Absolutely Shocking! Banning guns and children's literature

By Shelley McKinney
web posted July 24, 2000

Dear Fellow Concerned Citizens:

I am sending out this letter to let you know that I am spearheading a grass-roots movement across our land to ban classic children's literature. I'm also considering adding  guns, doughnuts, and farmers to my list, all of which are leading to the moral decline of our great nation. My empassioned plea to you is that you will join me in my cause.
 
 I have decided to elect myself the leader and organizer of this campaign because of the shocking -- shocking! -- thing I read the other day. Once I had stopped hyperventilating and thrown out my little paper lunch bag, I immediately sat down at the computer to begin enlisting support for my effort. I have typed out a brief excerpt from the book I read below, and I want you to understand that what you are about to read is very upsetting, and justifiably so. This material, by the way, should not be left where a child might read it.
 

At this moment, [Fern's] brother Avery came into the room. Avery was ten. He was heavily armed -- an air rifle in one hand, a wooden dagger in the other.

The school bus honked from the road.

"Run!" commanded Mrs. Arable, taking Wilbur from Fern and slipping a doughnut into her hand. Avery grabbed his gun and another doughnut [and] the children ran out to the road and climbed into the bus.
 
Charlotte's Web
-- E.B. White
 
 Please try to remain calm. I'm a mother, and I completely understand how dreadfully agonized some of you are feeling right now. The irresponsibility of this author is absolutely reprehensible. My first reaction after reading this paragraph was to pursue litigation against E.B. White himself, until I remembered that he died quite some time ago. So instead, I decided to form this movement -- guns, doughnuts, and farmers beware: I am a woman with a mission.
 
 And children's literature, too. This is a dangerous and subversive little book, and as such it should be kept out of the hands of the innocent. Never mind that it had been beloved by children for the past three generations: never mind that it purports to teach the young, in a small way, that love and friendship can transcend the finality of death. What truly matters in this piece of garbage is that the boy, Avery, was taking a gun to school. Apparently, he left the wooden dagger on the kitchen table, maybe so that his mother (a farmer's wife) could find some sweet little baby who could play with it. What I didn't include in this excerpt is that the boy's farmer father, John Arable, was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee, in full view of his son who got on that school bus with that air rifle. What kind of man and father would allow his son to take an air rifle to school? Doesn't he know that guns kill people? And even worse, they kill furry, harmless woodland creatures that have been exploited by the Walt Disney Corporation to such an extent that it is now impossible in this era of political correctness to even look at a buck with a magnificent rack of antlers and think "venison." No, we have all been re-programmed to look at a deer and think "Bambi!" and I say it's a fine thing.
 
 I can only assume that the farmers among us are of a criminal bent, raising their children as the spawn of hell to prey upon all of us out here who are firmly convinced that guns are bad...bad...BAD. Another point to ponder: should all farmers be banned outright, or should they simply be forced to undergo mandatory sterilization so that they cannot continue to propagate their evil breed?
 
 And then there's that business of giving Fern Arable that doughnut to eat for breakfast. Why, everybody knows that doughnuts are full of fat and refined white sugar: Mrs. Arable might as well have given her trusting little daughter a cake of D-Con to munch on. Oh, there is death all through this novel, whether it comes from the ravages of time or through torsos riddled with bullet holes or from arteries completely blocked with lard. It is a terrible book, and I hope you'll help me, fellow soldiers, in seeing that it (and doughnuts and farmers) are removed from our society. Onward, utopia!
 
Sincerely yours,
Ms. Heather Bunkcombe
Taylor, Tyler, and Tynor's Mommy
 

 
 Elwyn Brooks White's novel, Charlotte's Web, was published in 1952 and is still widely available today in editions that range from hard cover to audio book to animated video. It is, of course, the story of Wilbur the pig who was saved from his fate of becoming pork chops and breakfast bacon through the loyalty and devotion of a simple spider, Charlotte.
 
 It's no great secret that Charlotte dies at the end of the book -- she simply lives out the life span allotted to spiders -- but the message of the book is not bleak. The little pig, while grieving the loss of his beloved friend, finds hope through the birth of her spider-children and is able to reclaim the friendship he thought he had lost forever.
 
 It is a funny book and a moving book -- when I read it aloud as a bedtime story to my two children, I couldn't gather my voice to read the part where Charlotte dies and had to hand over the book to my husband, whose voice got a little bit foggy too, if truth be told. The girls cried when Charlotte died, but giggled pleasurably when three of her babies hatched from the egg sac and stayed at the Zuckerman's barn to spin webs over Wilbur's pigpen. What I had never considered is that it is a book that is from a different culture: It hails from a time when an air rifle was a toy to play with at recess, instead of a reason for a free ride to juvenile hall and weeks of liberal hand-wringings in the press. 
 
 Will this book someday be considered a threat to the possible safety of school children? Who knows? Stranger things have been known to happen. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, wherein vagabond Huck journeys North on the Mississippi River with the runaway slave, Jim, and realizes that Jim is a man with a soul -- as opposed to an object to be bought and sold -- has met its demise at the hands of politically correct liberals, who have (being a notoriously bigoted group) completely missed the message of tolerance and acceptance that is at the heart of the book. All that liberal educators could take from the book is that Jim was a slave, and it might be hurtful for black students to have to read about slavery. You'd think that teachers would embrace this novel as a tool for showing us how far we have come in race relations, and even how far we still need to go. But no.....they can't see that.
 
 A recent news story from the Los Angeles Times states that To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's coming-of-age novel about a child's first dramatic lessons in rising above the inherent bigotry of small town life in the 1930's Deep South, is also targeted to eat dirt because of its politically incorrect portrayal of black people; never mind that the book's secondary focus is on the eventual acceptance of the town's mentally handicapped recluse -- that fact apparently didn't bear mentioning. 
 
 I contacted Nancy Louise Rutherford, a former English teacher who was briefly quoted in the LA Times article, to ask her if she cared to expand on her comments. Ms. Rutherford runs a wonderful website geared to help students understand the Mockingbird by annotating the text. In her letter to me, she stated, "Those who would object to the manner in which African-Americans are depicted in the novel are unable or unwilling to look beyond surface distinctions...I believe it is appropriate, indeed incumbent, upon any teacher to raise a discussion as to the role played by African American characters in this book...It must be done with an eye to the fact that the world of the South in the 1930s was a very different place than it is today."
 
 Ms. Rutherford, who proclaimed herself to me as a "dyed-in-the-wool liberal of the bleeding heart variety" understands the risks of revisionist history, although To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn aren't technically suffering from revisionist history as much as they are experiencing non-history: If liberal educators can just ignore the shame of slavery and black oppression, maybe it won't really have happened. "To ignore this history," she wrote, "is to stifle creative thinking as well as prevent the acquisition of knowledge needed to achieve understanding of and affect change in our present-day society." If all liberals were this reasonable, my life would be much more tranquil, and I wouldn't have much of a writing career.
 
It is becoming a solid fact of our leftist educational culture that whatever does not advance the PC agenda needs to go and in these cases, they're not above rank censorship for the most puerile of reasons. One has to wonder how many more of our classic American novels that depict life as it was in times past will meet the same fate?
 
 I'm not going to join the fictitious Ms. Bunkcombe in spearheading a movement against guns, farmers, or children's literature right now. Or doughnuts, either, which could possibly be the most perfect food known to mankind, other than chili fries from Johnny Rocket's. But that's another topic altogether. What I think I'll do is save my energy to continue battling political correctness wherever it appears.
 
 That, and reading all these terrible books to my children.

Shelley McKinney is a staff writer at Ether Zone and freelance writer and can be reached at ecaillie@earthlink.net.

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