Banned Books

Today is the last day of "Banned Books Week" which is a week long celebration of books that were deemed inappropriate for one reason or another and were banned from schools, libraries, etc., sponsored in part by the ALA.

I figured I'd mention several of these books, in alphabetical order.

http://www.epubbooks.com/img-book-covers/twain-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn-bookcover.jpgFirst up is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Written in the late 1800s (I believe it was first published in 1885), it tells the adventures of the mischievous Huck Finn, a young adolescent boy who lives in Missouri along the Mississippi River. Why was it banned and deemed controversial? Well, taking place in the era that it is set (in a time of slavery) it uses the "n-word" quite a bit and people complained of racial stereotypes and debate over whether or not the book is racist or not - for example, for a good part of the book, a slaved named Jim is traveling with Huck along the Mississippi River. Of course Twain wrote Jim with a heavy southern black dialect which is a bit hard to understand what he's trying to say the first time you read it and almost comes across like he's speaking gibberish. Obviously he was trying to stay true to the times, as Jim spoke the same way that many slaves probably did, but for some reason, people took offense to it I guess.

I actually read this one twice in high school - the first time was for my Honors freshman English class, as we were assigned a classic to read and then write a paper on for part of our final. I got assigned this one. And then, my junior year, it was also on the curriculum for all Junior English classes, where we studied the book as a class and discussed it.

Do I think it's racist? Given the time period, I don't think that was Twain's intentions. I think he was just trying to write a book that accurately portrayed life along the Mississippi in the 1800s. While Jim is illiterate and is sometimes hard to understand, I think he's a pretty typical portrayal of the average slave. And a good portion of the book is Huck trying to help the runaway Jim get to freedom, in which the 2 form a friendship and Huck really begins to think about human worth. Yes, the "n-word" is used quite a bit, but keep in mind, that's how a lot of people talked and referred to the slaves back then, while today, unless you're black, you'd be in a lot of trouble for saying and using the word. So no, I don't think Twain intended the book to be racist.

http://www.louisvillereaders.org/images/Book_CatcherInTheRye.jpgNext up - Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. This book follows the adventures of teenage Holden Caulfield after he gets kicked out of his boarding school for bad grades and rather than returning home, he spends time in New York City.

I read this one my Junior year of high school, for Honors English, as we got to pick a classic to read and then report/present to the class. I heard it was a banned/controversial book so of course I was curious as to why. Unless I missed something, I really didn't see it being all that bad. Yes, I noticed a handful of uses of the "f-word" - one of the main uses being when Holden sees it scribbled as graffiti and sort of dwells on it - but honestly, I didn't think it was that bad of a book. They say in addition to the swear words, there's also sexual references as well as the fact that Holden undermines family values which they say promotes "teen angst". Again, perhaps I was a bit naive at the time I last read this one, but I didn't really notice much of any sexual references (okay, so there's an encounter with a young prostitute, but nothing happens!), and as for the "teen angst" argument, Holden seems to be a troubled kid and is just rebelling like most kids his age do from time to time. Sure, some may seem a bit extreme, but it's fiction.

The first half of the current season of South Park featured an episode that talked about banned books - it starts out with the boys reading Catcher in the Rye, after hearing how it's controversial and banned. They get through it though and are like "uh, what was so shocking about that?" in which the creators of the show use to point out that in modern times, books like Catcher in the Rye really hold no shock value anymore like they once did and therefore there really is no point in them being banned. I really have to agree, as having first read this one nearly 10 years ago, I didn't really see what the big deal was - I expected a lot more swearing than there actually was and the "teen angst" and rebellion Holden displays in the book really didn't seem too far out of the ordinary from what was currently being portrayed in movies and such.

And now, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, we all know that the Harry Potter series follows the yearly adventures of young Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione as they study at Hogwarts Castle to become better wizards. Harry, who's parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort (or He Who Shall Not Be Named) when he was just an infant, somehow managed to survive the attack with only a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. Unaware of his past or how his parents really died, Harry is sent to live with his rich aunt and uncle and their spoiled brat son who all treat Harry like a bothersome, keeping him locked up in his cupboard bedroom under the stairs most of the time. Harry begins to learn the truth of his existence on his 10th birthday when he gets an invitation to Hogwarts. Eventually he goes, and people deem him a hero as Voldemort has not been seen or heard from since his encounter with Harry 10 years prior. Of course, we learn throughout the series though that Voldemort is slowly gaining power and is on the rise to return - it is believed that only Harry will be able to stop him once again, this time for good.

I was actually not aware of these books until the 3rd or 4th came out and all the news media was reporting on people going crazy trying to get ahold of a copy the day it came out. I didn't think much of it though at the time as they seemed like kids books (on the news, all the images they showed were parents buying it for young children just like you see them doing for the hot new Christmas toy each year) and I was in high school. I remember my senior year of high school, the first movie was coming out that Thanksgiving and going to a private Christian school, students and faculty were torn - one portion of the students and faculty loved the books and were thrilled about the movie, the other portion of faculty and students took the religious stance and argument about the use of magic in them (and of course there was a 3rd portion of students who just didn't care). I remember this year, it was perceived that Lord of the Rings (the other big movie franchise that year) was good, while Harry Potter was bad. Not having read Harry Potter, I kinda went along with the "it's bad" group (although I wasn't really vocal about it all), because from a religious standpoint, I could see the argument about it's heavy reliance on magic and how that's not good, etc. Ultimately, since I went to a private Christian school, the books were banned from our school library.

It wasn't until I got to college that I saw the first 3 movies that I thought it wasn't really all that bad - I mean in Lord of the Rings, hello - Gandolph's a wizard and Lord of the Rings is deemed great by many in the church. Even CS Lewis' Narnia uses a little bit of magic here and there (although the White Witch and her magic is bad, bad, bad). And even recently, I got to thinking - there's a lot of parallels between Star Wars and Harry Potter and I know many people in the church that see nothing wrong with Star Wars, yet hello - isn't the Force the same thing as magic? There's the Jedi using the Force for good, while the Sith use it for their Dark Side antics. I read the first 6 books in college too and really enjoyed them, although after the first 2 (and maybe the 3rd) book, they're really not for young kids as they start to get a bit dark in the 3rd book and each book after only seems to get darker.

Harry is a bit of an unwilling savior in the books too as at first he's unsure of himself really being "the chosen one" who will end Voldemort, and then he gets a bit cocky about it as he gets older, and he doubts himself at times too, but as those he's close to begin dying for the cause and he realizes he must take his place and fight Voldemort once and for all, even if it means he might die in the process. Voldemort is clearly the bad guy as are his followers - the Death Eaters - who willingly murder and carry out his will. It's a classic struggle of good vs evil with magic thrown in, as Harry's world is a magical one, unseen to the muggles (non-magic using humans) just like as Christians we believe there's angels and demons constantly waging spiritual warfare even though we don't often physically see demons or angels.

I think people really need to stop and read the books (or at least see the movies) before they make a judgement about this series - I had wrongly judged it without reading/seeing it and I'll admit, I was wrong. I really don't see why someone who likes Star Wars or Lord of the Rings would have a problem with Harry Potter - all 3 are fantasy, the good guys are clearly good, the bad guys are clearly bad, and it's the basic battle of good vs evil and those willing to put their life on the line for the greater good of all humanity.

What banned books have you read? What are your thoughts about them having read them?

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad that Harry Potter has mostly been accepted as harmless by now. The witches in the TV show Charmed, while fantastical, had some similarities with Wiccan traditions, and Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while also possessing fantastical powers, was explicitly Wiccan. I could understand objections to books with witches like these, since they might tempt young people to stray to paganism. However, Harry Potter is so totally separate from the witchcraft that the Bible warns about (I mean, they even celebrate Christmas) that I don't think kids will confuse the two. I wonder if Rowling had just used the terms "wizard" and "wizardry" instead of including "witch" and "witchcraft" whether a lot of the trouble could have been avoided. Maybe that's part of why Lord of the Rings' wizards were easier to accept than Harry Potter's witches.

    I remember when we read Huckleberry Finn in high school, we read and watched recorded TV coverage about the controversy surrounding it and whether it should be banned. It was the first time that I really realized that people today sometimes ban books. Anyway, we had to write an essay on whether or not we thought it should be banned. I think as long as it's made clear to kids that the n-word is no longer acceptable, and the book only uses the n-word because it is true to the times in the book, then it's OK. And as I remember it, while Jim may talk funny and be relatively ignorant (he obviously wouldn't have received much of an education as a slave), he is clever in his own way and a good person. Given the character's circumstances, I think Jim is an anti-racist figure.


What's your thoughts?