Five Get #Cancelled on Social Media: is it okay to enjoy classic children’s stories written by authors who had bigoted views?

Photo by Corrie Barklimore. flickr.com/photos/80144821@N00/2767723506

Last night I broke the lockdown rules, writes Nikita Sharma. I went to a place I have been visiting since I was a child. Kirrin Island. I spent my time jumping over rocks encasing natural pools of crystal-clear water and feeling the soft as powder sand beneath my feet as I explored the castle ruins.

Of course, I wasn’t there physically but who said you couldn’t feel something so vividly so wholly, you feel as if you were truly there?

I think that’s the magic of books. The ability they have to transport you to a different time and different land. That’s what I like best about the children’s books I still keep close to my heart. But whilst reading them in these past few years, I’ve had guilt and outrage swirling inside and then like smoke, hanging over me.

Finding out your favourite childhood authors held racist and sexist views and realising now that they incorporated those views into their writing? It doesn’t feel good. And rereading today, you can see a line here and there not sitting right, suddenly you see the hidden messages and understand the double meanings.

Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl. These were my heroes. Their works are legendary.

It really is upsetting thinking that if I were to meet my favourite childhood writer, they probably wouldn’t like me very much. And the reasons would simply be because of the colour of my skin.

Being a woman of colour, issues like these really mess with my conscience. But I can celebrate the books that mean so much to me without excusing the person behind them

Someone of my generation shouldn’t be enjoying these books after finding out the truth. Nowadays, typed in bold HASHTAG CANCELLED on social media platforms is the only direction you need to know what persons should be avoided. Everything is either black or white. But it was one of the things that welcomed me with a warm embrace. The words called me back.

And it wasn’t just me – millions of others felt it too! Introducing us to a world of giants and witches and made-up nonsense languages to decoding secret messages and catching smugglers; these books had humour and originality, they encouraged us to broaden our imaginations.

So, we have these clearly wonderful pieces of works unfortunately written by problematic people, what do we do? Is this just a case of separating the art from the artist?

Should we even judge people for ideals that were the norm to have ‘back in the day’ with values we hold today? Was Roald Dahl and his anti-Semitism simply a product of his time? These are outdated views, and we must accept that it was a different time.

But this frame of debate takes me back to the essay I was forced to write on Winston Churchill a few years ago. I remember my blood boiling as my teacher chattered about what a great man he was, knowing his racist views and inactions were to blame for the three million people who starved to death during the Bengal Famine.

However, apart from collecting ‘woke points’ on Twitter, holding dead writers accountable isn’t doing much. It gives no productive support to movements and organisations that aim for change. Being a woman of colour, issues like these really mess with my conscience and to ‘forgive and forget’ isn’t something I can apply. But balance is helpful. I can celebrate the books that mean so much to me without excusing the person behind them.

We can enjoy literature and art that have outdated views as long as we accept that they are just that, outdated, while we work towards creating pieces that are tolerant, kind, and fair to all.    And with that, I’ll be off on my next adventure! So long.

Guess your tutors’ favourite book on World Book Day

To mark World Book Day tutors reveal their favourite book of all time, to Simon Sansome

Book Review: Even Dogs in the Wild – Ian Rankin

By Sam Chambers

You say you can’t keep a good man down, and that sentence has never been truer than of Ian Rankin’s curmudgeonly detective, John Rebus, who makes a triumphant return in Even Dogs in the Wild, the Scottish crime-writer’s 20th novel to feature the former detective inspector.

In and out of retirement for his last few outings, Rebus is – thankfully to us – akin to a police boomerang. Even Dogs begins with him back in retirement – through Police Scotland requirement, not personal choice – and struggling to adjust to life as a civilian, kicking his heels and contemplating what lies ahead for him on the Thin Blue Scrapheap.

However, when someone takes a pot-shot at Rebus’s old adversary and sometime-associate Big Ger Cafferty, the retired policeman’s former apprentice DI Siobhan Clarke and foe-cum-friend DI Malcolm Fox turn to the only man they can think of to get the stubborn gangers to cooperate with their enquiries.

Rebus.

Meanwhile, across town, a senior lawyer’s body has been found along with a threatening note – one, it transpires, Cafferty was also sent, so it’s up to Rebus, now working in a consultative capacity, and Clarke, to get to the bottom of it.

These incidents coincide with a volatile Glasgow crime outfit making its presence felt in Edinburgh, meaning Fox is seconded to a cover team intent on bringing them down. With Cafferty and his rivals on edge, Scotland’s capital city is on the brink of all-out war. The detectives must figure out if the crimes are linked to the outsiders, or whether it is simply an unhappy coincidence.

Rebus, of course, revels in the excitement and the intrigue, though what follows makes for an uncomfortable investigation even by his standards, as the team delves deep into the past. They are taken into some very murky waters, full of cover-ups, lies and violence, expertly contrived by Rankin.

Nevertheless, he takes great delight in proving a point to the top brass at Police Scotland, as his old-school methods turn up some unexpected leads, showing up his younger brethren in the process. Fox, on the other hand, with his father on his deathbed, is at a crossroads in his life. Questioning his own abilities as a detective, he jettisons his conservative approach to policing to take a leaf out of Rebus’s book.

The way these two characters interact, with Rebus flitting between empathetic, fatherly mentor and gloating former rival, makes for great entertainment, and the humour sprinkled in their conversations makes for light relief from the darkly twisted yet compelling narrative.

What is particularly interesting is how they help each other come to accept where they are in their respective lives. Even Dogs in the Wild sees an almost antithetical transformation of its two male protagonists. Rebus growing softer in old age – he even adopts a stray dog – and Fox becoming steelier and more aware of the ruthless, bloody-minded qualities that a ‘proper’ detective needs to succeed.

On this kind of form, it is no surprise that Rankin’s work accounts for 10 per cent of all British crime-fiction sales. His meticulous plotting, sharp dialogue, flawed but likeable characters, and subtle clue-laying, exemplifies the ability of a man who has all but perfected his craft. Only Mark Billingham comes close to matching Rankin’s talents as a writer of this genre – as does his creation Tom Thorne in equaling Rebus as Britain’s most headstrong fictional detective.

Like a fine wine, Rankin gets better with age, and it seems he – and Rebus – still has plenty more left in the tank, so don’t expect to be saying goodbye to the cantankerous old sleuth just yet.

Rating: 4/5