By Maggie James
The naughty parade - why these books have aroused disapproval
Recently, I published a post about how one of my author friends had his book rejected for sale here in the UK. Today I’d like to explore the wider issue of book censorship.
So why ban books? A number of justifications can be put forward. Moral reasons are often cited, with books being prohibited for content relating to sexual matters or for promoting social degeneracy. Political motives are also often a factor; repressive governments ban books they view as threatening or subversive.
Religion is another leading cause. Spiritual leaders seek to shield the faithful from ideas that run counter to the tenets of that religion. This includes scriptures from other faiths; the Bible, along with other religious works, is prohibited in several countries, including North Korea.
You might think that book banning is restricted to repressive governments or religious extremism. But no. Books are still banned today throughout the world, and for a wide variety of reasons, although the level of censorship varies from one country to another.
Let's look at a selection of books that have faced censorship.
1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J K Rowling, 1997 – banned on religious grounds
Can you believe it? Surely it’s just a charming novel that appeals to both children and adults, in which Harry Potter discovers he's a wizard? Nope, to some it’s more insidious. Many US states banned and burned it for promoting witchcraft, and the book has been prohibited in some Christian schools in the UK.
2. Lady Chatterley's Lover - D. H. Lawrence, 1928 – banned for sexual content
The most famous of Lawrence's novels, Lady Chatterley's Lover shocked Britain in 1928 with its story of an affair between a sexually repressed upper-class woman and her husband’s gamekeeper. The book includes descriptions of anal sex and female orgasm, deemed too offensive to read at the time. The full unexpurgated version was not published in the UK until 1960, testing the new obscenity laws created by the Obscene Publications Act of 1959.
3. Animal Farm – George Orwell , 1945– banned on political grounds
This book is particularly appropriate to include because Orwell’s novel demonstrates the importance of democracy and freedom of speech. At first blush, it appears to be a fable about life on a farm, with talking pigs and dogs. The farmyard is, however, a metaphor for a deeper message about totalitarianism and corruption. In the 1940s, Allied forces found the book critical of the USSR, one of the UK’s allies in World War Two, and therefore too controversial to print.
4. Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging - Louise Rennison, 1999 – banned as unsuitable for minors
I had to include this book on the grounds of its title alone!
The first in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, the novel's frank discussion of boys, along with references to lesbianism, pornography, and erect penises have made it a target for censorship in US schools.
5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll – banned (in my view) on grounds that are simply daft!
This children’s book was banned in Hunan, China, because it depicted animals acting with the same complexity as humans. The rationale was that attributing human language to animals was an insult to humans, leading children to regard people and animals on the same level. In the censor’s view, that would be disastrous.
Where do we draw the line?
Didn't our Chinese friend have better matters with which to concern himself? Wouldn't some of the uptight individuals who banned the books I've mentioned have done better to chill out and go have fun?
The thing is, they're a reflection of the cultural norms in which they found themselves. Views of what’s acceptable change according to the spirit of the times. Nowadays, the sexual content of Lady Chatterley’s Lover seems tame. Harry Potter as propaganda promoting witchcraft? Bizarre - unless you’re a religious fundamentalist from the US’s Bible Belt.
Isn’t it ironic that banning books often leads people to desire to read them? We never quite lose the childhood lure of the forbidden. There are websites devoted to banned books, and Banned Books Week is an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read, held during the last week in September.
As somebody who loves books, I find the idea of banning them abhorrent. Even worse is the practice of biblioclasm, the public and ceremonial destruction of written material. In many cases, the works destroyed are irreplaceable, representing a tragic loss of cultural heritage. Examples include the burning of books under China's Qin Dynasty and the Nazi book burnings.
I believe some restrictions are appropriate. I’m against children having access to pornography, for example. Material promoting terrorism might also be justifiably banned. Other than that, I don’t see why adults can’t read whatever they choose, however offensive someone else may deem it. Why should the values of others dictate my reading choices?
We tread a dangerous path when we issue decrees about what’s suitable to read and what’s not. How far do we take censorship? Am I right in believing pornography shouldn’t be available to children? If my views are accommodated, shouldn't the concerns of the anti-Harry Potter brigade be given equal weight? Where do we draw the line? I don't pretend to know the answer, but I suspect it's best to err on the side of freedom rather than suppression.
Let's hear from you!
Do banned books entice and intrigue you with their aura of wickedness? Do you uphold the banning of certain books, and if so, which ones, and why? Leave a comment and let me know!
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