25 November 2013

“This gentle, kindly naturalist”

From the New York Times Book Review’s “By the Book” interview with Richard Dawkins:
Did you identify with any fictional characters as a child? Who was your literary hero?

I didn’t know children were expected to have literary heroes, but I certainly had one, and I even identified with him at one time: Doctor Dolittle, whom I now half identify with the Charles Darwin of Beagle days. This gentle, kindly naturalist, who could talk to nonhuman animals and commanded godlike powers through their devotion to him, is nowadays unfashionable — and even banned from libraries — because of suspected racism. Well, what do you expect? Hugh Lofting was writing in the 1920s, and the ubiquitous racism of England at that time can be seen in so much fiction, including Agatha Christie, Sapper (“Bulldog Drummond”) and many other popular writers for all ages. This is not to excuse it, but Lofting’s racism was paternalistic rather than malign and, in my opinion, sufficiently outweighed by the admirable anti-speciesism of all his books.
Dawkins grew up to be an evolutionary biologist, ethologist, and proponent of secular rationalism.

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