Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide”

There has been a paucity of Comments of the Day lately; it’s probably my fault. This one is by a first time COTD awardee, and involves the rare Ethics Alarms topic of children’s literature, in response to the Ethics Quiz about the justness of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name being stripped from the award created in her honor. Apparently her “Little House” books were not sufficiently prescient regarding modern sensibilities and 21st Century hindsight.

And no, I didn’t pick this comment because it includes a compliment to “The Wind in the Willows,” perhaps my favorite book of all time.

Here is Bob’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide:

“Is it fair and reasonable to remove Wilder’s’ name from the award, essentially taking away an honor despite no new information or evidence arising?”


Bit of backstory: my husband and I were both inveterate readers when we were children. Oddly enough, neither of us read “children’s books” when we were kids … we went from Dick and Jane to fairly adult novels very early on.

However, when we hit our 40s-50s, we started a campaign of reading the great classics of kiddie lit. (Just a note — “Wind in the Willows” is a masterpiece, the first six [and only the first six] Oz books are spectacular, E. Nesbit rocks and the popularity of “Peter Pan” is a mystery we have never plumbed.)Among those books were the entire Little House corpus. They are quite terrific. (As with most series, some are better than others.) While the attitudes may be dated, there is nothing “hateful” about them. In order to be hateful, there should be some evidence of a clear animus against a particular group of people; Wilder has no agenda, and simply reflects the attitudes common of her era.

It is essential to note that these books are not virulent anti-Amerind screeds, but stories of the heroic pioneers who built our nation. Native Americans occasionally cross this landscape, but these books are neither about nor against them.

It does seem as if there is a concerted effort to erase (or … re-envision) American history to something more palatable to post 1960s sensibilities. This is mischievous and dangerous, and should be confronted whenever possible.

13 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Little House On The Cultural Divide”

  1. I didn’t say anything until now either, since we’ve been a little busy with the legal world, but I also do not believe the renaming of this award for the reasons given to be justified either. I was also a voracious reader as a kid, particularly of fantasy, and, like it or not, most of the great fantasy so far predates 1960.

    The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, also the light fantasy that gave us the world’s most loved bear, were all written by World War One survivors born at the tail end of the Victorian era who came to be in the Edwardian epoch of peaches and cream ladies strolling with parasols, tea at four sharp, and dreams of an enlightened peace and prosperity that reached as high as the countless cross-topped spires of that time.

    Those who gave them their ideas, like George MacDonald and John M.E.D. Plunkett, better known as Lord Dunsany, lived in the prime of the Victorian era, when the sun literally never set on the British Empire, and the world took its cues from London. It should come as no surprise that these men, raised on the poetry of Kipling and “The White Man’s Burden” and reciting the canned heroism and jangling rhythms of Lord MacAulay’s “Horatius at the Bridge” might have attitudes toward a few things that don’t square with today’s, especially not those prevalent on the left. It should also come as no surprise that these men, most of whom took up arms to defend the world they knew, only to see a lot of it taken away sooner, perhaps than it needed to be, might not necessarily see forward as the most pleasant of directions, nor look too highly on races they had met on the battlefield and been unimpressed with. It shouldn’t appear odd that Lord Dunsany, champion big-game hunter, would be perfectly all right with his heroes hunting unicorns and bearing more-than-mortal brides home to a place they didn’t really want to go. It shouldn’t appear shocking that atheist turned apologist Lewis would see the largely non-Christian Arab and Indian peoples as mostly villainous, though he did allow a place in heaven for those who did good, even if they used the wrong name when they prayed.

    None of this takes away from the value of the stories told, nor Dunsany’s epicism, Lewis’ gift for glowing images, or Tolkien’s vast subcreational powers. They need to be placed into context, true, and certainly there is room for discussion of the attitudes of the authors vis-à-vis current attitudes, but simply throwing them aside and pronouncing them outdated or valueless because they reflect the attitudes of the authors, who were men of their times, is akin to the attitude that Jack specifically condemned with regard to visual and musical artists. If we value only the creations of those whose attitudes match ours, we’re going to miss a lot of good stuff and read a lot of junk. If we condemn everything insufficiently enlightened, we’re on our way to 1984 and the control of present, past, and future by those who pronounce themselves the enlightened.

    • I nominate Steve’s comment for COTD. He said a lot I wanted to, but did it more thoroughly, more eloquently, and with better art than I would have given this topic.

      I would add, though, Bradbury, Asimov, Poul, Piper, and a host of fantasy (sub genre, science fiction) to his list. They were the product of their times, as well: the mythical midwestern 1930s, cradle of the greatest generation, when trains still brought the circus to town, and children roams the dusty street without care or oversight, except in that everyone watched out for them even when they did not realize they were being watched.

      The stylized society Bradbury set many of his stories in never existed, but took the best of our world and built on it, extrapolating the good and the bad in ways that never came to be, yet were compelling for all that, as American values supported the narrative.

      Asimov took our values into the far future as well as the near. Even when dealing with galactic empires, he represented human nature, the struggle with the darker side impulses, and the underlying value system is such a way as to ring true to form. He took repeated historical precedent and projected that the future would be the same as long as human nature guided man.

      H. Beam Piper, who never saw his commercial success, invented a universe every bit as detailed as Asimov’s, with a future history again taken from the pages of our little planet. His villains were not arch; they were people with motivation not unlike our politicians today. When you are in their way, the ends justifies the means, because they have the power. No superheros, no Lex Luthor, no mighty Sauron exerting supernatural forces. Just an leader, embroiled in politics, who decides the fate of millions who he does not know, nor care to, for his momentary convenience.

      We will have to erase all of these (over my dead body: I have paper copies!) from the world archives for socialists to win: progressives seek to change human nature, and if it will not change, to dominate, to punish, and to destroy those who challenge their whim.

      All of these speak of the greatest lie progressives use to subvert the public: hope. Progressives use our thirst for ‘better’ but deliver the opposite every single time they get their way. Therefore they must destroy hope itself, and thus ban books.

      • Thanks, and let’s not forget Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, which have found their way into most sci-fi where artificial life is involved.

        For those not in the know:

        1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

        2. A robot must obey orders given to it by a human being except where such orders could conflict with the First Law.

        3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

  2. Congratulations Bob!

    I agree with most of your opinion.

    About Peter Pan
    Once you really accept Peter Pan as a very child-like fantasy, it can become much more palatable. You simply can’t read it from the point of view of an adult or a child, you must read it from that narrow point of view of a child that’s somewhere between the age of eight and twelve that’s just beginning to get a real understanding of what lies ahead in adult future. That vision of responsibility with real consequences is frightening to some and they want to escape what’s coming and be completely uninhibited and absolutely care free with no real consequences, childlike forever.

    The one thing about Peter Pan that has bothered me is that when children go to Neverland they supposedly never grow up; however, when Peter initially went to Neverland he was an infant then somehow he actually grew up in Neverland to the age of the boy Peter Pan and then stopped growing up. That’s a conflict that I’ve just had to ignore.

    • Growing older and growing up aren’t, as we all know, the same thing. That said, since Peter himself was initially watched over by fairies, maybe their magic had something to do with how far he was allowed to develop?

    • You have to read the book more carefully. Children do grow up in Neverland, just very, very slowly. When they get to old “Peter weeds them out”. The real mystery is why Peter Pan himself never grows older than approximately five, but the book is built around that mystery. I consider Peter Pan possibly the greatest masterpiece in all children’s literature; although the need to be familiar with Treasure Island while reading it is a little bit annoying.

      It is wise to read Peter Pan as a tragedy, for that is what it is. In some ways, Peter Pan is the single most tragic figure in all of literature.

      Also, while we’re on the topic, those reading who have small children, please don’t let Disney be your children’s only experiences with either Peter Pan or the Jungle Book. Disney totally missed the character with Peter Pan, and they bastardized almost all of the characters in the Jungle Book, which is actually a very compelling story.

  3. Jack wrote, “There has been a paucity of Comments of the Day lately; it’s probably my fault.”

    How can that possibly be your fault?

    There was a plethora of COTD just a few weeks ago, there’s a slump now, so what.

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