Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Magic Desk

The Magic Desk
Aaron Moffat, Olympia (self-published)
Paperback, 309 pages
ISBN 978-1-78830-029-2

This week I was impressed by Adele Redmond’s well-researched article about a children’s novel, by Aaron Moffat (2018), 
The Magic Desk

In her article, which was originally posted on 26 March 2019,
Adele Redmond interviewed a variety of experts in several fields and exposed the book as deeply troubling and racist propaganda. The publication of this news item quickly had one good result – Moffat’s intended public reading to children at a Christchurch school was immediately cancelled.

Reading The Magic Desk:
I was asked to read this book late in 2018, and I was disturbed by its contents.

The Magic Desk by Aaron Moffat is an unbalanced, badly-written story peddling white supremacist views to young readers.

Timothy arrives from the United Kingdom and finds New Zealand is a topsy-turvy land where things are different from England and therefore wrong. 

A magic writing desk gives Timothy visions of moments in history. The two main dreams concern Maori and Irish history.

Timothy’s Maori dream is inspired by a book Tales from Maoriland – presumably A.W. Reed’s benign Tales of Maoriland (1948) which gives an idyllic view of Maori life.

It is odd then that Timothy’s dream of Maori life, presented as fact in The Magic Desk, is a brutally non-idyllic one where he is threatened with being eaten, beheaded, burned alive, having his heart cut out or being tossed off a cliff as a sacrifice.  
Of course, in a cliché worthy of G.A. Henty, Timothy is then saved by the chief’s daughter, who wants to marry him. Why does she want to marry a 12-year-old? 

Everyone in this dream keeps kneeling and bowing, and there is no resemblance to any period of Maori history.  In fact the society shown is non-Maori in almost every way.
Yet Timothy then uses the ‘evidence’ of his dream to argue against Aroha’s view of Maori history. This is doubly dishonest.

Most of The Magic Desk is set in Backwater Primary School, and readers might expect a more balanced account at school, but the teachers here present an  equally false view of Maori history. The worst part is Mr Birtwistle’s weird rant about the Moriori as the original inhabitants exterminated by the Maori.  That myth of the Moriori as a separate race who arrived before the Maori was debunked long ago. Michael King untangled the confusion of myths and distortions and showed that the Moriori were the Maori who settled the Chatham islands. Nobody has taught anything like Mr Birtwistle’s nonsense in New Zealand schools for 50 years. 

Aroha certainly objects but nobody in the story ever offers the true version of events.

There are continual references to the Maori as ‘savages.’ Yet never an alternative viewpoint.

Surely the Backwater Primary School is more ‘savage’ with Timothy being attacked every day for no reason? Every day Timothy is subjected brutal violence? Kicks to the head that nearly knock people out are serious. But Timothy has no concussion and no physical results.

Timothy’s regular beatings on pages16, 32, 38, 135, etc, are repetitious and pointless. Although a psychiatrist would be interested in the sadistic nature of the beating and kicking on pages 134-5.

The second ‘dream’ of history is taken straight from white supremacist propaganda, specifically the recent fraudulent inventions about Irish slavery in Barbados. This is propaganda disguised as a novel for children. This distortion of indentured labour has been thoroughly debunked. It is not true; it as a modern invention by people with a racist agenda.

There are plenty of websites exposing this cynical faking of history.

I also find it alarming that a young character commits suicide. (page128)  
This crudely-handled scene seems gratuitous and dangerous in a children’s novel.

The Magic Desk is a badly-written novel, concealing a racist agenda, disguised as a treatment of bullying.

Readers should be made aware of this book’s true nature before they borrow it or buy it.

Trevor Agnew  (28 March 2019)



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