Okay, I just read this amazing blog entry by Philip Nel "Can Censoring A Children's Book Remove Its Prejudices?"
He brings up the Bowdlerization of a number of children's books, including "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl. (Don't worry, I had to look it up also - it means editing something to make it less "offensive," named after this guy who censored Shakespeare's works in the 19th century to be more appropriate for women and children.)
Anyway, in the first published version (1964), the Oompa-Loompas are pygmies from Africa. The illustrations by Joseph Schindelman show them with dark skin:
It was revised later by the author himself for the 1973 edition to make them from the fantasy place Loompaland. Once again they were illustrated by Joseph Schindelman, but this time the Oompa-Loompas were white:
And they're still white today:
But here's what's fascinating: Philip argues that in some ways, changing the skin color in the illustration made it harder for readers to SEE the racism, because little else has changed in the structure of the story that was racist - Willie Wonka is a white European who goes to a jungle and brings back a race of people different from himself who are his happy slaves. That's pretty disturbing, and when I stop and think about it, I realize that until Philip's article I never stopped and thought about it. Not once.
But if I'd read the original, and seen the dark-skinned Oompa-Loompas, maybe I might have been more sensitive to the racism on display.
I mean, I read the book with my daughter, and we didn't talk about it. We watched both versions of the movie, and it didn't come up!
Philip wonders what's the best way to approach literary classics with offensive or racist moments, and ultimately suggests using them as springboards for discussion.
I completely agree.
I'll be talking with my child about "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory," the Oompa-Loompas, and race, and how even though it's a story, a great story, there are things about it that can trouble us. Things for us to discuss.
I don't want to ban "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." I don't wish I'd read a different book to my kid instead. But like a prism held to a beam of light, I want to help her look deeper at the story. Separate out the parts. I want to filter it and discuss it and use it as a way to address inequality and the wrong-headed ideas of racism with her.
Because I think talking about what troubles you about a book with your kid is maybe the best way to deal it.
And giving your child that gift of literacy - not just to read but to analyze and understand? Maybe that's the real golden ticket.
Celebrating our freedom to read,