From time to time I receive an e-mail in which Piet Schreuders from Arnhem comments on my blogs. This week there was such a mail message. He commented on the list of books that I had enumerated in my previous blog and of which I had mentioned how important these books had been for me. Piet proceeded to mention some literary master pieces that through the years had fed his aging soul. He mentioned a few titles of children books that were very popular in the Netherlands, over half a century ago. But he also mentioned the fascinating books by Karl May and the works of Peter Cheyney, the ‘famous’ author of an endless series of crime novels, who has now been dead for almost 60 years.
Well, maybe I ought to confess that my mind has not just been nourished by theological works of high quality, but that I also can enjoy all kinds of secular, more or less literary, products. I am an avid reader of biographies and autobiographies, and there are several Dutch authors whose books I will read as soon as they come off the press. In my library you will find at least fifty titles of P. G. Woodhouse, the British author whose sense of humor is unsurpassed. And you can always tempt me with a good espionage story or crime novel. Et cetera.
Something I read today on the website of the Christian daily Dagblad Trouw reminded me of the hot discussions in my childhood years about what a Christian (and most certainly a Christian child) ought and ought not to read. My mother had some interesting ideas in this respect. When I had succeeded in learning and reciting all 66 Bible books in the correct order, I was rewarded with a book that recounted the experiences of a rather naughty boy called Daantje. And another book in that same series became mine when I has fully mastered the complete list of the OT judges (from Othniel to Samuel). The book entitled Dick Trom, about another naughty boy, was considered OK for a Christian boy, my mother had decided. But another book (about a boy called Pietje Bell) was definitely taboo, she thought.
Nonetheless, I managed to read several books filled with the dubious adventures of this Pietje Bell. From time to time I was sent for a few days to Amsterdam where I stayed with a couple that were good acquaintances of my parents. Mr. van der Meer, as the gentleman was called, was a rather solid type (in a spiritual sense, I mean). He was a church elder and would easily have qualified for the place on the Guiness Book of Records in the rubric of those who can say the longest prayers. But, what happened? I discovered in his bookcase. among the commentaries on the Book of Revelation by Uriah Smith and others, a copy of a book from the Pietje Bell series. Life is indeed full of surprises. And at the time I already knew that we must be thankful for small mercies.
Later, as a teenager, I was extremely surprised when I saw in the library of the Adventist pastor of my local church a whole shelf filled with rather big books, bound in black covers. I soon discovered that these were bound copies of the Donald Duck weekly that our pastor had discovered in a second hand bookshop. Apparently, he was an avid reader of Donald Duck stories.
Back to the daily Dagblad Trouw. I read a short item about a rather conservative Calvinistic pastor, a certain reverend Muilwijk in the coastal village of Katwijk, who exhorts his parishioners that reading the Donald Duck weekly is definitely ‘sinful’. It contains lots of stories, he says, that are opposed to important Christian values. Think for a moment of the three small ducks who are always in the company of their uncle Donald. Is it not definitely unhealthy when such youthful characters dot not receive the care of a father and a mother, but are educated by a single elderly male? And there also appears to be quite a bit wrong with the attitude of the rich uncle Dagobert and aunt Catherine. It is seems that nowadays there are also stories in this despicable journal about a witch that is involved with weird magic. So, definitely, this is not suitable material for Christian children (or Christian adults, for that matter!) And yes, it is a news item that dates from 2012!
It did make me think of the time when even watching the Polygoon film news was rather doubtful, if only because of the fact that it could entice you to go to the cinema. But the creepy, and often rather cruel, fairy tales of Grimm and others were considered OK. And the incredible naïve bedtime stories of Uncle Arthur were almost as sacred as the stories from a popular Dutch children’s Bible (including the murderous OT stories). Once in a while reflecting on the past and on the moral ideas of a previous generation certainly helps to relativize some of the things we face today!