I’m perplexed. I’ve had a poll running on RoaldDahlFans.com that asked, “Do you think it was all right for Danny’s father and Mr. Fox to steal food?” (If you’re not familiar, Danny the Champion of the World is about a son who discovers his father’s pheasant poaching habit, and Fantastic Mr. Fox is about a family of foxes forced underground by farmers.) I wasn’t sure what to expect from the results. I mean, critics always accused Dahl of promoting immorality in his stories. But I read those books as a kid and I don’t remember them having any effect on me. Danny is one of my favorite books, and I’ve never shoplifted or poached anything. So I was curious to see what today’s kids would think.
The results surprised me: Fully three-quarters of the people who voted felt that theft could be justified. Granted, I’ll sorta go along with the idea that it’s okay if your family’s on the brink of starvation, but still. Thirty percent thought it was okay as long as the person you were stealing from was “bad and rich”. I put that option in as a joke!
Snookums and I were trying to deconstruct these results over lunch, and we didn’t make any headway. I was willing to write off kids as just amoral, but he thinks that maybe their universe (gleaned from stories, movies, parents, and teachers) leads them to believe that evil people must always be punished, which allows them to think of “villains” as not worthy of the same considerations as “heroes”. Which I can see. But I countered with the fact that a lot of people, when polled for their opinion, will respond with what they think is the “right answer” instead of what they really feel. So why didn’t more kids go for the “stealing is never right” option? I figured that they’d have had that drilled in their heads enough. He reckons that maybe I was creating a conflict by asking them to admit that their favorite author actually wrote about things that are wrong to do. Since they wouldn’t be at my site if they didn’t like Roald Dahl’s books, they vote the way they think he would.
I dunno. I’m not around kids enough these days. What do you guys think?