This week the American Library Association renamed its literary award which for years has been named after Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the classic tale of American settlers The Little House on the Prairie.
It would seem that someone objected to the expression therein that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian!” Well, there goes my childhood then, no more cowboys and Indians, sorry “native Americans”.
No matter that when the expression is used it is challenged by another character who suggests that if the Indians were just left alone they’d be as peaceable as anyone else. Nope, that’s irrelevant.
What matters is that one sentence, taken out of context, might cause offence.
Thus, a campaign was launched enabling a number of people to feel morally superior to us lesser humans who were not appalled at reading the phrase and eventually forcing the American Library Association to kneel before the altar of political correctness.
Personally, I see it as a splendid teaching opportunity, an opportunity to look at social attitudes at the time the book was set – the 19th century – and the time it was written, 1935.
But the American Library Association thought otherwise and hastily renamed its award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.
Nowadays we seem so afraid of causing offence that we self impose sanctions if books are deemed not sufficiently PC, not sufficiently anodyne to ensure that they do not offend anybody, bland in other words and certainly not challenging, we wouldn’t want people to be intellectually challenged, better to ensure just an “authorised” version of the world is reported.
Only totalitarian states seek to suppress books that do not conform: the Communists imprisoned authors, the Nazis burnt their books. Is this kind of moral censorship really so different?
Do we really want to commit books like The Little House on the Prairie to the flames because a few people might be offended? That way surely lies totalitarianism and madness.
Bob Britnell is the former principal planning officer at Canterbury City Council and now runs his own consultancy offering planning and conservation advice. He lives in Tyler Hill.