Late in 2007, Marilyn Pumphrey (writing as Morgan Pumphrey) made headlines when her book Littleseal: The Life and Adventures of a Harp Seal Pup was rejected by the Downhome Shoppe and Gallery because of its anti-seal hunt message.
Littleseal is purportedly a children's story but it contains scenes that most parents would consider too violent for youngsters.
The decision by Downhome to reject the book effectively blocked it from the local marketplace, because the company also distributes local product to larger chains such as Chapters.
In an interview, Pumphrey (above) said she has been almost completely shut out of retail stores in Newfoundland.
"Censorship is alive and well in Newfoundland, my dear," she said. "I have a couple of copies down at the Quidi Vidi Breweries Gift store, and a couple at Afterwords and that is it. So I have really been censored. This is serious stuff. When (the Downhome store) wouldn't take it, that cut me off from Chapters, Coles, Costco and then the smaller stores (too)."
At least one store owner told Pumphrey that the book didn't meet their quality standards, an explanation she doesn't readily accept. "I have been stymied in Newfoundland, there's no doubt. I've been screwed to the wall on this It bothers me too."
The controversy generated provincial and national headlines through The Canadian Press and The National Post. In fact, it could be argued that the Downhome's boycott backfired, by creating a national platform for Pumphrey to air her views.
However, it didn't do anything for book sales.
"I have nowhere to sell it," Pumphrey said. "A lot of the publicity was on the mainland and I have no outlets there."
That hurts, Pumphrey said, because the book was entirely self-financed. "I sunk a thousand dollars into that baby."
If you want to read the book and decide its merit for yourself, Memorial University Libraries have acquired five copies, available at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, QEII and Grenfell libraries.
It was gutsy some might say crazy to publish a book like Littleseal in this province. However, Pumphrey says she has not encountered any personal animosity or received any threats.
"No, I've gotten more support than anything. I've run into people at the supermarket who I don't know and they will say How are you doing with your book' and Good for you I support your right to publish it.' Nobody has actually said to me Why did you put that out? Who do you think you are? How can you go against our sacred hunt?' I wonder if the sway of public opinion isn't turning, and if most people are just afraid to say it. One lady called me up and said You don't know me, but good for you for putting out your book.' Not a lot of them now, but there is an element of support."
I challenged Pumphrey on the violent nature of her story in the end, the little seal gets its head bashed in and pointed out that this could be traumatic for young children. She was unapologetic.
"Well, you know, how do you kill something without it being disturbing? Someone who deals in children's books told me it might be more suitable for an older age group, 13 and up. But if you look at it, what are you seeing every day on TV and in the games that they play? The violence, the heads flying all over the place. Our kids are brought up with violence today. Even the fairy tales, they weren't exactly scenes of sunshine and light It's all around us. It's life, unfortunately. There are a quarter million of our seals being killed on the coast, and that aint no fairy tale."
This is a difficult time for our seal hunt, as European countries move toward banning the import of seal pelts.
Nonetheless, it makes me nervous when storeowners decide what we should or shouldn't read, based on their own opinions.
I wonder if they will decide to ban all books and sundries that contain the word Newfie'?
And if they do, would that be a good thing?
Because censorship can be a slippery slope