Saturday, October 6, 2007

Harry Potter and the Censor's Flames

My friend Luminiferous Ether has an interesting post on banned books from the site. I plucked this piece from there:

Harry Potter snuck up on me.

In 1999, I'd yet to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when a South Carolina librarian reported that parents were seeking to remove the book from school libraries and classroom. Naturally, I was curious as to what was behind this attempt to censor a popular children's book that, by all reports, was encouraging even reluctant readers to settle in for hours of reading.

Then came the deluge - literally hundreds of challenges to J.K. Rowling's epic fantasy about a young wizard's fight against the ultimate evil. Since the beginning of the millennium, the Harry Potter books have been among the most frequently challenged books in libraries and schools in this country.

The reasons given for keeping the book from young readers generally center around witchcraft - but other complaints focus on the series' theme about challenging adult authority: "the books contain lying and smart-aleck retorts to adults," "the books will lead children to hatred and rebellion," "the books are telling children over and over again that lying, cheating, and stealing are not only acceptable, but that they're cool and cute."

Too often, these challenges were successful in removing the Harry Potter books from school classrooms, libraries, and reading lists. Finally, in 2003, a student in Cedarville, Ark., filed a federal lawsuit challenging her school district's restrictions on the Harry Potter series - and succeeded in winning First Amendment protection for young Harry. Even so, the campaign to keep the Harry Potter series out of the hands of children continues, led most recently by a Gwinnett County, Ga., mother who believes the series is an "evil" attempt to indoctrinate children in the Wicca religion. She wants to replace the books with others that promote a Judeo-Christian world view, like the "Left Behind" series.

I believe, in fact, that what some parents and adults find most threatening about the Potter series is what engages young minds and fires the imagination of young people- Rowling's willingness to deal with the truth that adults in children's lives can sometimes be unthinking, authoritarian, and even evil. The best books always have raised questions about the status quo - and are the most threatening to censors who want to control what young persons read and think about. Like the tyrannical Defense Against Dark Arts Professor Dolores Umbridge, who insisted on providing a "risk-free" education to the young wizards at Hogwarts, they would limit education and information to facts so incontestable that they arouse no controversy at any level, thereby leaving young people unequipped to think about and address larger questions about the nature of our society.

It's been wonderful to see how Harry has brought an entire generation of young people back to reading - back to grappling with allegories, stories, and ideas. So I contemplate the series' conclusion with some sadness, even as I know that we'll be dealing with Harry Potter for a long, long time, due to the books' quality and unstinting popularity. Similar to literature like Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn, and The Color Purple, Harry will always find a way into the censor's crosshairs. I hope that Harry's popularity will continue to focus a light on censorship. Bringing attention to the workings of censorship, in my opinion, provides the best defense against it.

Judith Krug is the director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). The OIF sponsors Banned Books Week, September 29 - October 6, an annual celebration for the Freedom to Read. Observed the last week of September since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take the precious democratic freedom to read for granted.


Ed said...

I won't disagree with Ms. Krugs stance on the banning of books, but putting Harry Potter in the same class as Of Mice and Men, Catcher in the Rye and Huck Finn? That's quite a stretch. I've said it before and I'll say it again; the Harry Potter books, while they may be amusing, are badly written, period. Period.

poodledoc said...

Well, Ed, you've got a point. But what if getting back into reading with the Harry Potter books LEADS the child to the classics you mentioned. I agree, those books are far superior as literature and much better writing. They are NOT in the same class. But banning ANY book disturbs me.

Ed said...

I agree. No one, with the exception of your own parents when you're very young, should have the power to determine what you can and can't read. I do enjoy dissing J.K. Rowling, though. I'm practising so I can be a curmudgeon when I get old.

Garten said...

Haven't read Harry, yet, but I intend to. :)

Btw, you've been tagged for a book meme, if you're in the mood (see my site).