Thursday, October 2, 2008

Banned Books Week: A Blogger's Editorial

September 27 - October 4, 2008 is national "Banned Books Week" -- which celebrates the freedom to read -- the "freedom of speech".

I've seen a few blogs on this subject and this morning while taking a walk with my daughter I saw a sign at the local bookshop. I hadn't planned to post on this, but while walking an idea popped into my head, which I thought post worthy.

The first book that came to mind when I saw the "Banned Book Week" sign was the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. While these books have not been banned world-wide they have caused quite a controversy over the years and have been banned in some places, particularly amongst conservative Christian circles.

While I've read some minor objections, the main one seems to be based on the fact that the Harry Potter series are about witchcraft and wizardry and are thus evil. When the books were first published in the 1990s I had no intention of ever reading them. My opinion was based off other's opinions -- "the books were bad" -- it was not based on any research of my own. It was what I call a "lemming opinion."

You may be shocked to learn that I have since changed my position, but please hear me out...

About six years ago I picked up a copy of the first Harry Potter movie and decided to watch it with the intention that if it turned out to be as evil as others claimed it to be I'd turn it off without finishing it. I quickly found it to be nothing like I had heard. Yes, it's a story about a boy who goes to school to learn to be a wizard, but it is more than that. The story deals with good fighting evil, it deals with true friendship, loyalty, adventure, mystery, and so much more, all the while split between real-world and fantasy settings. After watching the movie I decided to check out the books.

While they are not nearly as quality literature as J.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (or so I've heard, having not read the trilogy myself) or C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, it could be compared to them. They are all set in a magical fantasy type-world, two spend time split between the real world and the fantasy world. All three have lessons that are learned and all three focus on the truth that there is evil in the world and good must triumph over evil.

I decided to go ahead and continue reading the series knowing full well if it got to a point that I found it necessary to stop, I would. I never did and I read the last book this past summer.

I have decided the following. The Harry Potter books are fun, exciting and entertaining. I liked J. K. Rowling's writing style -- it was easy to understand, it was fast paced, and very illustrative. There is no need for pictures in the book, her choice of words paints wonderful pictures for the imagination. As far as their "teaching" -- they in no way led me to want to research and study witchcraft. Instead they had me rooting for the good guys who were fighting the bad guys. They may be books I will let my children read some day, but only because I have read them and only when they are an appropriate age.

I encourage parents to get involved in their children's reading. Read the book first, read the book together. Be prepared to discuss matters and instruct you child in the way they should go -- no matter if it's The Cat in the Hat or Little House on the Prairie or Harry Potter. As far as fantasy, I believe if you can share The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, or even Star Wars with your children or enjoy them yourself -- then there's room for Harry Potter. Because if it's possible for there to be a good witch and an evil witch in The Wizard of Oz or in The Lord of the Rings, than it's possible for Harry Potter. However, if you have an objection to these books/movies than Harry Potter is not for you and that's ok too.

I have no intention of converting everyone into Harry Potter fans, but I do wish each person to draw their own conclusions and convictions based on their own research, the facts, and their own convictions -- not just because someone (particularly the someones who haven't read the books) told them not to.

As for book banning... It's a very sensitive matter. If one person can justify banning a book because they feel it's evil or in bad taste than that person should be prepared when others choose to ban books that that particular person might consider "good" simply because of a differing worldview. Free speech and the freedom to read is a powerful tool and should be handled with caution or not handed at all. Not to say there should not be individual choice. A person should have the freedom to choose what books they will or will not read and should have the freedom to choose what books they will or will not let their children read.

In closing, if you have a post on book banning or have thoughts on the Harry Potter series or book banning please leave a comment with your thoughts or link to your blog.


Carrie said...

Excellent post and thoughts. I haven't read the Harry Potter series. I DID read the first one and thought it was entertaining. Then as it grew darker in subject matter I became less enthralled. I don't necessarily have anything AGAINST Harry.....precisely because I haven't read the series well enough to know it! But I tend to stay away from dark spiritual warfare (for my own personal reasons/reaction to it!) and Harry struck me that way. That's not to say that I wouldn't read it in the future or anything. I'm without conclusion. I just know it's not for right now.

At any rate -- good thoughts. And Lord of the Rings?! Sarah!!!

Sarah M. said...

Yeah, I know, I know... horrors that I've not read Lord of the Rings. I hated the first movie, tolerated the second and was relieved by the third. Perhaps I'd feel differently about the books? I've just never thought to try them. I suppose I should add them to my "To Be Read" list for 2009... if you can make it through W&D and be bored and you can take on Bleak House, though you don't like Dickens, I suppose I can take on LOTR. :)

As far as HP growing darker, it did - it got dark before the dawn, which is how I viewed LOTR. If I had stopped with movie 1 I would have hated it forever, but movie 3 redeemed everything I hated about movie 1. But I respect your position. Each person should be able to decide for themselves what they wish to read -- and not feel the pressure of those who dislike or love a book. said...

No book has been banned in the USA for many decades. Read "National Hogwash Week" and the many links contained therein.

Kids Napping? I'm Scrapping! said...

Hi Sarah,
I think this is a great topic of discussion. I, too, avoided anything having to do with the infamous, "evil" Harry Potter books for many years. I am still sorting out how I feel about them especially after reading the first book a few years ago. I was required to read it for a Children's Literature class (at a religious college of all places). I continue to think it was a compelling read, and I can see how a young reader would be proud of reading a lengthy chapter book so full of adventure.
I think it's an annoying inconsistency that kids have been watching a variety of things with dark undertones, yet nobody complains; when kids start reading things with similar themes, then it's a problem.
I have always been one to encourage reading, but I also believe that a reader should be discerning. I think that it should be left up to the reader.
Hope I made sense!
Kindly, Jessica

Sarah M. said...

Safelibraries, thanks for your comment. The point of my article was not to herald "Banned Book Week" as a current problem -- I really haven't paid any attention to it -- my point was to discuss a book that has been "banned" by certain groups of people. I also wanted to discuss why I believe it's important to keep an open mind and not just leap after hearing one person's point of view.

It's a great thing that we have such freedom in the US. The very fact that there is no national "banned books" list today is a wonderful thing. Although it was not always so.

I don't agree however that there are not books "banned" or "censored" by certain groups, I've known it to happen, though I suppose if they are a private entity it's their prerogative.

Jena said...

re: not reading LOTR series--I quit after the first one. I didn't like Tolkien's style and figured the movies were well adapted (based on what I had read and what my sister, who did read them, said).