I grew up as a young, funny-speaking, underweight kid with glasses, retreating into books as a safe place.
\The library was withing walking distance of my house and I spent many nights there, wrapped up in the magic of the Golden Age of Sci-fi. I consumed the Masters of SF like Van Vogt, Heinlein, Clarke and, most fervently, Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury is credited with 27 major novels and over 700 short stories. Hs most popular books were Fahrenheit 451 and the Martian Chronicles. The first dealt with our interactions with technology; the second with humanity’s effects on colonizing Mars.
Halfway through rereading Bradbury’s stories I am once again a kid full of wonder or, as my Dad used to say, “head in the wstars again, son?”
Last night, I read a short story that involved a “cigar store Indian” in a 1930s tobacco store. This was a common way of advertising tobacco wares dating back to the early 19th Century. It began partly because many of the populace couldn’t read, and because native North Americans were identified with tobacco. People within First Nations communities now view these as offensive, primarily because they perpetuate the “noble savage” caricature.
I stopped reading at this sentence: “He (the store owner) moved the wooden savage from the sidewalk to the back of the store.”
Thinking long and hard about the way that sentence was constructed, I wondered if an author would use that sentence if he were writing that story today. Likely not and certainly not without consequence.
Does this word imply that Bradbury was a racist? A dive into his real life show him to be a firm supporter of literacy, raising tens of thousands of dollars for building public libraries, often in poor, predominantly black neighbourhoods. His books look deeply at the potential negative side effects of colonization, albeit on other planets. His writings and life’s work reveal him to be anything but racist. Yet there it hangs, for all to see .… “he moved the savage from the sidewalk”.
Under the blazing glare of 21st Century “enlightened” or “woke” people, the many works of Bradbury must be removed from libraries and bookstores. He is to be rebuked as a colonizer or racist hatemonger, his life’s work in tatters, one of the greatest writers of our time must face the final Editor and found wanting.
Like the protagonist in Fahrenheit 451, I suddenly felt like I had to hide my cherished book of Bradbury stories. Perhaps under my mattress lest the “woke” hordes crash through my doors, looking for forbidden works to destroy. This editing of history goes on daily, reaching into every part of our society.
We can all agree it’s long overdue that our children learn about the devastating effects of residential schools and learn about the colonization of North America from an Indigenous viewpoint.
Can we also agree that past works of art, fiction and history were created through a different viewpoint?
And can we agree not to seek out every trivial instance of incorrect presentation to change or destroy it? It’s said that those who can’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. How can we learn if the past is changed to suit the present?