Posts Tagged ‘Willard Press’

Banned by Brent/Lambeth – Willard Price’s Cannibal Adventure

February 12, 2022

Published by Hodder & Stoughton at Sevenoaks, Kent, in 1974, Cannibal Adventure was one of a series of children’s adventure books by Willard Price. It’s heroes were a pair of boys, who sailed around the world on a Yacht visiting exotic places like Africa, Polynesia and South America. The blurb for the book runs

‘A Willard Price Adventure story, about Hal and Roger and their amazing adventures in search of wild animals for the world’s zoos.

Hal and Roger themselves in a village of cannibals in New Guinea, but the native tribes and the animals the brothers want to catch are less dangerous than an old enemy who arrives secretly and is bent on revenge.’

I read it when I was at junior school, way back in the 1970s when one of the children’s shows on TV during the summer holidays was Daktari, about a vet treating animals in Africa. One of these poor afflicted creatures was Clarence, the cross-eyed lion. It was based on, or inspired by, an earlier film about a White doctor or anthropologist working with an African people and learning to respect their ways and he and his son make friends with the locals. I read a number of the Willard Price books, as did some of my friends at school. We liked the exotic locations, the animals and the different peoples the heroes encountered on their journeys.

But Cannibal Adventure was one of the many books that earned the ire of Bernie Grant in his crusade against anything he thought was even vaguely racist. And so it was put on their Index Librorum Prohibitorum, declared to be racist, and removed from the local libraries.

The 70s were a much more racist, or openly racist time than today, and I can understand why Grant and his minions would be sensitive about it. One of the nasty stereotypes about Blacks is that they are all cannibals living in mud huts, wearing grass skirts and with bones through their noses. Another children’s book from the same period on making costumes for parties includes a page or two on how to make just such a costume, along with others for less controversial figures like Frankenstein, Dracula and the man with another face on the back of his head and entirely different outfit pointing the same way on the rear half of his body. Some of the racist abuse Blacks have suffered has been based very much on the Cannibal stereotype.

But I read the book and didn’t think it was at all racist. Some indigenous Papuan tribes were cannibals, eating the flesh of their enemies. One tribe suffered from a degenerative neurological disease, Koro, related to Creuzfeld-Jacob and Mad Cow Disease because of their traditional custom of eating human brains. There were also at the time tribes that had still not been contacted by the outside world, while many Papuans still wore their traditional tribal costume. When the Papuan parliament was opened in the early 1980s by Prince Charles, the chiefs attending the ceremony flew in wearing pretty much the outfit sported by the Black gent on the cover.

The book was also careful to present the indigenous friends of the two lads as intelligent, dignified people despite their Stone Age lifestyle. They had a skull hut, where they kept the revered skulls of their ancestors. Again, this is based on fact, and I’m not going to sneer at it because the ancient Celts were also head-hunters. French archaeologists in Lyon, the ancient Lugdonensis, found a skull temple. It’s the carving of a monster, between whose front paws are a couple of circular indentations to hold human heads. On Anglesey in the 1980s British archaeologists also found the remains of a human skull in what was also probably a ritual site or temple. Cuts on the bone showed that the face had been cut off, probably for the priest or shaman to wear. Despite this, Price stated that the local people weren’t superstitious savages. They didn’t know what glass was, but they knew it wasn’t spirits, and so called it something like ‘transparent stone’. If I remember correctly, they were presented in a positive light, at least relatively for the time.

Lambeth and Brent’s zeal for banning books enraged some on the left as well as the right. Martin Barker, the author of Comics: Ideology and Power, which defends comics from attacks from both the left and right, rails in his final chapter against the new censorship, all the more so because it’s being done by the left and he was a man of the left. It was this bigotry and intolerance by those London councils that partly influenced my decision not to vote for Dawn Butler as deputy leader of the Labour party when a hustings was held here in Bristol. She made it clear she was going to come down hard on racism. I thought of some of the stupid things Lambeth and Brent got up to, and wondered if she was going to follow the same pattern of hurling specious accusations of racism against anyone who didn’t follow her definition of it.

Now, nearly fifty years after the book’s publication, there are the same kind of people demanding the censorship and cancellation of others for what they see as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and so on. Sometimes they’re right, but sometimes it’s the accusers themselves who are narrow and bigoted. And I firmly believe that children should have their imaginations stimulated through literature, escapism and the exotic as well as the real and the socially conscious. On a related topic, I notice that American Evangelical Christians are also screaming about the Harry Potter books’ promoting the occult again, despite the fact that they are very definitely well within the tradition of children’s fantasy.

Thomas – or was it Heinrich? – Mann said about the Nazi book burnings ‘When you burn books, you also burn people’. Well, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to burn some books, like those advocating paedophilia. And some books are definitely evil works of genuine racist propaganda, like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Others are just innocent, but express the attitudes of their time. Or don’t find the very narrow ideological parameters of the censors. Of these, I strongly urge you to use your own judgement.

And don’t let anti-racist fanatics ban ordinary, decent books like those of the fanatics on the extreme right.