Thursday, June 25, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone

Created by J.K Rowling, this series of books about a boy-wizard has gained international fame. Millions of kids have been drawn to books by reading Potter, much to the joy of literacy advocates the world over. So, why ban it?

Some people point to scriptures in the Bible that forbid the use of magic and claim that Rowling's books promote witchcraft. Although the Bible probably wasn't talking about flying cars and broomsticks, some have demanded the removal of Harry Potter from schools. Harry Potter books have even been literally burned. Often, people forbid these books without having read them, or skim through looking for "evil" bits to take out of context.

For one example, ChristianAnswers.Net says this about the "troubling" lightning bolt scar on Harry Potter's forehead
"his marking causes some concern, as the lightning bolt, in mythology, is known as Thor's calling card (the god of thunder, rain and fertility), later used by Hitler's Nazi party in the form of two crossing lightning bolts"
The Nazi swastika used by Hitler was not two crossed lightning bolts, but an ancient symbol that dates far back in human history and one of those ubiquitous shapes used in ancient cultures. Harry Potter's bolt has nothing to do with the swastika and the symbol itself was benign until Hitler hijacked it for his purposes.

Others fall back on the assertion that the books are too gory. Of course, the image of a man being beaten with a cat o'nine, nailed onto a wooden cross, and stabbed with a spear is shown to children who are too young to even speak but the hypocrisy is lost on the anti-Potters. Most children aren't at all bothered by the mild violence in the Harry Potter books and if a child does have trouble, that doesn't mean one should ban the book from all children.

Consider Glinda the Good Witch, who was first depicted by Frank Baum as a beautiful red head with blue eyes and a pure white dress. In the classic, unforgettable 1939 film starring Judy Garland, Glinda is even more appealing. If Glinda isn't advertisement for witchcraft, then what is?

What about Gandalf from
The Lord of the Rings? Or Merlin from the King Arthur myths?These characters are not new, in fact Merlin's been around for ages- literally.Why haven't fans of these older wizards turned into devil worshiping, blood drinking, fornicating pagans?

An additional argument claims that Wicca is a religion and that Harry Potter books violate separation of church and state. However, Wicca is a nature based religion that involves the worship of a God and Goddess. They don't worship Satan & don't believe in Satan, as he is a Christian construct. "Magic" to a Wiccan is not yelling "Avada Kedavra!" or "Expelliarmus!" but really the "channeling of energy" and magical thinking.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: 1984

This book shows what could happen in a totalitarian state. It centers around a man named Winston Smith, who lives in such a state called Oceania. It was written by George Orwell in 1948 and published in 1949. The title is the year in which the novel is set. Orwell chose "1984" to show how soon he thought this dystopian society could be brought about. In those days, the possibility of having "Oceania" seemed very real.

This book is and has been one of the most frequently challenged novels of modern times. Most of the challenges center around the discussion of communism, although the novel is anti-communist and very "pro-freedom".

The sexuality and profanity in the book are also an issue in high school libraries and classrooms.

Every student should be exposed to the idea of a totalitarian government, "Big Brother", "thoughtcrime"... also, Orwell's work captures the fears of his times, so it has historical value. The thing that I love most about 1984 is the concept of "newspeak" a language developed by the officials. They know that if they take away the words for ideas, that people will have no means of revolting. If you don't have the words, how do you grasp the concept?

When weighed against the novel's historical value, literary value and the richness of its ideas, banning the book because of the author's affiliations- or worse, its profanity-is trivial. Everyone who wishes to ban books is paying homage to Big Brother- keeping books out of people's (even teen people's) hands is all about controlling how they think and what they think about.

The Thought Police hate books. What could be a bigger threat to them?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

Written by Dee Brown in 1970, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is the story of the American West's conquest by European settlers told from the perspective of the Native Americans.

In 1974 an administrator in Wild Rose, Wisconsin, who had never read the book (they heard a review on the radio) decided to ban it saying it was "slanted". An English teacher argued that it wasn't. The administrator replied "If there's a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not ban it?"

There have been further complaints about Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee being "biased", which I find troubling. We are taught to idolize the "Indian fighters" who slaughtered millions, we are taught to see treaty breakers and marauders as heroes, but when the story is told from the Native American perspective, we call it "slanted", "biased" and keep students from seeing it.

The trouble with complaints about "bias" is that people present them as if truth is relative. Yes, there are two sides to every story: but that doesn't mean that both sides are true.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Recognition for The Dangerous Pages Review

This is the Kreativ Blogger Award from Yvette Kelly over at True Crime Book Reviews.

This award is also a meme, but the rules are simple. If you accept it, you are supposed to list seven of your favorite things and nominate seven blogs that deserve this award. And of course copy the award to your site and link back to this post or my blog.

Well, these are a few of my favorite things:

1. My library card
2. My beautiful Easton Press editions of Moby Dick and Great Expectations- they are the finest, most luxurious things I own.
3. My laptop.
4. My mp3 player- I can't live without music. I have episodes of This American Life, Democracy Now! and of course all my music. Al Green, John Legend, The Beatles, Earth Wind and Fire and of course my favorite song of all time: John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things".
5. Those hip rectangular glasses with thick, black frames. It's time I got a pair.
6. Blogging. I love blogging. Blogging's my favorite.
7. My bank account- it's my first one and having it still makes me feel grown-up, organized and rich.

And so now, I must pass this on. In my search for creativity, I chose people that show a way with words- whose blog posts are well-written and cleverly worded.I nominate the following bloggers:

1. Cleopatra of "Oh. No. They Didn't"
2. Miss Nobody of "Miss Nobody's Scribbles"
3. Jenna of "As the Plot Thickens"
4. Rebecca of "Lost in Books"-
5. Ross Horsley of "My First Dictionary"
6. FifeCat "A Book A Day or the Year of Reading Dangerously"
7. RJ Evans of "Webphemera"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The American Heritage Dictionary

In 1976, a group of parents demanded that copies of the American Heritage Dictionary be removed from all Anchorage, Alaska classrooms because of "obscenity". The most trouble centered around the word "bed", which has several definitions including "a place for lovemaking", " a marital relationship with it's rights and intimacies" and "to have sexual intercourse with". (All of these definitions are apt, for example, 'the marriage bed', "bed his bride" etc).

The school board voted to remove it from schools.Words like "shit", "fuck", "piss", "keister", "john", "cunnilingus", "hooker", "deflower", "dyke", "faggot"and many others were also a source of complaint.

In Texas in 1976, one person complained that the publisher of the American Heritage Dictionary was "debasing the English language" by including words that are used in the English language (?).

The book's defenders point out that the words and connotations in question are used in classic literary works, everyday use and even in the Bible. The purpose of the dictionary is to define words. And these are words.

The Assistant Superintendent of schools in Anchorage at the time said that the entries were important because they gave kids a chance to look up the words which would "help to diffuse curiosity and excitement about them."

And I so agree.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood was created by Charles Perrault. In the original version, both Red Riding Hood and her Grandmother die. The Grimm Brothers revised the ending and added the Woodsman at the end. (Deus ex Machina!)

However, a 1989 Houghton-Mifflin version (that won the Caldecott Honor Book Award) has been a source of controversy. It began in Empire, California in 1990 when the school board raised a stink over a bottle of wine in the book's illustrations. In Clay County, Florida in 1990, parents of fifth & sixth graders challenged the fairy tale because of the wine, instead of asking why their sixth graders were still reading picture books.

In '91 a Bradford County, Florida teacher complained that the wolf's actions were too violent. Because, children, wolves are really friendly and nice and if you ever see one, be sure to try to pet it!

Once upon a time, people drank nothing but wine and beer because water was often unsafe. Jesus took perfectly healthy water and turned it into wine. People drink wine in communion, and wine is openly for sale at the grocery store. People in movies & television have wine at dinner, there are wine lists sitting on the table at restaurants and doctors often publicly tout the benefits of red wine. Did I mention that the Bible says "drink wine, it's good for your stomachs?"

Yet, the depiction of a fairy tale Grandmother drinking wine is perceived as a plot to turn kids into alcoholics. Whoever heard of a Grandmother who was under 21?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

This work, ghost written by Alex Haley, author of Roots: The Saga of An American Family was considered too radical for high school classrooms for years. It is about transformation & self-education. Malcolm X taught himself in prison, getting an education entirely on his own and became a follower of Elijah Muhammad. Later, his voyage to Mecca & his experiences with 'white' Muslims lead him to revise his racist views.

In 1993, parents of Duval County, Florida students challenged his book, calling it disruptive of racial harmony. In Jacksonville Florida in 1994, access to the book was restricted and only teens with parental permission slips could check the book out.

Aristotle said: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

For example, in reading the writings of Thomas Jefferson, I saw some of Jefferson's views of blacks- people he enslaved. He even said that black people don't love each other the way whites do- I guess to say that separating slave families didn't matter- but Jefferson was trying to ease his conscience with pseudoscience. Personally, I don't believe that this hypocrisy cancels everything he ever did- or that it takes away from the intellectual value of his writings.

So, later, when I read
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I was ready for it. I had already learned to balance agreement with disagreement. You don't have to be Black Nationalist Muslim to love the words of a Muslim writer or to admire this man's journey. You don't have to be an extremist to note the gifts of an extremist. It's a fascinating book, particularly the part where he's in prison- & I re-read it quite often.

Such books are the best books to read- they force us to mentally defend our beliefs. Then, we know that we hold them for a reason. And we understand people who oppose us better.

If you only read the things that confirm your beliefs, then what's the point of reading?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Censored Book: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was published in 1791 and was soon the target of censorship. It's been pointed out that at one point in US History, Franklin's works, if sent through the mail, could make the sender liable to prosecution under the Comstock Act, because of their sexual references.

This is ironic because Franklin is "the father of the Post Office".I don't know if anyone ever was charged- but it shows the disturbing power of such laws.

The Autobiography itself has had bits removed from it and was censored by Franklin's own grandson, when he changed some of the saltier language to fit the more prim ideals of the 19th century. One episode that was removed at the time was the story of Franklin's sexual advance towards James Ralph's girlfriend in London.

Besides this, Franklin's other works are even "dirtier". My favorite is "Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of His Mistress" a letter about why young men should prefer older women to young women. "Regarding what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to tell an old one from a young one,"Franklin writes. "And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement."

In his essay "To the Royal Academy at Brussels", he talks about farting.

Ben Franklin is one of my favorite historical figures. He was a Renaissance Man, a brilliant thinker, an eloquent speaker, a passionate advocate of learning & knowledge and a champion for democracy in reading.

And most importantly, he is credited with creating the first public lending library in the US. For this, he should be Sainted.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Most Challenged Book: And Tango Makes Three

This picture book was the most challenged book of 2006, 2007 & 2008, according to the American Library Association.

Written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
And Tango Makes Three is the story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who fall in love and raise a chick.

It has been banned for being "anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group"

The charge of being "anti-ethnic" is ridiculous as the book doesn't deal with ethnicity at all. It is the complete opposite of "anti-family", nor does it have a religious viewpoint. The language and handling of the subject are entirely within the comprehension level of a Kindergartner & it isn't about sex or sexual acts.

And Tango Makes Three is based on a true story. Two male penguins in the Central Park zoo did become a couple and raised a chick named Tango. They were together 6 years & then one went for a female.

Apparently, he was bisexual.

But the point is that Tango, the little penguin, was raised by two males. It's a sweet little family story- the illustrations are cute. Perfect for children who are adopted, particularly if they are adopted by a gay couple. The reason why I feel it is important to have it available on the shelves is because I know children pick on the children of same sex couples.
I think this book could go a long way toward fighting this kind of bullying.

Illegal Reading in Progress: The Pillars of the Earth

Right now, I am reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It's a nice, long read, the kind of captivating story that takes you into another world. I am liking Philip- what a good man, I wish I knew someone like him.

The other character I like best is Jack. I can't wait to see how this little boy turns out.

William Hamleigh is every bit as evil as Philip is good- even more so. What a warped, twisted, disgusting human being. I hope this ends as well as it is going.

So, as I am enjoying this reading, I was delighted to find out that it is a banned book. It has been banned repeatedly since publication for "graphic sex and violence".

So, it's probably got a good message, theme or purpose in it somewhere- most banned books do, that's why they're dangerous. The "graphic sex and violence" is what makes William Hamleigh so revolting. He's such a meanie. He's so bad. And not "fascinating" bad like Richard III or Lady Macbeth- like Hitler bad.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Banned, Censored, Challenged: Lord of the Flies

I hated this book when I first read it. It was my first foray into the adult section of the library and I picked up this, The Color Purple and A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton.

Now, it's one of my favorite books. I frequently slip my own little paperback copy into my purse and carry it with me to read every now and then. Sometimes, I think you have to come back to a book- it's often a totally different experience.

So, what's so evil/perverse/gay/destructive about this book? Well, besides the usual complaints about profanity, political correctness and perpetuating the idea that sex exists, there is this complaint, which I quote from the ALA:

challenged at the Owen, N.C. High School (1981) because the book is "demoralizing inasmuch as it implies that man is little more than an animal";

I've said before that the purpose of teaching literature in schools is to get kids to evaluate on their own, so this post can be short on indignant rants and long on love for William Golding's masterpiece.

In this novel, a group of British school boys are stranded on an island when their plane crashes and they have to survive on their own.It is an allegory about human nature, as the boys descend into brutality without the comfort of rules and regulations to restrain them.

What a terrific book. It's terrific the way lightening is terrific: bright flashes of frightening insight, when the natures of the characters are exposed and you realize what's being said with their actions.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Banned,Censored, Challenged: To Kill A Mockingbird

Inspired by the infamous trial of the Scottsboro boys, To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee is one of the most frequently challenged books in America.

From the ALA:

"Challenged in Eden Valley, Minn. (1977) and temporarily banned due to words "damn" and "whore lady" used in the novel. "

"Challenged in the Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District (1980) as a "filthy, trashy novel:"

"Challenged at the Warren, Ind.Township schools (1981) because the book ... "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature:"

"[Challenged, unsuccessfully] in the Casa Grande, Ariz. Elementary School District (1985), despite the protests by black parents and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People who charged the book was unfit for junior high use."

Give me a break.
If you've read the novel you know the context of the "bad" words. As with the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the "n" word usage is taken out of context in this challenge. Banning the word "nigger" is futile anyway, the kind of freedom of speech infringement that comes with good, but deadly,intentions. How can you ban a word when you haven't treated the thoughts behind the word?

If one decides that writing about institutionalized racism "represents institutionalized racism under the guise of good literature" (?) then how will students learn about it?

Answer: they won't.
This explains the number of brutally ignorant people walking around. It explains some of my own ignorance. Probably some of yours, too. There is so much that we were never taught because of decorum, complaisance & the emphasis on 'good (i.e conformed, unoriginal) behavior'.

If something evil came for my books in the middle of the night, this is one of the ones it would have to pry from my cold dead fingers.

I first read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was 12. It was recommended to me by my Great Grandmother and became part of my mental awakening, sparking social consciousness and opening my mind to what literature could be. It teaches the fallacy of prejudice, the false premise & flawed conclusions of prejudice.

Prejudice is wrong because with it society can devalue men like Tom Robinson & Boo Radley for the sake of animals like Bob Ewell.

I understand why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. Maybe the NAACP can learn this, too.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Dangerous Pages Index of Banned and Challenged Books

Banned & Challenged Books