Let Santa smoke his pipe
The biggest “Ho, ho, ho” of the 2012 Christmas season came not from jolly old St. Nick himself but from the efforts of a Canadian, Pamela McColl by name, to reform him. She has prepared a new version of the classic poem The Night Before Christmas to eliminate reference to Santa Claus smoking. Her illustrator will no doubt come up with accompanying plates depicting a smoke-free North Pole workshop.
The original poem was written in 1823 by Clement Moore; the couplet that has McColl’s knickers in a knot reads:
“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled head like a wreath.”
McColl has excised that because she is worried that it might teach children that smoking is acceptable.
“I edited this poem as studies out
his of the United States in the 1990s showed that the depiction of cartoon characters smoking influences young children ages three to seven towards tobacco products,” a news report quotes McColl as saying.
Ah, yes — studies, no doubt undertaken by a harmless drudge somewhere aspiring to a tenure-track position in sociology. Personally, when I hear the word “studies” I discount everything that follows, but no doubt McColl would disapprove of that.
I grew up on the older version of The Night Before Christmas and, decades later, I smoked a pipe for many years. So what further proof is required? My only concern is whether Ms. McColl has gone far enough.
In my recollection, Santa was a pudgy character, rotund, not to say fat; should she sneak in a couplet in praise of exercise? After all, one cannot meet one’s daily fibre requirements by gorging on sugar plums.
Is Santa’s sleigh equipped with seatbelts?
It is a terrible and arrogant thing for anyone to presume to rewrite what a dead author said, but in this case at least it is not dangerous.
And is it safe to gallivant on icy rooftops and slide down chimneys? And what of those gunny sacks of gifts Santa and his reindeer haul around the world; are we sanguine about the contents?
Even parents who leave milk and a cookie on the mantel have reason to worry; can they be confident that the cookie has not come in contact with peanuts and that the milk is safe for the lactose-intolerant?
McColl seems to be a descendent in spirit, if not lineage, of Thomas Bowdler, the 19th century English physician who made it his life’s work to prune the Shakespearean canon in order to excise all the naughty bits. Bowdler said that his purpose was to make Shakespeare available to all “without incurring the danger of falling unawares among words or expressions which are of such a nature as to raise a blush on the cheek of modesty.”
Today a Victorian cheek would remain in constant blush — without cosmetic assistance; I think that might be acceptable to McColl as long as the cheek had sunscreen on of an acceptable SPF. The blush occasioned by modesty has gone the way of the whale-boned corset or the typewriter, but still censors remain busy; Mark Twain, Enid Blyton, and C.S. Lewis have all been subject to politically correct revision. Even Frank and Joe, the Hardy Boys, today speak more like young men returning from an NDP policy convention than sleuths on the heels of dastardly criminals.
In the ocean of absurdity that passes for contemporary life, McColl’s efforts are an inconsequential droplet. In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, a hugely influential book in its time but largely forgotten today, it was not rhyming couplets but whole slices of history that were dispatched down the memory hole.
Against this background, someone like McColl would seem more a crank than a menace. Thomas Bowdler utterly failed in his mission to rewrite Shakespeare; only his name survives in infamy.
In the shades Clement Moore need not vex himself over McColl’s attempt to improve The Night Before Christmas; it is a terrible and arrogant thing for anyone to presume to rewrite what a dead author said, but in this case at least it is not dangerous.
We need not, in other words, silence Pamela McColl, nor mock her misguided efforts; it will be enough to greet her on the street with a surly “Bah, humbug.”