.) white, and c.) males. To say nay on this point is to undermine and harm young writers. Words beget words. Great words beget great words. Young writers will take and reject as needed--even rejection is a spur to new words. 6. The fashionable hyper-insistence on saying nothing that could possibly construed as offensive is leading to the destruction of fiction, particularly historical fiction. 7. One of the pleasures of reading older fiction is the dance between past and present. Times change. People change. The difference between times challenges us and is good for us to navigate. 8. Academia is in love with the power of jargon and the altering of names in order to change essentials. 9. A dire need to listen and learn from one another is growing increasingly more obvious. Let's do that. With civility and love for one another.


  1. Tis a tonic for my storm tossed soul. Thank you, my good doctor. I am now off the revisit old books by dead authors. I hope to then feel even better.
    BTW, technology and bad brain waves sabotaged my blog address .... new digs ....

    1. Hah, Tim, enjoy!

      Your blog is the moveable feast, it seems...

  2. I'm pretty much in agreement, but I have a personal #10: If we're going to become a big, diverse, decentralized society, especially one that will soon have no demographic majority, we're all going to need to learn to laugh more at ourselves and at each other—all of us. And we're going to have to do it in the context of realizing how dang good most of us have it, and how much we all need each other, as reluctant as we are to admit it.

    1. That's a good one. We certainly need to learn to talk to one another. And give up on the victimization rag and do another dance, together.

  3. Before I address your can of worms I need to open another on my own behalf and The Palace at 2 AM seems the most appropriate forum. Regarding your post's final exhortation might you agree that the unqualified verb "love" has differing meanings on either side of The Pond? Perhaps it doesn't matter anyway, because I have just realised I raised this point before with you and the only thing worse than being a rive-rag is being a persistent rive-rage.

    But before I drop the subject altogether let me invite you to compare these definitions from two impeccable sources and see whether I might have a case.

    A quality or feeling of strong or constant affection for and dedication to another; attraction based on sexual desire. Merriam-Webster.

    An intense feeling of romantic attachment based on an attraction felt by one person for another; intense liking and concern for another person, typically combined with sexual passion. OED.

    As to the "Then And Now" argument let's reflect: quite a few (I can't be bothered with the arithmetic) countries have legislated against capital punishment. Just for once the UK can be commended given it's thought this is against the wishes of the majority. But let's suppose that books which showed capital punishment as acceptable - ie, as condign punishment for the villain - were banned because they appeared to side with inhumanity. Wow, there'd be big holes in the reading list. And the study of history would be a minefield. It isn't going to happen because it's ridiculous. QED.

    1. Hah, double rive-rag! You are a distinctive soul, Roderick Robinson.

      Alternate final phrase for Roderick Robinson, the unique alliterative blogger and commenter:
      1. With civility, and in pursuit of that universal love for one another which we call agape.
      2. With civility and charity for one another.
      3. With civility and concern for the welfare of others.
      4. With civility and care for the flourishing of others.

      You know, I wouldn't be surprised to see amended versions of books in our future. Fan fiction already leans that way. I wonder what they'll do with Paradise Lost. They might have to just chuck it, I suppose.

      However, I shall now be able to tell everyone that Roderick Robinson says that ridiculousness will save us from holes and minefields! Highly useful!

    2. Tee-hee, that's a show-stopper. Problem is no one knows how to pronounce it. To put it another way, we know this one: "The wolverine pounced on him, mouth agape." But how do we differentiate?

      Tell you what, these days you can make a tiny bit of Classics go a long long way. I've been dining out on 150 words of Latin, plus two quotes, since my teens. Caveat emptor, anyone? Alliteration isn't the only string to my bow. Nossir.

    3. Context. Agape goes with wolverines. Agape only goes with wolverines from a distance.

      Surely agape (the one I meant) is now recognizable as a borrowed word in English, a part of our language too... No?

      I am thinking that Roderick Robinson ought to be a euphemism for something. But what?

    4. Boy, do I need a euphemism. It's tough being serious jocularly, not everyone gets it. Perhaps an apophthegm?

      In every under-educated man is a starveling crying out for the womb.

      RR as a dreadful warning: You (plural you, of course) too could have ended up like this. Your failings revealed in the austere corridors of learning - that once you read a Readers Digest condensed book, and enjoyed it. Au secours! Je plaisante. J'insiste, je plaisante.

    5. Hah! I expect many readers of my generation snuck such books off parents' shelves when they ran out of the day's library books. All, all are guilty!

      That's a good apophthegm. A resonant adage. However, I expect you have picked up an education--I admire your French and your singing, for example. Anyone of sense realizes that his or her accumulation of knowledge is just a few scratches compared to what there is to know...

      I wouldn't dare to pick a euphemism for RR. You'll have to wait for inspiration.

  4. Hear, hear. Intellectual elitists are rushing toward a Bradbury-esque dystopian reality a la Farenheit 451 and congratulating themselves the whole way.

    1. I posted three Bradbury quotes on twitter this week...

      Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451: Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.


      Bradbury: “Fahrenheit’s not about censorship. It’s about the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news, the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids. We’ve moved in to this period of history that I described in Fahrenheit 50 years ago.”


      “But you can't make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can't last.” Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

      So I guess you could say he is on my mind!

  5. To your point 5 I say that one should not underestimate the ignorance of past crops of graduates. To point 8, there have been whole generations of whole fields of study that got lost in arguing about names. It is possible that when the intoxication of virtue wears off, the librarians will feel the hangover of absurdity. But that could take a while.

    Another light on some of this occurred to me, and I wrote about it in .

    1. On 5. That's true, I am sure. Though I have been surprised by young people not knowing, say, what the Holocaust was (doomed to repetition?)

      On 8. Yes, agree to both thoughts... I'll check out your post.

      And this reminds me of a post from ages ago. Here's a bit:

      Like everybody else, I've wondered why the world sometimes appears such a miscreant place, full of lies and badly written books and mean-spirited nonsense.

      So I am glad to find the answer.

      In a footnote to Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God, Marva Dawn cites one William Stringfellow's description of the tactics used by fallen powers and principalities: "denial of truth, doublespeak and overtalk, secrecy and boasts of expertise, surveillance and harassment, exaggeration and deception, cursing and conjuring, usurpation and absorption, diversion and demoralization, and the violence of babel (including verbal inflation, libel, rhetorical wantonness, sophistry, jargon, incoherence, falsehood, and blasphemy.)"

      Think about it. Government and politico-speak. Academia and the glorification of the impenetrable. Bad but bestselling books.

      All, all explained!

    2. Passages like this make me think that the librarians won't change their minds: Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind, and she thought: "God is America’s king. She thought: Americans won't obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why, she thought, when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do. I will have to make myself be good.”

      My mother was a librarian. She brought home all sorts of books. That worked out fine because children are not defective adults and have the ability to sort and judge and like and dislike and so on. I'm more worried about children not having a love for reading than I am about books reflecting the events of their own era.

    3. A friend was just on Georgia Public Radio holding forth on what helps the young develop a love of reading, in a Friday program on "The Great American Read". She is in the business of studying and consulting on education, and has thought a good deal about it.

      I don't think that the embarrassment of the librarians at having once used Wilder's name will affect the children much at all. Those with an inclination to read will find and read what they want.

    4. I think the abolition of make-work homework would be of the greatest assistance to children--just a simple assignment to read and be able to say a little about what was read would be grand.

    5. The management of homework must be one of the best tests of teachers. On the one hand, there should be homework, to reinforce learning and to establish whether the student really understands the matter. On the other hand, there is mere piling on. When my son was in middle school and early high school, he had two Latin teachers: of one's homework, I could say only, Well, there's a lot of it; of the other's, I could always see what she wanted the students to grasp.

    6. Yes, exactly so!

      I do think younger children ought to be encouraged to read for homework.

      A lot of teachers don't get that difference between meaningful homework and make-work that takes a student from pursuing his/her own interests and spending time with family. And kids need dream time!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.