Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Matchlock Gun, by Walter Edmonds

Thank you, Tam, for the link!! Haven't had so many visitors since I almost got blown up.

I had forgotten all about this book until I bumped into it by accident recently. But when I saw it, I well recalled reading it when I was quite young. It made a big impression.

On reading it now, I had some thoughts that of course would never have occurred to six year old me.

Starting with, shock. Actual, internal surprise. This would NEVER win the Newbery Medal today. Are you joking? It would never even be published. Only its Newbery keeps it in print.

If somehow it DID see the light of day, its author would be hounded out of the scribblers' guild. I cannot imagine any public or government school librarian permitting it to be added to the stacks. Other Newbery winners have been sanitized, but this entire book is thoughtcrime.

I've asked three librarians in different parts of the country to see if it was in inventory. The only one who said it was, after looking at it, expressed surprise at its presence.

The America of the time this book was published was a very different place. It was in its physical world- genuine poverty, segregation, sound(ish) money, no welfare, nationally engulfing war right off shore, men with neckties at the ball game, and the criminals always losing in the movies.

But that mental America must have been different from this one too. Some of those differences will scream at you when you imagine what would happen if this book magically appeared on the shelves at a school in Berkley or Westport. They are too obvious for even I, the Earl of Obvious, to point out. But there are a LOT of them.

That America was different from the way we have been taught, and are told, to imagine it as well. A couple of things from the book bring that home to me.

I won't talk about them here, for fear of spoilage. I've put most of the book in this post, and so it is big- 40 pictures. Click on each picture to make it large enough to read. It will take a while to load if your machine is slow. I've left out the preface (which is for adults), most of the illustrations, and the last chapter. That's fair use, and if you want to discover what happens...

But if the owners ask me to take it down, I will.

I've got a couple of thoughts at the end of that post that might be not entirely obvious.

Click on each picture to make it large enough to read.

It's a shame that we live in a world where every single bit of this story is subversive of the established theology.

One thing I like about this book is the author's spare, relaxed style. The book is full of incident, yet it feels like he's describing the making of a sandwich or some other fairly ordinary event. There's not the slightest attempt at hyperbole. The people, all of them, just cope.

Perhaps that's why the lessons and points of the book were so effective for me as a child. They aren't presented didactically, but are part of the background. Many modern books for children (like many old ones) are preachments, and that's just not so effective. With me, anyway.

One of the things most subversive of orthodoxy is partly what this book presents, but mainly the fact that it presented it in 1941.

We're told that women in those dim, pre-Friedan days were kept barefoot and pregnant. That they were the household skivvies of men, prevented from any contribution or decision making. And further, that the eeeeeeeevil patriarchy reinforced that outlook at every turn.

But look at the Gertrude children are shown in 1941! Talk about a strong, independent, intelligent, capable woman. She even refuses her husband's command to go to the brick house, and he just accepts it! It's almost as if she's a respected equal!

Current feminist thinking often pretends that girls (and boys) back in the bad old days weren't shown powerful examples of women. That's a lie, and this book is a demonstration.

This book is still under copyright, and I encourage you to buy it. Even if you are profoundly cheap. Certainly everyone who can read the second amendment and has a child whom he or she knows ought to think about it as a present. You might want to discuss aspects of it with them, but it should be in the nursery.

Something just occurred to me- I wonder if new versions ARE altered? Don't see how they could be, but the bien pensants are clever. I'll have to buy one and see.


DirtCrashr said...

It's a beautiful thing, strong independent-minded women and children too, capable of resistance to overwhelming forces - who'd have ever thunk? Must be this thing is a plant of the time-travelling Mr. Barrett and his .50 Rhinocerous Tank& Bank-Building Gun - this is the Spanish Matchlock Anti-Aircraft Barret Gun of the Future...

Nancy R. said...

My copy was waiting for me when I got back from Charlotte two weeks ago. The preface was invaluable for contest and for finally telling me what happened to the mother.

Thanks for the recommendation(s). The book and the Veronicas. I listened to them all afternoon.