Monday, 18 January 2010

"Toby Under Fire" and Other Essays...

Dear B__

This may seem a rather abrupt observation to make, especially after several months of silence. But I need to let off a bit of steam. If I don't, I won't sleep, and I'll spend the hours unconstructively shouting at windmills. I shall try to speak as directly as I dare, because elaboration will turn this anecode into a disertation - and besides, you and I have been discussing issues like this since we first began our correspondence. Therefore, I would only be retracing old rails.

To begin with the context, a feminist academic from Canada has recently reviving the age-old criticism of Awdry's Railway Series as 'convservative' and 'sexist' - the old
'passive females hauled by dominant males' and 'Fat Controller = God' analogy being but two of the cliched observations she has used to make her point, perhaps under the impression that she is the first to have made them (a little more research - something she clearly lacks, as we'll soon see, may have deflated her head a little). I can only roll my eyes - you'd think a modern critic would come up with something more original to carp about. This particular gonk has merely regurgitated a string of cringingly over-used and unfounded accusations that others of the same stock have been ejaculating since 'critics' first began sinking their grapplers onto the stories.

I haven't read the original critique, and I do not want to, because I wouldn't want to endorse someone with so little much time on their hands that they want to read an ignorant narrative into something that has given me nothing but support and pleasure since my childhood - and then attempt to spoil it for the generations who are recieving that same benefit today. But according to a particular article from the Daily Mail, which paraphrases one of this 'scholar's' observations - it would seem that yet another thing Awdry's critics share in common (besides their criticisms itself) is an inability to undertake proper research. One is reminded of the 'scholar' Ian Jack, who declared Toby the Tram Engine - an innocent tale about an old engine finding a loving home - a racist allegory about immigration, while showing at the same time that he clearly hadn't read any further than the first few pages. This latest individual is clearly no better. Funnily enough, she too refers to the events of Toby the Tram Engine...

In one episode, for example, Thomas whistles impatiently at a police officer and is replaced with a different engine as a punishment for showing dissent.

If the so-called 'professor' who made this observation had actually done what all respectable academics are encouraged to do - and properly read the material they are critiquing - she would have seen that Toby replacing Thomas was not 'a punishment for showing dissent' - and that it had very little to do with him whistling 'impatiently at a police officer'.

Firstly, he didn't whistle 'impatiently' - he whistled in greeting. I quote the text itself;

"Thomas liked policemen. He had been a great friend of the Constable who used to live in the village; but he had just retired. Thomas expected that the new Constable would be friendly too.

"Peep peep" he whistled, "good morning"

- Awdry, Toby the Tram Engine [1952] (London; Egmont Books, 2002), p. 22

Secondly, he was replaced by Toby because it was illegal for him to be travelling on that particular part of the branch line;

"Engines going on Public Roads must have their wheels covered, and a cow-catcher in front. You haven't, so you are Dangerous to the Public!"

- Awdry, p. 26

Toby was drafted in to replace Thomas because he was the only engine - being a tram engine with both cow-catchers and side-plates - legally fit to travel on that part of the line. It had nothing to do with Thomas' apparently 'impatient whistling' - and it is quite clear from the original text that he didn't even commit this act of 'dissent' in the first place.

I don't know why so-called 'scholars' who attack the Railway Series annoy me so deeply. They do not deserve to call themselves 'scholars' at all, since they fail to properly interprite the material on which their studies are based. This - added to the fact this latest nobody to join the queue has simply regurgitated what countless others have said before her - leads me to the conclusion that they do not deserve to be taken seriously as people, let alone 'scholars', when their hearts seem set on trying to weave political incorrectness into a world that - for as many souls as there are railway locomotives to capture their imaginations - has stood for nothing but innocence. Such 'scholars' think they are protecting the innocence of the audiences who are supposedly corrupted by such material as the Railway Series - but such insular individuals will always be outnumbered by the extensive fraction of the world's population who dream of becoming engine drivers thanks to Awdry.

It is at such times I am glad I left university - life as a 'scholar' would be very dull indeed, if it would bring me into contact with such people as this latest unimaginative gonk.

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