[DWJ] Monthly Read-Along - Charmed Life

deborah.dwj at suberic.net deborah.dwj at suberic.net
Mon Nov 5 14:27:38 EST 2012

minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:
>On Sun, 4 Nov 2012 deborah.dwj at suberic.net wrote:
>> On Sat, 3 Nov 2012, Kyla Mackay-Smith wrote:
>>> And then I think this time was the first time I actually read the
>>> UK HarperCollins version rather than the US Greenwillow version I
>>> grew up reading. And in the bit when Cat goes up to his room to
>>> find things they can sell (p. 154 in this version, chapter 11),
>>> Janet says, "Sho' ting. I daren't move widdout you, bwana. But
>>> hurry up." And I don't remember what she says in the version I'm
>>> used to, but I'm pretty sure it was probably just something like
>>> "Sure thing. I daren't move without you."
>> Huh. So I don't remember this from the Greenwillow either (which was
>> the library edition I grew up with; Charmed Life was my first DWJ),
>> but I just checked my US Knopf paperback and that is there.
>> Personally I wouldn't mind a bit like that getting changed, eurgh.
>I do, because it is silly to pretend that children at the time it was
>written were politically correct adults of the twenty-first century.
>Rather as if a book written in Roman times were castigated because it
>had slaves in it, or even sillier a modern book about Roman times
>castigated because it had slaves in it, and either were altered to get
>rid of the slaves so they didn't offend anyone's sensibilities.

I don't read Charmed Life as a text to be read as an accurate
portrayal of English children in the 1970s. The book is about
semi-Edwardian children in a magical alternate England, and Janet is
the only character who comes from something which more or less
resembles our world. She's not timestamped as a 1970s character;
this isn't like The Ogre Downstairs with its cassette
tapes/records/goodness knows what they've changed it to in the
most recent versions. She's just a reasonably timeless Real World

Moreover, a book about Roman times is not modeling slavery for
contemporary readers. We don't have Roman-style slavery in the
contemporary world, nor are we expected to like it. But when a
sympathetic character uses casual racist language in a way that
is not shown up as being problematic in the text -- and I can't
speak for the UK, but I live in a country where 51% of people
harbor explicit anti-black racism <http://weba.im/4ol> -- that
can have a deleterious effect on the attitudes of readers.

I am not castigating the book, because it is the product of its
time. Nor am I necessarily saying that it should be changed; I
said "I wouldn't mind" not "my goodness they have to remove that
vile sentence right now". But given how often DWJ books are
changed by their publishers for the most ridiculous things
(Bettina's list of all the wonderful elements removed in the
German edition, or the wonderful 1970s flavor of The Ogre
Downstairs's LPs), if they decided to change Janet's statement to
Cat to one which is less casually racist (and more likely to be
understood by contemporary readers!), I don't think it would
affect the book negatively. I don't see anything about the way
she says that which adds to the construction of Janet as a
character or to the flavor of the book.

>(Why that "so" at the beginning of your paragraph, Deborah?  I am
>interested by that particular usage: is it filler, like um or er, or
>does it have a purpose and if it does, what is it?  Serious question.  I
>don't think I had encountered that particular opening to sentences
>until a couple of years ago, unless it was "So they went on their way"
>or something of the sort, an integral part of the sense. Sometimes it
>has a comma after the "so" in the same way that people put a comma
>after an opening "and" or "but".)

Just space filler, like "yeah, so".


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