A children’s book author in the Netherlands threatened with death. How is that possible?

“Football players recognize the smell of matches. Whether artificial or sown, every football field smells like it. Before the game starts, Jasper’s teammates pluck a few blades from the ground, rub them with their fingers, hold the crumbled remains under their noses and sniff them. […] Jasper doesn’t like grass. His Saturdays smell like the trainer.”

This is the opening of the story’Trainer‘ by Pim Lammers, which was published in 2016 on the digital cultural platform The Optimist, an adult fiction magazine where young writers are given the space to publish new work. In the story, there is a sexual reason that Saturday smells like the trainer. The boy longs for the touch of the coach, and the latter gladly complies.

Pim Lammers is also the author of picture books and children’s poems. And apparently that was wrong, because Lammers announced this weekend that he would withdraw as the author of the poem at the Children’s Book Week. First there was an article on the radical right-wing website reactionair.nl. This was followed by Twitter messages from singer/TV presenter Monique Smit and parliamentary questions from Wybren of Haga, who wanted the Ministry of Education and Culture to intervene. The conservative Catholic activist group Gezin in Danger organized a petition ‘Don’t give a platform to a pedophile writer’, resulting in numerous death threats to Lammers and authors who stood up for him.

Also read the commentary of NRC: ‘Fiction is read less and less, and less understood, according to the threat from Pim Lammers’

Fatwa against Rushdie

The fire against Lammers and the CPNB also flared up from less pronounced radical right-wing and Christian-conservative corners. Free a Girla foundation that focuses on “a world without the sexual exploitation of girls” (and which previously accused Arnon Grunberg of being a pedophile after the Vermeer Prize was awarded) demanded immediate action from the CPNB: “Free a Girl condemns the decision of the CPNB to give an author a platform during Children’s Book Week who has previously spread a glorifying message about pedophilia, regardless of the context or time period in which this happened,” the foundation posted on Instagram.

It is not often that an author is threatened with death, but it is not unique. The fatwa issued against writer Salman Rushdie after his Satanic verses is the best known and now also the most recent example of how concrete such a death threat can become. Even in the Netherlands, authors have received death threats in recent years, such as AHJ Dautzenberg, who stood up for the now defunct pedophile association Martijn.

With ‘they must not touch the children’ you have free reign to threaten

However, the fact that a writer is threatened with death by Dutch citizens on the basis of a short story is unique. Who is Lammers that he brings this upon himself?

Pim Lammers has become known as an author of picture books such as The farmer and the vet and The little lamb that is a pigfor which he received the Zilveren Griffel in 2018.

In the first book, the farm animals pretend to be sick. The farmer has a crush on the vet but is too shy to date; now he has to come to the farm. The little lamb that is a pig is about a lamb who likes to play in the mud. The farmer visits the vet, who concludes that a pig is hidden in the lamb. The animal wants to be helped with that. “‘Do you really want this?’ asks the vet. ‘Yes, because I am a pig,’ says the lamb.

The theme of the search for one’s own identity can also be found in Lammers’ children’s poems. Like one about the cousin who puts on make-up, or the poem ‘Who am I?’: ‘Mommy likes daddy, daddy likes her too. / My grandma was at grandpa. / My aunts are on each other. / My brother is on a boy from his class. / (his diary also stated who: Bas.) […] And I? / I am searching for.”

Free game

As empathetic and innocent as these texts are, they were previously a thorn in the side of the action group Family in Danger. But the text for adults about the footballer and his pedophile trainer offered the opportunity to really go on a publicity offensive.

The relationship between an adult person and a child is more often the subject of literature: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is the most famous example, Gerard Reve also had many a young boy appear.

Read also: OM threatens years of youth detention for writer Lale Gül

For Reve, this sometimes led to parliamentary questions (although they were about God in the guise of a donkey), but not to death threats. Neither wrote for children.

Lammers is a children’s book author, and that makes him vulnerable. The fact that the adult story has nothing to do with his picture books is reason to see him as a threat. Something similar happened to Ted van Lieshout in 2012 after the appearance of My sir, about the love between an eleven-year-old boy and a childish man. Although the story was based on my own experiences, the fact that this was a novel was ignored.

You will soon be called a pedophile on social media, because that will mobilize a large number of people who also have nothing to do with LGBTQ+ or gender issues, but who now know that it is not correct to oppose it too hard. And with the slogan ‘they must keep their hands off the children’ you have free rein.

Publisher Querido, which collected Lammers’ poems last year, has started an action to show support for Lammers “and for the freedom of literary expression”. For example, a poem by Lammers is sent to bookshops as display material. So that everyone understands that stories are fiction and expressions of personal expression – a fact that comes naturally to children.