This week is Banned Books week.
I’ve always – somewhat naively no doubt – believed the books were predominantly banned for A Good Reason. But, having taken a look at some of the books banned, all I can surmise is that my idea of A Good Reason and that of the various authorities who’ve been busy banning, is quite different.
Probably the most eye-opening of the reasons I’ve discovered today relates to Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit and Tale of Benjamin Bunny, both of which were banned in London schools in 1985 by the Inner London Education Authority “for their portrayal of exclusively ‘middle-class rabbits'”. Huh? This surprising knowledge made me check on Richard Adams’ Watership Down and – yup – it too received a ban from certain education authorities in the USA, New York State amongst them. There was no mention made of the middle classness (or otherwise) of the rabbits however …
Two notable banned classics on the subject of war are Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The former appears on the list as the citizens of the town of Strongsville, Ohio (and others) found the language used in the novel to be indecent, whilst the latter was banned by no less an authority than the Nazi party upon its rise to power between the World Wars, as the book appeared to convey a noticeable anti-war expression and denied the national glory, love and the illusion that Germans are the superior race in the world. A good demonstration – if ever one needed to be found – that there’s a good range to the ways folks will take offence.
I wondered if there was any pattern to book banning internationally and – odd quirks aside – it seems to break down into 4 main categories …
The USSR and China principally ban on the basis of politics, although China has also banned on religious grounds (for insulting Islam) and Lebanon has been surprisingly prolific in banning books for their “positive depiction of Jews”. The West (apologies for the sweeping generalisation there) seems primarily to ban on the basis of morality – or rather obscenity – with Australia having an interestingly precise term: “potential risk to students in the delivery of this material, if not taught sensitively and in an age appropriate manner.”
Another regularly banned author that surprised me is Judy Blume – author of, amongst others, Are You There God? It’s me Margaret – a tale of a young girl on the cusp of puberty who’s also trying to navigate her way between her parents’ different faiths (Jewish father, Christian mother). This book seems to have been banned variously on the subjects of morality and/or religion. And whilst I get that not everyone would want to read a young girl’s inner thoughts on menstruation, her lack of breasts, and boys, it’s hardly worthy of a ban. Or am I going mad?
And that’s the point at which I return to Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. It’s a mad, mad world out there, with a whole heap of bodies trying to “protect” us from all manner of stuff. But surely banning books is taking it too far. I mean, I wonder how many people went out of their way to read a book because it was banned (I’ll admit to seeking out Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses for this very reason). Let’s not forget that the Catholic church getting all aerated over Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code had an enormous impact on his sales – I bet they wished they’d kept quiet and allowed it to sink without trace.
© Debra Carey, 2017