I've written, deleted, and rewritten this post some six or seven times now, coming at it from a different angle each time, but I just can't seem to pin down my feelings on the subject of book banning and censorship beyond the obvious, "It's bad!"
My main thought is: Banning books from the public1 is downright wrong. It's our right, not just as American citizens (for those of us who are from the US), but as human beings endowed by GOD with free will to ponder freely, and to share our thoughts with each other without interference from outside entities. The only acceptible form of censorship in my book is self censorship. I censor my reading; I avoid reading anything smutty. Why? Because I don't like it. People have the right to safegaurd their and their children's minds from material they deem unsavory, but they do not have the right to censor what other people might choose to read by banning books from the public.
And what is it that people are banning, anyway? Here's a link to a sadly long list of banned or challenged books. The title that really jumped out at me from the list, though, was Harry Potter2. To me, and to many others I'm sure, this books isn't about witchcraft and satanic worship (something that was mentioned a grand total of 0 times thoughout the series), it's about the battle between Good and Evil. It's about the power of Love over Hate. How could you not want to share that with your friends and children?
Below is an exerpt from a Catholic forum where a woman asked what the church's view on, "These Harry Potter books and movies," was. Her answer was found in an archdiocesan paper written on the subject by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. The archbishop writes:
"So then, what's the verdict on Harry Potter?... A friend, his wife and youngest child recently saw 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone.'... The friend and his wife... came back baffled at criticism the film has received from some Christian quarters. They found it to be a terrific fantasy yarn that kept them thoroughly entertained for two hours. They then went home, had dinner, and got back to the routine concerns of life. None of them, including the child, began tinkering with magic... (How do the parents know that about their child? They do what parents are supposed to do: They keep watch.)... My initial reaction to the first Harry Potter book was much the same. I read it on an airplane after another couple of friends had complained about it. I enjoyed it... I think people's uneasiness about Harry comes from the same root as our uneasiness about Halloween. Forty years ago, Halloween could be enjoyed as harmless fun. Many good parents still see it that way with no ill effects. But times have changed... [I]t's more important than ever for parents to scrutinize what their children read... The trick as a parent, I suspect, is... common sense. So what's the verdict on Harry Potter? That's a matter for parents, and not Bishops [or other firgures of authority], to decide. I think Harry Potter can be happily enjoyed as a children's fantasy movie [and book]. Nothing in the film [or book series] attacks the Christian faith, and good does win out over evil... magic and sorcery can be harmless if we understand them simply as story-telling superstition."
Some other books that I felt had no business on that list were: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Giver by Lois Lowry3, The Bridge toTerabithia by Katherine Paterson, The Hot Zone by Richard Preston4, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain5.
Many other fantastic titles that have been banned or challenged do not appear on that list. Most of them, it seems to me, deal with the very issue they are subject to; censorship. I'm currently reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a futuristic story centering on Montag, a fireman whose job it is to burn books and the houses they dwell in. There are a number of deja vu worthy ellements throughout the story, thus far, such as a form of reality TV and people spending their lives tuned out from the world around them. It seems sadly ironic to me that a book broaching the subject of burning books might itself have been burned.
I read something else the other day that threw me for a loop: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien had been burned. Literally, chucked into a bonfire for supossedly being satanic. Sure, so it's not Christian allegory, but just becuase it doesn't have Jesus in it, doesn't mean it's about the devil. It's another fantastic book about the struggle between Good and Evil. And when did this travesty occur? Perhaps around it's innital release, way back when? Mayhap in the '60's, it was after all a very tumultuous period. No. It was set to fire in sunny Florida in the year 2001.
My opinion on the matter of book banning is that the people who are banning these books are, perhaps, a mite weak of mind. Ideas, while they do carry a certain amount of weight, and can in fact wreak havoc if people allow themselves to be carried away, are things not to be burned or banned. Most books use fantastical settings and circumstances as a mode of transportation for some greater message, and, no, that message is not something that you'd hear if you played an AC/DC records in reverse. Harry Potter's message is love winning out over hate. The Giver's message is that life is painful, but if you take that pain away you lose what is it is to be human, you lose happiness and individuality because there's no contrasts between good or bad. Speak's message is obvious, and necssary; it's about being brave and speaking up, not just for yourself, but for those around you.
Ideas are to be celebrated and shared. We have minds for thinking, voices for speaking, hands for writing, eyes for reading. Books are a gift.
1 Public: accessible to or shared by all members of the community
2 The Superintendent of the Zeeland Public Schools in Zeeland, MI imposed restrictions on the use of the Harry Potter books. School libraries were prohibited from displaying the books on their shelves, and teachers were barred from using them for classroom readings. Parental permission was required for students to check the books out of school libraries, and the Superintendent also indicated that the district would not purchase any future titles in the series. Following ABFFE's letter to the Superintendent and local advocacy efforts, the library restrictions were lifted.
3 Blue Valley School District in Kansas reviewed this futuristic novel about a young man’s growing disillusionment with an outwardly utopian society, following parent complaints that it was “lewd” and “twisted.” Parents also claimed it is “unfit for analysis by students because it is violent, sexually explicit and portrays infanticide and euthanasia.” One parent said, “This book is negative. I read it. I don't see the academic value in it. Everything presented to the kids should be positive or historical, not negative.” The novel, which has been compared to Brave New World, won the Newbery Medal in 1994. Proponents of the ban are asking that the book be removed from the entire district’s eighth grade reading list (1/6/05).
4 Parents of the Blue Valley School District in Kansas are currently petitioning for this and thirteen other books to be removed from all high school classrooms in the district due to "vulgar language, sexual explicitness, or violent imagery that is gratuitously employed." I disagree with these and other statements made on this book. If it was as sexually explicit as they claimed, I wouldn't have enjoyed it so thoroughly. Furthermore, they need to wake and smell th e coffee, of course a book about a hemoragic fever is going to have bloody deaths!!!
5 This classic novel was removed from three Renton, Washington high schools after an African-American student complained that the book’s use of the word ‘nigger’ offended her. Teachers protested that Twain was actually attacking racism and opening the door for important discussions about American history. After reviewing the case, school officials have suspended use of the book in area schools until a panel of teachers and outside advisors develop a sensitive method of presentation. Here's a sensetive method of introduction, tell them it was published in 1884! It was a different world back then. I'm sorry that people have been hurt by use of the N word in life or books, though.
6 This statement is based on the myth that rock music played in reverse sounds like the devil. It gained popularity in this age from the paranoia of subliminal messaging.