Banned Books …

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 …

  • morality
  • religion
  • politics
  • security

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

7 comments

  1. Wow, I always knew Peter Rabbit was evil😂😂😂. Seriously though, middle class rabbits?! I can understand some do the others being banned for discussing controversial topics, but that one seems a tad extreme!

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  2. Ah, Banned Books Week! I discovered it several years ago. I’ve done a few virtual readouts – To Kill A Mockingbird, Pullman’s Northern Lights… I set up a virtual readout by my students one year, it was the most successful library lunchtime activity I ever did. They didn’t do it on line, though I gave them the option to do it themselves, but we made a DVD. We called it “Book Club Fights Back.” It’s a disadvantaged school and my budget was about $3500 a year, so we needed something cheap to do. All it required was a camera, a computer, a few blank DVDs and a bit of my time. If you’re at all interested, look it up on my blog – I called the post by the name of the activity.
    The kids were shocked to learn what was on the banned books list, including some of their favourites – and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time, which they were studying for Year 10 English. One read from Harry Potter, another from Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, another The Diary Of Anne Frank, a young man read from To Kill A Mockingbird… There was even a Year 8 boy who brought in his own battered, much-loved copy of Robert Harris’s The Silence Of The Lambs! Well, I wasn’t his mother and she had no objections.
    As a school librarian, I’m very much aware of the censorship issue. And yes, it does lead to higher sales. I read The Da Vinci Code and I agree that without that fuss by the Church it would have sunk without a trace after maybe 30-50,000 copies at most – and only that many because the U.S. population is so big. In my country it would have been around 1/10 of that many copies.

    Goodness, banning Beatrix Potter for middle class characters? There goes the whole Victorian era in literature! There goes Kenneth Grahame. There go most of the current YA books.

    But people can be so STUPID. They ban books they have never read. A friend of mine wrote a picture book called The Paw, about a girl cat burglar, who only stole from the baddies to give to the poor, and it was banned for implying that crime paid.

    And speaking of crime, I only discovered this year that one of MY books, a children’s history of crime in Australia, had been withdrawn from some primary school libraries! The kids love it, but in one case they were upset because too many younger kids were reading it. One of them was in my Year 7 English class and told me about this. I gave him a copy, signing it, “You are now old enough to read this book. Enjoy!” He read it in a weekend. And I was so careful when writing it, to make it a bit naughty, but nothing that would give children nightmares. I’m betting that those who ban it never get past the cover. Oh, well…

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    1. But Wind in the Willows has characters from all socio-economic backgrounds!

      Would you like us to make a big deal out of the fact that your book has been banned? Happy to mention it on Twitter and see if we can get you into the Top 10 in time for Christmas! :0)

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  3. Now that’s what I call a fantastic project for Banned Books week! I’ll be looking out that blog post and giving it a bump to inspire others.

    I also couldn’t agree more on about books getting banned despite their not being read. I’ve recently read a ghost story – a genre I avoid like the plague – because I assumed the book was science based due to its title. More fool me, even though I was fortunate on this occasion in finding it a very good read. I’m sure many books ended up getting banned for their titles, PR blurb, or even just the opening pages. Ridiculous!

    I hope the situation over your book gets resolved as it sounds utterly bonkers – political correctness gone crazy.

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  4. I read my kids all of the Beatrix Potter books when they were little. Absolutely loved them! Maybe, though, that is why my kids don’t like to read as teenagers. Oh, the audacity of reading banned books to my children!!

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  5. D’you know, I never thought of that. I did wonder if reading Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” to my daughter turned her towards the dark! 🙂

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