In recent times it seems that the idea is spreading that fiction must be pleasant and agreeable, and that the ethical and moral values of the texts must be in line with current convictions.
However, literature has to disturb to make the reader think. It has to be uncomfortable, both in its form and in its substance, so that whoever is in front of it is sometimes forced to stop, raise their eyes from the book and reflect on what they are reading.
The works that reaffirm the values of the community are certainly important, but those that bother the citizen and pit them against other belief systems, which will undoubtedly make them doubt and question their own principles, are no less relevant.
A debate in the English-speaking world
Although later, and due to the enormous media uproar caused, they backed down, the decision of the Roald Dahl Story Company -whose rights were acquired by the platform streaming Netflix in September 2021– and Puffin Books to rewrite some fragments of such iconic books by British writer Roald Dahl as Matilda either Charlie and the Chocolate Factory It was one of the most recent examples of this current that considers that children’s books must be exemplary or, at least, correct in the values they transmit.
Those responsible for the decision explained that Dahl’s works, mostly written between the 1940s and 1990s, do not reflect the values that are considered adequate today, from which it is concluded that they should not appear in readings intended for the public. children and youth public.
In this way, for example, the gifted protagonist Matilda no longer appeared reading Kipling or Conrad, but Jane Austen, and the iconic Oompa Loompas would be described not as “little men& rdquor; but as “little people & rdquor ;.
censorship and kindness
To further confuse the issue, some of the critics of the Puffin Books decision have not done so with the expected success. For example, Salman Rushdie, who affirmed: “Roald Dahl was not an angel, but this is absurd censorship & rdquor ;. With this statement, despite wanting to break a spear in favor of Dahl, he delves into the same imposture of wanting to link goodness with literary fiction. Alluding to the writer’s own biography means that personally controversial authors could not have written works that today we consider sublime and belong to our literary canon.
Beyond considering the opportunity of this decision, which in the Spanish publishing scene, according to the Santillana publishing house, will not be replicated, what is interesting is the reflection that we can make from Philology and Theory of Literature on whether the Fiction must be exemplary, if only novels in accordance with the values that today are considered valid and appropriate are to be read. In addition to which novels to read, reflection forces us to consider, above all, how fiction should be read.
What novels deserve to be read?
Reading something that defends values other than ours forces us to articulate a justification that explains to ourselves why our values are better. In our country, authors such as Marta Sanz and Belén Gopegui, among other writers, have been working on this idea for a long time, both from literature considered for adults and from children’s literature.
In defending the legitimacy and importance of uncomfortable texts, a fundamental question arises: how to read such fictional texts. In this sense, it seems clear that from childhood and adolescence a critical reading of all books should prevail, a process that allows the reader to reflect, both from his own uniqueness, and through the guidance of his parents. and teachers.
interpret and locate
Reading is not an act independent of interpretation: it is nothing else than what we know as hermeneutics. When confronting ourselves with texts from other times, which reflect other values, the solution is not to ignore them or censor them, but rather to be able to locate and understand them within their context.
Only this process of adequate understanding and interpretation of literary texts allows extracting a fundamental lesson, which the reader must learn as soon as possible if he wants to fully develop within his community. This teaching consists of understanding that the values that we respect and consider valid today have not always been so and, therefore, nothing prevents them from succumbing to authoritarian political options in the future.
Reading texts in which different value systems are perceived, and even with beliefs that today we do not consider appropriate, allows us to understand how the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today have not always been recognized as such and how, therefore, it is It is of enormous importance to train critical citizens who react to potential risks that our democracy may suffer.
Because, today we know, progress does not always necessarily imply progress and, for this reason, working on a critical reading as soon as possible, from childhood and youth, becomes a fundamental requirement of our times.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.