A Visit from St. Ridiculous
One of the earliest photos in which I appear shows me, my sister, and my brother gathered around as my father reads “The Night Before Christmas.” Over the years I’ve read this book hundreds of times. It may shock some to learn that I have never, in my entire life, smoked, let alone smoked from a pipe. How on earth did I save myself from falling into the smoking trap so cleverly set by Clement C. Moore when he fiendishly inserted a pipe between the teeth of St. Nicholas? Clearly, I dodged a bullet. Or, at least, that is the opinion of one Canadian micropublisher, who is the perpetrator of this recent release:
First, let me say that I believe this disfigurement of Clement C. Moore’s work was well-intentioned. The publisher is an anti-smoking advocate, and, as someone who has celebrated every anti-smoking law and bylaw that has come about in recent years, I applaud any reasonable effort to prevent smoking.
So, yes, I think she meant well. I also think the person who attempted to restore a century-old fresco and ended up making Jesus look like a monkey meant well.
As a publisher, however, and as an editor who has always been committed to respecting the author, I can’t help but be appalled by the self-serving decision to change the text of a classic work to suit one’s political agenda.
This is nothing short of literary vandalism.
It’s not your work. You can’t screw with it. If Clement C. Moore put a stump of a pipe in St. Nicholas’s teeth, you don’t change that without the author’s permission. And since the author is not around to approve the edit, you leave it as is.
Does the line offend your sensibilities, or run counter to your political agenda? The answer is not to mutilate the text; the answer is to not publish it at all. As far as I know, nobody forced this micropublisher to publish the work against their will.
A publisher has a moral responsibility to respect the work of the writer. The publisher in question has shirked that responsibility and kicked sand in the face of a writer who is no longer around to voice his objection. It’s shameful.
Why stop there? There are other things that cause more deaths than smoking. Obesity, and the consumption of sugar products, cause far more health problems, statistically. So why did this publisher not have the children “nestled all snug in their beds while visions of carrot sticks danced through their heads”? And why is St. Nick not described as “skinny and svelte” instead of “chubby and plump”? The reason she didn’t make those changes is that she is an anti-smoking advocate, not a good-health advocate; she only made changes that were consistent with her political agenda.
Moore had St. Nick dressed in fur. Can we now expect PETA to release their own version that has St. Nick “dressed all in synthetic fibres from his head to his foot”?
To make matters worse, the publisher claims on the cover of the book that the edit was made by Santa Claus. Yes, she has hidden behind the name of a beloved children’s hero in order to suggest that Santa himself detests the wording of the original poem (which, ironically, is the work that gave rise to our contemporary image of Santa).
This is not good publishing. It’s a wrong-headed, irresponsible, arrogant abomination.