Uffish Thoughts 2: Roll me over in the Clover

WARNING: MAY BE DEEMED OFFENSIVE

By Nils Visser

The theme I wish to pursue in the second entry to my reading biography is a combination of sexuality in literature and efforts to ban me from reading anything about sexuality, one of the major engines of human mind and existence, just at the time when questions and other things begin to arise.

The first time I ran into the concept of banned books was during my High School year in the States. I attended a High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and to my surprise a rather active parent’s committee had banned certain books in the school library. Up till then I had always assumed that banning books was something done behind figurative iron curtains due to political content. It had never occurred to me to associate this with the United States of America, a country which preached freedom of speech and personal liberty at almost every turn. I began to make enquiries. Both my parents, after all, had been trained as anthropologists and studying strange habits in even stranger countries was something that comes naturally to me.

The librarians weren’t that charmed, apparently no one had ever questioned “the list” before. Parents decided which corrupt works weren’t allowed into the library, and most kids didn’t read anyway. The system worked well until an inquisitive Dutchman showed up. It dawned on me that the banned list wasn’t overtly political in nature, but sexual.

I think we can all imagine why some books featured on the list. D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover for example, as well as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Boccaccio’s Decameron, John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, and even a few of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Just to make sure this wasn’t another mistaken adult judgement, I made sure I read all these books cover to cover when I was a teenager and I can confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that the books are filled with sexual tension, innuendo or deeds. Chock-a-block. Quite shocking. My poor fragile soul scarred for life. My mind fouled with sordid imagery. My imagination fuelled and fed.

However, Grapes of Wrath? My first reaction was that this must have been banned on political grounds for sure, the poor farmer, slapped around by the climate in the dustbowl, and then sucker punched by the bankers. The treatment and westward trek of the Okies is not one of the prettier chapters of American History. However, the offending passage was the breastfeeding scene. This scene is one of the most poignant scenes in English language literature, John Steinbeck manages to convey sadness, beauty, pathos and shame at the same time, in-cooperating religious symbolism, human fragility, the vulnerability of dependency and the apex of some of the greatest characteristics our species has to offer: generosity, collective cooperation and determination to survive. First time I read it, around the age of fifteen I think, I crawled away into a corner and bawled my eyes out. Someone in Oklahoma thought it was pornographic.

Another book which you shouldn’t let your children touch with a six foot pole is that infamous hotbed of debauchery: Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. A reference in the book to Spider licking her lips might be interpreted as having a sexual meaning, even though not a shred of contextual basis can be found one never knows, your average nine-year old may well suddenly be thinking of cunnilingus whilst reading this passage. Besides that, the book clearly promotes disobedience, drugs, alcohol as well as overt racism according to a challenge from Florida which objected to the phrase “I’d rather be fried alive and eaten by a Mexican.”

By-the-by, a banning doesn’t have to be based on sex. One school district banned Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl because it was too depressing (granted other school districts did so on the basis of the sexual content, because we all know what a masterpiece of erotic literature Anne’s diary is).

Somewhere it makes sense that Little Red Riding Hood appears on the list of banned books, one of the original fairy tales involves a striptease and a tumble in the hay and even sanitised versions contain troubling echoes of sexual tension between Red and the Big Bad Wolf and/or the possibility of rape. In the first “official” version of Red Riding Hood, author Charles Perrault pretty much spells out what the story is about in the moral at the end of the tale: “Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.”

However, this isn’t the reason Red found herself banned in one Californian school district. Parents had noted that one of the illustrations of Red showed a bottle of wine in her basket, and the challenge was based on the fear that Little Red Riding Hood encouraged children to become alcoholics.

A controversy stretching back to some Arthurian tales involving Merlin, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings was fully resuscitated by Rowling’s series of books about the Harry Potter: Namely that of witchcraft.

The bestselling book ever (in the Western world), The Holy Bible, a collection of stories from some time ago, has the following to say on Witchcraft.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Exodus 22:18

A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:27

"There shall not be found among you anyone who... practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord..." Deuteronomy 18:9-12

(So much for the numbskull supposition of a Hubber on these here pages who claimed that the Quran calls for death penalty and the Holy Bible never goes as far as to call for a death penalty. Upon being presented with a long list of Biblical calls for death and mutiliation I was requested to depart. This passes for frank discussion in some quarters *snigger*).

Reason enough to challenge an award winning children’s book named earlier: Snyder’s The Egypt Game. The parent issuing the challenge claimed "I don´t believe any student should be subjected to anything that has to do with evil gods or black magic." In this particular case the black magic comes from the re-enactment of Ancient Egyptian beliefs, one can imagine the anxiety attacks when kids started reading books about young wizards and witches at a school for sorcery.

Jeb Thurmond, associated with the Landover Baptist Church (guaranteeing salvation since 1620) said “True Christians only touch a Harry Potter book when they are throwing it onto a fire.”

None-the-less, even here we find sex involved as well. One Pastor Ezekiel associated with the same church, added (in flawless English): “I'll add one more to your list, Brother Jeb. In addition to their promotion of witchcraft, the Harry Potter books also promote HOMERSEXURALITY! It's true! The old hag who wrote the books even admitted it! Now I ask you; if the headmaster of their witch school is an old queer, why shouldn't everyone else be a queer too? Won't someone please think of the children!?”

There you have it, solid evidence that reading Harry Potter changes children into homosexual practitioners of Satanism.

Others books that promote rampant sexuality are Bridge to Terabithia, because a fifth grade boy and girl sharing unsupervised time in the woods is clearly synonymous to copulation; The Lord of the Flies which is also said to be teeming with sex (presumably homosexual) fantasies according to one school district keen on preserving the innocent souls of the children in its care.

Admittedly, some of the champions for the protection of young souls are quick to spot sex or perceived sex. Famous in my home state was Republican politician Tom Coburn, caught on tape in 2004 warning Oklahomans of a new threat to their wellbeing: Lesbians. According to Coburn Lesbianism was pretty much on the rampage in southeast Oklahoma where schools had had to introduce new rules that only one girl was allowed to the bathroom at a time. When asked by the Associated Press for further explanation Coburn’s spokesman said that the sudden influx of lesbian orgies on school toilets was due to our kids are getting mixed messages about sexuality."

Is it possible, you think, that Coburn´s conviction that schools´ girls´ toilets were filled with naked young girls frolicking with one another when they should be in Maths Class tells us more about his state of mind than the state of Oklahoman High School toilets? Depends on who you talk to I suppose, however, I wouldn´t let the man come near to any of `my´ girls at school, I can tell you that.

This reading between the lines can stretch to incomprehensible associations. Back to my Oklahoman High School, where, back in 1987, concerned parents had decided that their sixteen and seventeen year old kids shouldn´t be exposed to the type of filth found in Mark Twain´s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain? Pornographic? Admittedly, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, has the scenes where Tom and Becky are lost in the cave, and, subjectively speaking, there was ground for fairly innocent childish fantasy there. As a twelve-year-old I used to have a list of girls with whom I would have liked to get lost in a cave with. Ironically enough, on one school trip we went to a caves system, all the girls on my list were there meaning I really had an opportunity there (Oi, shouldn’t we go left here instead of following the rest to the right?), but oh boy, those caves were small and narrow and cramped. Dead scary stuff to be sure. So, I bottled out and stayed outside, leaving the lassies on my list to wriggle their way through the tight tunnels . I Wonder what Freud would have to say on that heroic action of mine?

Huckleberry Finn however, did not have a similar scene, or at least one that still springs to mind. I asked `WHY`. Why wasn´t I allowed to read Huckleberry Finn?

Turns out that there is a scene where Huck and Jim sit on the raft talking after they had a swim while they dry off in the sun. Now apparently that might just lead the young reader to suppose that Huck and Jim did not have fashionable swim-wear. That in turn might just lead the young reader to suppose that both Huck and Jim were naked as they sat on the raft. That in turn might just make the young reader create mental pictures of a young white boy and an adult African-American man together in the nude. This is clear evidence that Mark Twain promoted and encouraged homosexuality, no doubt scores of young white boys ran off after reading this book to find African-American men to go sunbathing with in the nude.

The mind boggles.

Interestingly enough by the way, Huck Finn also reveals that the lunatic fringe exists not only on the right side of the political landscape, but on the left as well. For one contemporary reason to ban this book, along with other classics such as To Kill A Mockingbird and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, is the use of the `N` word. The argument being that it would encourage racism. My own reading is that a book about racial inequality is strengthened by the use of this word, simply because it portrays a reality as it was in the past, and the word is used in that context. Kids are clever enough to realize that. At least, mine are, because I´ll usually read either Mockingbird or Thunder with the intention to let my kids get a glance of what it was like to grow back in those days. That includes kids of African origin or nationality by the way. So far all of them, and their parents, were bloody happy that someone wanted to focus on their perspective of history, to point out that there were heroes and heroines who didn’t have a white skin colour by definition. But there you go.

Back to reading between the lines. I´ve read Huck Finn many times and have never imagined anything nude or sexual while reading the book. If you´re going to find stuff to read between the lines, why not do it properly?

As a teenager it didn´t take me long to become a big fan of naughty saucy Renaissance poetry in which the art was to speak in a manner in which a purely literal interpretation revealed nothing untoward whatsoever, whilst the figurative meaning, i.e. the pictures created by your imagination, were better than any centrefold the kind folks at Playboy could devise. We´re now in the realm of music teachers offering to teach young ladies to play the flute or tune a fiddle, you might know the sort if thing. One of the most well-known examples of this art is of course The Lusty Young Smith, first written down in 1698 in Thomas D´Urfer´s `Wit and Mirth: Pills to Purge Melancholy`.

(copy and paste:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F056MCmbhL0 )

A lusty young smith at his vice stood a-filing.
His hammer laid by but his forge still aglow.
When to him a buxom young damsel came smiling,
And asked if to work in her forge he would go.

Chorus: Rum, rum, rum. Rum, rum, rum. In and out. In and out. Ho!

"I will," said the smith, and they went off together,
Along to the young damsel's forge they did go.
They stripped to go to it, 'twas hot work and hot weather.

They kindled a fire and she soon made him blow.

Chorus: Rum, rum, rum. Rum, rum, rum. In and out. In and out. Ho!

Her husband, she said, no good work could afford her.
His strength and his tools were worn out long ago.
The smith said "Well mine are in very good order,
And I am now ready my skill for to show."


Chorus: Rum, rum, rum. Rum, rum, rum. In and out. In and out. Ho!

Red hot grew his iron, as both did desire,
And he was too wise not to strike while 'twas so.
Said she, "What I get I get out of the fire,
So prithee, strike home and redouble the blow."

Chorus: Rum, rum, rum. Rum, rum, rum. In and out. In and out. Ho!

Six times did his iron, by vigorous heating,
Grow soft in her forge in a minute or so,
But as often was hardened, still beating and beating,
But the more it was softened, it hardened more slow.

Chorus: Rum, rum, rum. Rum, rum, rum. In and out. In and out. Ho!

When the smith rose to go, quoth the dame full of sorrow:
"Oh, what would I give could my husband do so.
Good lad with your hammer come hither tomorrow,
But pray could you use it once more ere you go!"


So much cleaner than other old-timers like Roll me Over in the Clover, don´t you reckon?

( copy & paste: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTflXaL8KaU)

We've tried it once or twice and found it rather nice
Roll me over, lay me down and do it again
Roll me over in the clover, roll me over, lay me down and do it again

Etc.

Why did the subject change from banned books to utter filth. Well, it is related. This particular type of filth, created by clever use of language leads us to the absolute expert of this game, who is rarely ever banned: William Shakespeare. All things considered, this is very strange, Mark Twain is banned on the presumption that someone may just happen to associate his plotline with sexual fantasies not present in the story, nor intended to be present in the story. William Shakespeare dishes up pure literal pornography and at most has a few scenes modestly omitted in secondary school editions of his plays. But ne´er have I heard of attempts to burn his books, wipe his name from all public records and forego any public performances or readings of his collected works. In his day the intellectuals and moralists already warned parents not to let their kids near Shakespeare, as it would corrupt them beyond redemption.

I really hate to linger on the subject, but since you insist, let´s examine a scene from one of the plays often studied at school: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

In Scene I Act II, Mercutio and Benvolio are waiting for Romeo, and presume he is with Rosaline, the girl Romeo is madly in love with at the beginning of the play (Romeo is a typical teenage lad in that the label `love of my life´ is easily and rapidly transferrable). Remember that Romeo and Juliet are teenagers, Romeo is seventeen in the story, Juliet thirteen. Banter between lads of this age group, would, in real life, be filled with sexual innuendo. How well does Shakespeare grasp this?

Uffish Thoughts 2: continued


Extremely well, as it turns out.

Mercutio begins by announcing his intent to summon the missing Romeo, and does so by conveying a mental picture of Rosaline.

I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,

By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,

By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh

And the demesnes that there adjacent lie

Demesnes, by the way, is a rough patch of waste land found between land worked by a plough or grazed by cattle, often recognizable by its unkempt state compared to the land around it, it often being bushy in nature. Thus we have Mercutio describing Rosaline by referring to her eyes, forehead, lips, feet, leg, `quivering´ thigh and the bushy area between her thighs, leaving us in little doubt how dressed Rosaline is in Mercutio´s mind at that moment.

Ready for the rest? That was the clean bit, merely being a description of a naked female. Shakespeare is about to take us a step further in the inner workings of a teenage mind

Benvolio warns Mercutio that Romeo might well take offense at Mercutio´s description of the love of his life (Rosaline). Mercutio insists that this wouldn´t offend Romeo but is quite willing to explain what would offend Romeo:

To raise a spirit in his mistress' circle

Of some strange nature, letting it there stand

Till she had laid it and conjured it down;

That were some spite: my invocation

Is fair and honest, and in his mistress' name

I conjure only but to raise up him.



In effect, Mercutio here describes that Romeo might find offense if someone were to erect a being of temporary nature within a circular opening in Rosaline, which would remain upright until she had taken the necessary actions to reduce its rigidness. Such an action might well upset Romeo. However, according to Mercutio, his own conveyance of Rosaline is innocent, all he´s trying to do is `raise´ Romeo´s presence

The Bard has yet to complete his journey through adolescent smut. We´ve just gone from naked to actions of a sexual nature. The third part of Mercutio´s invocation is pure pornography.

Now will he sit under a medlar tree,

And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit

As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.

Romeo, that she were, O, that she were,

An open et caetera, thou a poperin pear!

Here we are kept in some obscurity by our own ignorance of medlar fruit and censorship. This because Shakespeare´s contemporaries would have been fully aware of what maids called Medlar fruit, i.e. `Open-arses`. Censorship because Shakespeare didn´t write down `et caetera`, he wrote “O, that she were an open arse. Thou a poperin pear!”. For those of you who are not figurative thinkers , a ´poperin pear´ refers to a pear species named after the Flemish town Poperinge. This pear has a rather peculiar shape, i.e. long shaft with bulbous end, and just possibly Shakespeare might have noticed the potential for a pun playing on the name ´Poperin´ and the phrase `pop-her-in´. Or would that be taking things one step too far?

If we are truly going to ban and burn literature because of sexual references, let´s start with Shakespeare. Let´s reverse decades if not centuries of hero worship and denounce the man for having carnal thoughts and the vocabulary to communicate about these thoughts. Let´s then look for other blatant references about nudity and sex and ban those too. Have a look at the following:

How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman. Thy mound is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.

Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.

My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

O beloved. I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night. My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him. I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock. I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone…

Would you want your kids exposed to these suggestive descriptions? Surely not, not if we’re going to keep them away from such obvious dangers as Little Red Riding Hood and Anne Frank then we should not let them near the steamy stuff above. It’s from the Holy Bible by the way, so let’s throw that on the bonfire too along with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, shall we?

Now, shut up and go away. I’m reading.


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