A Prize for Morpurgo

So my seven year old daughter and I had finished our latest bedtime book and I thought I’d nose around the charity shops during my lunch break to see if I could pick anything up for the next evening.

Lo and behold, I find a brand-new box-set of three Michael Morpurgo books for next to nothing, so I snaffle them up.

We have read one or two Michael Morpurgo books before. He is a very talented writer and as far as I can tell, thoroughly deserves his reputation as a cracking storyteller.

His books are pitched at a slightly older age group than my daughter, but she’s an intelligent girl with a reading age way beyond her years, so these books are ideal for us to tuck up with in the half light, just enough to stretch her vocabulary and imagination… Perfect.

So I scouted each one out, to see which one we might start with.

After flicking through a few pages of “The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” I decided that I would set up an award for the misrepresentation of MS and I am afraid to say that Michael Morpurgo has the dubious honour of winning the inaugural gold medal – well done sir.

I don’t know if copyright allows me to directly quote from his books, but I don’t care, I’m going to anyway…

The opening chapter deals with Grandpa’s funeral:

“I tried hard to feel sad, but I couldn’t, and not because I didn’t love Grandpa. I did. But he had been ill with multiple sclerosis for ten years or more, and that was most of my life. So I never felt I’d known him that well”.

“Sometimes it was all he could do to smile. In the end, when he was really bad, Grandma had to do almost everything for him. She even had to interpret what he was trying to say to me because I couldn’t understand any more”.

“…I could see the suffering in his eyes”.

“when I heard he’d died I was sad for Grandma… But in a way I was glad it was finished, for her and for him”.

“You should have known him like I knew him… We used to laugh in the early days – how we used to laugh… he just stopped laughing a long time ago, when he first got ill”.

“I would often hear my father pleading with her to have Grandpa put into a nursing home…”

Well done Mr Morpurgo. I’m really going to have fun reading all this to my daughter.

I have decided that I’m going to read this book anyway, as we are almost guaranteed to enjoy it and our favourite books have always included a roller coaster of emotions (Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty). Do I censor it, though? Do I drop the “with multiple sclerosis” from the top quote?

…Or should I leave it in and use it as an opportunity to say that MS affects people differently, that severe cases are rare, that it doesn’t directly kill you, that I am not unhappy, that I am not worried, that I will always be there for her, and that this isn’t going to happen to me?

I can’t believe that he hasn’t researched this aspect of the story and you do hear of deaths in the media where MS plays its part, but this is just a torrent of negativity. An absolute worst-case scenario used as a handy off-the-peg disease to slot into the book as a story device.

I think that even if I censor it, it will nag at me (us?) anyway and I will need to have a discussion about these misconceptions, whether it be about MS or any other disease or disability.

2 thoughts on “A Prize for Morpurgo

  1. Hmm. Tricky one. On the one hand, I wouldn’t blame you for changing the condition, but on the other hand it’s not going to be long before she’s reading it for herself and wondering why daddy told it differently. It’s probably a difficult conversation to have, but one you’ll have to have sooner or later!
    My personal bugbear is House. Every single bloody week, they’ll toss MS or Transverse Myelitis out there and immediately put the patient on an Interferon drip. JOB DONE! House once diagnosed someone with MS across a canteen. He really must be a diagnostic genius – it took my doctors about 4 years, several MRI scans, some evoked potentials and a lumbar puncture before they were prepared to stick their colours to the mast…..
    Nice to see you blogging!

    1. Well, we started the box set by reading one of the other books. The book in question involved an incidental character who progressively gets worse and eventually dies from Parkinson’s Disease.

      I don’t know enough about Parkinson’s to make any comments, but having read the MS passages in Adolphus Tips, I’m not sure I can trust the storyteller enough to treat them with anything other than the big pinch of salt you might expect me to.

      I am pleased to say that my daughter and I have now started on the wartime drama of Adolphus Tips. I am also pleased to say that I didn’t edit MS out of it (I was never going to), but took pains to explain the ins and outs.

      My daughter knows she has her copy of “MS for kids” by the MS Trust and she can also ask me any questions whenever she likes. As any offensive sentences reared their ugly heads, I affected a comedy annoyed voice as I read them and we both rolled our eyes together.

      The funny thing is, the story is written in the form of diary entries and I am editing out (most of the) comments about kissing boys instead. She doesn’t need to know anything about that for a few years yet.

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