Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Dick and Fannie became Rick and Frannie

I had the pleasure of guest posting this on the wonderful Lenore Skenazy's blog freerangekids a few weeks ago - had to share it here too.

When I was a kid one of my favourite writers was Enid Blyton, the much loved British children’s author. Her books featured terribly English children having terribly marvellous adventures in the 1940’s and 50’s and have sold over 600 million copies worldwide.

 As a youngster in Australia I devoured her books, and the ones I loved best were The Faraway Tree series, where three young children (Fannie, Bessie and Jo) move to the country, discover an enchanted wood and a magical tree. The kids, and sometimes their cousin Dick, regularly headed off to the woods for adventures.

If that wasn’t cool enough, at the top of the tree magical lands came to visit – some were nice, such as land of take what you want and the land of treats, while others struck a delicious fear into my 5 year old heart, particularly the land of fearsome Dame Slap, who wasn’t averse to doling out corporal punishment to anyone naughty.

Another thing I loved about these books was the almost entire absence of adults. While the children’s mother popped up occasionally to demand that they did some household chores, they were often then rewarded entire days  in the deep dark woods unsupervised.

Now I’m a grown up with a 5 year old daughter.  Keen to share the Enid Blyton love I took her to the local bookstore recently to buy a new copy of the Faraway Tree as my childhood copy had fallen apart. At bedtime we opened the book excited to start reading but from the first page I knew something was horribly wrong. In this new version Jo had become Joe, Bessie had become Beth, and worst of all Fanny was now Frannie and cousin Dick had been turned into some kid called Rick!

It seems an overly politically correct publisher somewhere down the line had decided that the names Dick and Fannie (giggle giggle) were far too rude for today’s small children and changed their names to something a bit less titter worthy. Outraged, I head to the internet for more info. Thanks to Wikipedia the picture becomes clearer. Sometime in the 90’s the changes were made to the names by the publisher; because of the “unfortunate connotations” of the names Dick and Fanny. For good measure Jo became Joe because that’s a more common spelling these days and Bessie became Beth because, it’s more contemporary. What’s even worse is when I read that the fearsome Dame Slap is now the totally lame Dame Snap who instead of smacking children just shouts at them.

I take the book and chuck it in the recycling. While I can manage to change the names back to the original ones as I read to my daughter I don’t think I’m up for making up an entire chapter revising lamo Dame Snap back to Dame Slap. And who knows what other little overly PC touches I might find further into the book – would the land of treats now be the land of ‘sometimes food” or ‘fruit and vegetables’?

Of course in my ranting and raving about Dicks and Fannies I am pulled up by a little voice, my daughters. “Mummy, what’s wrong being called Dick and Fannie?” she asks, “I think they sound nice.” And that’s why I realise I’m so mad, apart from messing with a childhood classic  thanks to an adult’s perspective on these names, suddenly it’s an issue. I’d never thought twice about the names when I was a kid either – it’s only when I became an adult that it became funny and or rude. So now I have to have a conversation about dicks and fannies that I don’t really want to have with an almost 5 year old.

And that’s the problem, when we start projecting our adult persepctives onto the world that kids live in, things can get more confused than if we’d just left them alone in the first place. And where do we draw the line? Should Jane Austen’s “Emma” be renamed “Britney” to make it more ‘contemporary’? How about Tom, RICK and Harry?

And as for Dame Slap turning into Dame Snap my five year old sums it up perfectly. “That’s dumb.” She sighs. And she’s right, so now I’m off to search Ebay for some old editions of Enid Blyton tales Dicks and Fannies and all.