Another Year of Banned Books
Merry met, my dear readers. It seems my blog has been around for another year. And it has been quite the year here at the Bound and Gagged Banned Books Blog. One of my posts was Freshly Pressed, another was quoted in The Huffington Post, and we went from about 50 followers to over 2,000. So whether you’re new to the blog or have stuck by us since the beginning, thank you. Thank you for reading, sharing, commenting, and taking the time to come to our little corner of the internet.
This year we also gained two excellent writers. Hannah and Victoria Lepore were both kind enough to grace the blog with their thoughts, rants, and insights, joining me and Elliot Oberholtzer on our banned book crusade. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all three of them for contributing to the blog, for taking the time to write such thoughtful reviews, and for being generally awesome human beings.
I hope you’ll all stick with us for yet another year of banned book reviews, censorship news, and the occasional nerdrage. Banned Books Week is fast approaching, so check back for more Bound and Gagged goodness (not nearly as kinky as it sounds). In the meantime, enjoy this look back at the last year of banned book reviews.
This Year’s Reviews in Retrospect
Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
This perennial classic got caught up in a strange modern-day witchhunt seeking to purge “the study of materials containing information about witchcraft, magic, evil spells, or related material, now and forever” as “this material is satanic, a danger to our children, is being studied excessively and has no place in our schools” (qtd in Connecticut Residents Seek to Ban Two Newbery Medal Winners from School). Despite having no actual speculative elements outside of the children’s imagination, the book is banned for violent, occult, and Satanic content, as well as offensive language. Still others took issue with the main character’s best friend, citing her as poor role model due to her lack of church attendance. Other issues with the book include concern that it teaches profanity and disrespect to adults, that its imaginary content may confuse children, and that its inclusion of death and grief is too sad for a children’s book.
Due to this, the movie was a hard sell and the writer’s son (whose childhood friend’s death inspired the novel) had to fight to keep the ending intact, as some wanted to remove the death central to the novel’s message in favor of injury or temporary coma. Many film critics also seemed confused about whether or not the children’s imaginary kingdom was real, likely due to its expanded role and poor marketing choices that pushed the movie as a Narnia-esque fantasy romp instead of a non-speculative coming-of-age story.
Carrie, Stephen King
The book that launched Stephen King’s career has been banned and challenged for its obscene language, violent and sexual content, and concern as to what effect that content may have on impressionable young female readers. It was rejected many times before publication for its negative/dystopian worldview, nearly causing Stephen King to give up writing altogether. Likely due to the controversy (and/or perhaps budgetary limitations), the original 1976 film adaptation cuts much of the finale and its more morally ambiguous elements.
Blood and Chocolate, Annette Curtis Klause
This YA paranormal romance has been banned and challenged due to religious viewpoint, sexually explicit content, and being unsuited to age group. As romance/erotica, horror, and YA are some of the more ban-prone genres, it’s not surprising that a burgeoning trend combining all three attracted the censors, with this book getting caught in the crossfire.
Despite the book being banned, the controversy surrounding the author’s stance on homosexuality, and concerns that the movie’s profits may in turn help him fund anti-homosexual groups, the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game failed to live up to book, likely due its lack of, ahem, space balls, skirting around the book’s controversial content and playing safe instead.
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
Like the rest of The Hunger Games Trilogy, Catching Fire has been widely banned and challenged for its violent and satanic (?) content, offensive language, and perceived anti-ethnic and anti-family (???) stance. None of this harmed sales, however, as the movie adaptation burned the notion that female-led action movies don’t sell to a nice, blackened, District-12-worthy crisp. While frequent book challenges and lingering controversy over the casting continued, the movie was groundbreaking and has been praised along with the books for its gender representations, its accessibility across gender lines, and its less gilded look at the price and reality of war.
The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
To mix things up, Hannah decided to take a look at a book that she actually found objectionable, examining this novel’s disturbing content, including animal cruelty, black magic, offensive implications about gender, psychotic child killers, and a wanton disregard for human life.
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
This paranormal classic was at the forefront of the vampire trend of the 80s and 90s and so, not surprisingly, was also at the forefront of the moral panic surrounding it. One of the first horror novels to be written from the vampire’s point of view, the book likely courted controversy for its paranormal and sexual content, as well as its more morally ambiguous viewpoint.
“The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)”, The Reduced Shakespeare Company
When the RSC turned their irreverent academic homages on the Bible, their show was temporarily canceled and banned from a theatre in Northern Ireland over its alleged anti-Christian content. Due to an outpouring of support from Christians and non-Christians alike, the decision was reversed within 24 hours. Despite the inconvenience, the controversy seemed to have helped rather than hurt as the RSC later performed their sold-out show to a packed audience, receiving a standing ovation.
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
25 years ago, a holy decree was issued against this allegedly blasphemous novel and its author, calling for the assassination of everyone involved with its publication. The book was subsequently pulled from many bookstores. This uproar likely influenced the way book censors in areas prone to religious turmoil operate.
The Biggest Little Bird, Pam Hopkins
Though not a banned book, I reviewed the recently published magical surrealism novel of a friend and fellow Hampshire alum. Despite its whimsical setting and style, the book does deal with some dark subject matter and a variety of topics that some readers may find uncomfortable or morally grey. Therefore, you should definitely check it out. It’s a quick read and well worth it.
The Golden Compass a.k.a. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
Not surprisingly, religious and political viewpoint were the main charges against this YA speculative fiction classic, accused by many of an anti-Christian message. Other issues include violent content and drug use in the form of wine and poppy. Attempts to remove the book from schools and libraries became widespread due to a campaign against the movie adaptation, led in large part by Catholic groups.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey
Somehow the Captain Underpants series keeps topping the banned books list. Issues include violent, anti-family, and sexually explicit content, as well as offensive language and the series being unsuited to age group. The series has also been accused of sexism.
The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
The second installment in the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Subtle Knife is banned for many of the same reasons as its predecessor, The Golden Compass. However, this more mature sequel abandons its witch, armored bear, steampunk cowboy, and gyspy (excuse me, *Gyptian*) laden adventure for a story more focused on science and philosophy. Despite this, the book never for a moment doubts or talks down to its readers, a frequent hallmark of banned books targeted at children and teens. The book also introduces a plot to kill God, so, y’know, there’s that.
The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
In addition to the issues with the series as a whole and the act of killing God being central to the plot, the final installment in the His Dark Materials trilogy also has been challenged, banned, and censored for an ambiguous passage that the author insists is no more than a kiss but many believe to be a depiction of underage sex between the two middle school age protagonists. The passage was controversial enough that it was removed in some publications.
Though it expanded upon the fairly short book and made some of its more disturbing (read: meaningful or relevant) aspects more palatable, the long-time-coming, nervously-anticipated movie adaptation of the children’s classic (and the original YA dystopia, thank you) did not disappoint.
Other Awesome Things This Year
- Last fall I was invited to do a guest post for Articulate & Intricate for Banned Books Week. I was asked to talk a little bit about Banned Books Week and the history of banned books, with a particular focus on the history of comic book censorship. It seems we were just ahead of the times, as this year’s Banned Books Week will also focus on comic books/graphic novels to bring attention to an oft-maligned and oft-censored medium.
- Last December I was featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed. My post shared and discussed another post on Book Riot and the issues it raises about parental censorship, shared reading time, and talking to your kids about what they read and what they think of it. Many readers weighed in with their thoughts, opinions, and experiences (whether as kids or parents).
- One of several posts I wrote on the popularity and influence of The Hunger Games Trilogy was quoted in an article on The Huffington Post about the Nerf Rebelle archery toy line targeting girls (likely those who are fans of The Hunger Games) and whether or not it is sexist in its design and marketing approach. The HuffPo article got the name of my blog wrong and mistakenly stated that Merida of Disney Pixar’s Brave and Katniss of The Hunger Games use crossbows when that is not the case. However, errors aside, I’ll still take the win. You can read my follow-up and clarifications of my opinion here.
- Earlier this year, I interviewed Pam Hopkins, author of the magical surrealism novel, The Biggest Little Bird. In the interview we talked about writing, (self-)publishing, the role of historical accuracy in a fictional work, and the hurdles of lesser-known or lesser-defined genres.
- Another friend and fellow Hampshire alum interviewed me about my thoughts on the place of women in horror. This was part of a larger project of hers for which she gathered the opinions of writers, librarians, and local teens.
Thank you all again for joining us this year. Stay tuned for more banned bookishness. If you want more reviews of comics and graphic novels, my friendly neighborhood comic book expert over at Reviews by Lantern’s Light has plenty to share. If you are interested in some non-banned-book related content, check out my personal blog, Salt and Iron.