Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Peter Pan, pc gorn mad and me

I feel a bit guilty because I'm not reading much at the moment. I started re-reading Mr Wroe's Virgins by Jane Rogers a couple of days ago, but I feel I ought to be reading one of the library books I got out instead. I might just take all the library books back and start over, picking maybe one or two out instead of being so greedy.

But I am reading Peter Pan in Scarlet to the children at night, and it's a book I'm actually enjoying. Unlike its predecessor, (which was the original Peter Pan by JM Barrie), I actually want to read whole chapters instead of being hard-pressed to read a couple of pages.

I had high hopes of that very famous children's book, but found it quite hard to get along with. I had never read it in childhood, so it was pretty new to me, (although of course I've seen the Disney animated film, Robin Williams' Hook and various other productions on the theme). Clearly it was quite dated, so I'm probably judging it unfairly, but it wasn't the language as such.

I found some aspects of it troubling, what with the "Redskins" and the role Wendy assumes. Obviously she is playing at being the "mother", but taking the role for as long as she does in the story seems unlikely to me. It's really not much fun darning socks and feeding boys medicine.

It's the gender stereotyping that bugged me, let's face it. The way Wendy flirts with Pan and the fawning adoration of the other female characters made me roll my eyes a bit.

The Redskins also pose a serious problem to me because of the racial stereotyping and I can't switch off my pc-gorn-mad self - and nor would I want to, in truth. (An on-line friend has a favourite quote which leaps to mind: “It’s political correctness gone mad ... the distress call of the thwarted bigot” - Christopher Brookmyre, I think).

I know the book is a product of its time, and I can see it on that level. But I also think of cholera-contaminated blankets as a "gift" for the Native Americans, and the exaggerated physical characteristics & stylised rituals of the Disney Redskins. They seem on a level with golliwogs as patronising and rather insidious stereotypes go. I know that some people think that golliwogs are just toys and don't mean anything, never did them any harm. But I'm glad for example, that Dinah Doll and the goblins have replaced Blyton's golliwogs in the children's C-G series of Make Way for Noddy. As far as I'm concerned, it was negative stereotyping that is not acceptable now.

Is it retrograde iconoclasm? I don't think so, if we remember that these things were once acceptable, and now are not: it doesn't destroy any part of culture, it just means we've moved on. I don't want to ban it (or burn old Enid Blyton, ha ha) but ideally I'd want children reading/ being read such books to read the more modern version, if it's purely for pleasure. If it was reading with the intention of thinking about the issues raised, discussion and education, then the original material would be more appropriate. It strikes me that I loved Rudyard Kipling's Just-So stories as a child, and some of them are not what I would consider acceptable for S to read without us discussing them properly. Particularly the one about the Leopard getting his spots, if I recall correctly. The Elephant Child is great to read out-loud, 'though.

I'm wandering, aren't I? You're lucky I have now forgotten the other thing that popped into my head earlier that I was going to bring into it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have just been listening to the audiobook of Peter Pan, and although I do love most of it, I couldn't help being annoyed by Wendy.
She is just passive, and though I daresay those boys needed someone to look after them, she was to submissive for me to like her much.
And don't get me started on Enid Blyton.