Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
If there’s anything that’s annoying to a preteen or teenager, it’s being talked down to–and banning a book is talking down to all the children in your community. There’s a difference between a parent making an independent decision that their child isn’t ready for a certain book and someone making sweeping generalizations about what is and what isn’t appropriate for all children. In their patronizing fervor, the parents (and it’s mostly parents) who ban books purely for content miss out on the bigger picture of a work. So, today, to celebrate Banned Books Week, we’re going to look at three wonderful pieces of literature that are often banned.
The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling. The Harry Potter books are often banned because banners who can’t tell fantasy from reality believe they promote Wicca. (Oh, and they think Wicca is a bad thing, despite it being a fairly chill and loving religion.) No matter what I’ll think of the Harry Potter series when I eventually reread them, they were a big part of not only my childhood, but my generation’s childhood–heck, it was the only book series some kids read, so to see this banned feels very odd indeed. Matt Staggs has an article at Suvudu about the banning (and burning!) of Harry Potter books by such groups.
The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien. A group in New Mexico who burned the Harry Potter books above also burned copies of The Lord of the Rings, which pierced me to the heart. They believed it was satanic, apparently not doing any research where they would discover that Tolkien was a devout Catholic who worried about presenting orcs as a wholly evil race. (In the age of Wikipedia, no excuse, people, no excuse.) The Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite novels; it makes me cry and laugh and hope. It’s truly a classic, and I want everyone, especially children (okay, teenagers, it’s a pretty dense piece of work), to be able to enjoy and experience it.
His Dark Materials, by Philip Pullman. The secular answer to The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials is usually banned or contested because of its supposedly atheistic content–Pullman himself is an atheist who views the religious content of The Chronicles of Narnia dimly. It’s yet another case of people not doing their research; people love to claim that Pullman kills off God in the last installment, which he doesn’t. (No excuse!) While I haven’t read The Magician’s Book just yet, I understand how the author could feel alienated from The Chronicles of Narnia; having His Dark Materials around for kids questioning the faith they’ve grown up with or just interested in seeing a different viewpoint is important.
There’s more; there’s always more people trying to dictate what you read to align with their personal views of the world, rather than yours. Books are important, even (and, perhaps, especially) the ones you don’t agree with; for some kids, they’re the only way to learn about why they feel so different, what’s happening to them, or just enjoy a fantastic story. To ban books is heartless and cruel, and we’ve all got to fight it.
Here–go through the list of frequently banned books and tell me about one you particularly love or can’t do without.