Book banning isn’t a new concept. The Qin Dynasty in China banned Confucian writings as early as 221 BC. Writings by Descartes, Copernicus, Pascal, and Galileo were all banned during their lifetime because they thwarted modern ideology of the day. King Charles IX of France would only allow books to be printed that had won the approval of crown. By the 1700s, the practice began to fall out of favor although most governments still kept a close eye on the books circulated within their realm. By the early 1800s, many European countries had begun enacting laws that allowed for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
You would think with such a long history of fighting for the freedom of information that book banning would be a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, it is not!
Even today, thousands of books are banned by governments at the local, state, and federal levels throughout the world. Many of these are in dictatorships where one would expect regimes to limit information. China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan dot that list en masse.
But, no one is immune to book banning. Even here in the United States, the home of the free, book banning is still in place. Usually this is done at the local level by well meaning officials who are desperately trying to prevent children and citizens from overwhelmingly harmful influences. Some would argue it’s our duty to keep things such as pornography, overt sexual conduct, and violence away from small children.
I totally get that argument and I am in favor of the age appropriate discussion about books. I personally don’t want to see 50 Shades of Grey in an elementary school library. Heck, I don’t think it belongs in a high school library, but that’s because I personally feel it has no literary value whatsoever. (That’s another discussion for another day!) The same argument could be made for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It also has extremely graphic sexual content and explicit violence but I have no problem with that book being in a high school library. It’s an amazing book series that delves deeply into government corruption, abuse, and psychological illness. I would not let my 15 year old daughter read it, but I would have let her read it at the age of 17 if she had wanted to. I felt she was old enough and mature enough at the time to handle the subject matter. (For those of you who are against violence, explicit sexual content, and foul language, DO NOT read either series!!)
My personal feelings about those two books aside, if a local school board deemed them as too mature for students under the age of 18, I would have no problem with their decision.
However, book banning is something far more insidious. Book banning seeks to actively limit the information available to the populous in the hopes of controlling the morality and ideas of a group of people. It is an endeavor to inject a culture with one’s own personal beliefs regardless of will of the people. It is not about protection. It is about control. And control is maintained through limitation.
I could spend days discussing this topic and listing all the books that have been banned for one reason or another. The list is that long. Instead, I’ve chosen to discuss my top five. Here are 5 of my personal favorite banned books.:
- The Harry Potter Series — In addition to earning the title as the highest grossing literary phenomenon EVER, JK Rowling’s series about a group of young wizards attending the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry have also earned the dubious title of most banned books in the United States. This is primarily because those who have never read the books are concerned that young minds will be drawn into the occult world of witchcraft. As a fan of the series, I know nothing could be further from the truth. Christian themes run rampant throughout these books. And while magic does play a key role in almost every scene, JK Rowling’s books are adamant that it is the choices we make that determine our outcome, not the talents we are given. (By the way, I’ve tried to apparate. It doesn’t work!)
- Huckleberry Finn & Tom Sawyer — Two of Mark Twain’s most famous works were routinely banned during his lifetime and continue to be banned in various regions today. Librarians of Twain’s day felt both books offered low grade morality, vulgarity, and poor examples for young people. Although Twain himself saw the commercial value in such a recommendation at the time, I’m sure he would have never imagined the modern day sensitivities becoming so tender as to require a softer, gentler telling of his fabled tales. Such was the case several years when some of the more offensive words were eliminated from both works. Do yourself a favor and find an unedited, unabridged version. You won’t regret taking a ride down the ol’ muddy river.
- Call of the Wild by Jack London — I was truly surprised to find this classic on any banned book list. This is an amazing work about a man and his dog fighting against the rugged Alaskan wilderness. Unfortunately, it’s not the tender, lovable dog story everyone wants to read. It was seen as too dark and violent for younger eyes. As I said earlier, I can understand helping younger readers find age appropriate books to help stir their imagination and I’ll support a parent’s right to do that. But this book invites the reader into adventures and perils unknown in today’s world. It’s timeless in its utter grasp of human fortitude. It’s easily London’s best novel. Quite simply, it’s a must read.
- 1984 & Animal Farm — Yep! George Orwell’s classics were banned in the Soviet Union and North Korea. Personally, I love both of these books. 1984 still scares the stuffing out of me every time I read it. Not because it was designed to be a horror story, but rather because so many instances within that work have now come to pass. Big Brother watches us from every street corner. Texting and political correctness are indeed forms of Newspeak. The parallels are uncanny and frightening. Personally, I believe everyone should read these works.
- Where the Wild Things Are — Honestly, I can’t even believe this work was ever seen as anything other that an amazing children’s book, but it too has been banned. Apparently, the violent overtones of monsters were too much for some parents and librarians. This completely baffles me.
Other famously banned books throughout the world:
- Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
- Beloved – Toni Morrison
- Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee – Dee Brown
- The Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
- Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
- For Whom the Bell Tolls — Earnest Hemingway
- Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
- The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
- The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Moby Dick – Herman Melville
- The Red Badge of Courage – Stephen Crane
- The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
- A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
- Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
- Lord of the Flies – William Golding
- Junie B. Jones (series) – Barbara Park
- Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
And the list could go on for pages.
So during this week long event, I encourage you, dear reader, to exercise your right to read books thought to be too dangerous for others. Broaden your mind with a banned book or simply relive the adventures you’ve already enjoyed. For each time you exercise your right to read, you are thwarting the Thought Police. You are saying, “I will not conform to the ideals of others. I will think for myself.”
Be bold. Be brave. Rebel against those who would seek to limit your ideas. Read a banned book!
Happy Reading and Down with Big Brother!