Dudelet (who’s nine) has recently got into Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant in a big way. He’s devoured the first one in about two days and is currently storming through the second. There are, of course, various things about the books I’ve forgotten. Like the swearing, for example.
“You know how I’m not supposed to swear?”
“So how come this children’s book has so much swearing in it?”
“No it hasn’t.”
“This character says ‘Damned key!’”
“Ah. Well. That isn’t really swearing.”
“Can I say Damn? Damn!”
“No you can’t.”
“What about ‘bloody’?”
“Can we talk about something else?”
“It’s not my fault – you gave me the book!”
“Yes – but…”
Yes, but what?
Actually, the swearing in the Skulduggery books doesn’t go any further than the occasional ‘bloody’ and only ever by the bad guys. Mostly. The violence, though, is another thing entirely. My God, but Skulduggery Pleasant and his friends are pretty bloody violent individuals. But according to the discreet little note on the back, the novels are suitable for children of “9+”.
One swipe of the sword took the fingers on his left hand and he howled in pain and staggered back and she jumped. She planted her feet on his chest and swung, the blade flashing in the bridge’s lights as it took his head.
Eek. Or is it different because it’s happening to a troll? And am I a hypocrite because I’ll let him watch this or Avengers Assemble but I won’t let him see Skyfall? Supermum’s puzzled about the last one. She thinks the Marvel films are too violent (but I’d argue her tolerance of little elf’s Barbie fixation ceded the moral high ground long ago) and she used to worry about Doctor Who. So what’s the difference? Why is Skullduggery acceptable? Why are The Hulk and Thor positive role models? And why does the idea of my nine year old watching James Bond make me queasy?
Supermum asked me this in the car once, with dudelet listening attentively (we’re pretty open about these discussions).
“It’s because it’s too sexy, isn’t it?” dudelet said.
“What’s ‘sexy’?” asked little elf.
As it happens, I do have an answer (though not about what sexy is) and it’s to do with that old fashioned fall guy, the Moral Compass. Skulduggery Pleasant has one. The Mighty Thor has one. Even Ironman has one.
James Bond doesn’t.
Bond might as well be Loki. He likes killing. He enjoys watching his enemies suffer. He treats women with contempt and uses them as toys. He stumbles through the kind of ambiguously grey moral universe that only adults should be asked to navigate. For all of the cartoon dismemberments, beheadings, eviscerations, zombifications and sundry other horrors, there is never any doubt about right and wrong in Skullduggery’s universe, even if the characters themselves struggle to orientate themselves along the compass points they know they ought to follow. And, compared to The Hunger Games or the horrors of Garner’s Red Shift, it’s fairly knockabout stuff.
Barbie, though. That’s plain unforgivable.
Do you draw the line at particular books or films? I suppose we all have a limit. What’s yours?