Friday, December 07, 2007


Claire sent me a review for The Golden Compass film today. It appears the religious right are up in arms for the books anti-church stance and the atheist left are disgruntled because they feel the film has been toned down in relation to the book. I can't really give my opinion either way on this point as I have not seen the film yet. But this wee intro does lead me into giving my opinion; quite forthrightly at that too.

When I first arrived in Paris, many, many moons ago, I didn't know about a young wizard with a lightning shaped scar on his forehead, and I didn't know that books were banned, but I was struck by the enormous tomes that my young students seemed to be dragging around with them. Having been open-minded enough to let one of my reading groups force me into reading a Redwall saga, I had then rather narrowmindedly shoved all those books in the 'large' category into my slush pile of 'never to be read' books.

I asked a colleague to tell me about the Harry Potter books, and while she lovingly stroked the cover of her book she did nothing to convince me to read it. Meanwhile 'His Dark Materials' was doing the rounds. I picked it up one day when I found it on one students table and couldn't get my head round the first page. It was Oxford, but not as I knew it. And what were these daemon thingies?

What did finally encourage me to pick up a copy of 'Northern Lights' was when the Librarian informed me that she was thinking of sending the set to the High School.

"Why?" I asked.

"I think it's too difficult for the students. If they don't read it, they are big books and it takes up room on the shelves. I could get other books."

It seemed like a convincing argument except I had seen many a student reading it. So I asked the students about it. They described the worlds and the characters and what they really liked about the books. I became a little more interested.

"The kids seem to understand the books." I told the Librarian the following week.

"Oh." The Librarian got shifty. "One of the parents brought it back. She didn't think it was suitable for her child."

I shrugged. "That's her choice as a parent."

"It's on the banned list in the States."

"Excuse me!"

We had a rather heated debate which may have involved a few words I shouldn't have been uttering even in hushed tones in the library, but the upshot of it, was that I would read it and decide whether the set should stay or not.

Nowadays, I don't think I would have agreed to the last bit of that agreement. Having said that, I am glad that I got past the first page of the book, because I thoroughly enjoyed it and having to wait three weeks to get the Subtle Knife was hellishly long. But that's not the point.

The point of libraries are there to encourage reading and to help a child develop. Think of the child who does not have the privilege to buy a brand new book, but can borrow it from their local library. Is it then the role of the library to decide if it is acceptable or not? No.

I don't think a public library is too different from a school library, it functions under the constraints of budget and space. And if it isn't being read then, that might be a reason to not keep a book. But should it be swayed by the views of minority extreme groups? No.

The hope is that the Library is the one place that is there as a neutral ground to provide the reading material and it is up to the readers to choose whether they want to read it or not.

I'm glad that I managed to get through life for so long without realising that books were banned (well apart from 'Lady Chatterly's Lover'). I'm also glad that having scanned a most Banned Books list that I have read quite a few of the books.

Meanwhile, I will continue to encourage children to read 'quality' literature and they will continue to check out 'Garfield' books. And when I look down the stairs and wonder why Martin hasn't made it up with the rest of the class I will smile when I see him with his nose stuck in the Garfield book, chuckling away.


Minx said...

I liked Northern Lights and the second, The Subtle Knife, but he lost his beans on the last one. It will be interesting to see how the films(?) deal with it.

Don't get me on encouraging reading. I think more books should be banned - it encourages subversive reading. Wish someone would get mine banned!

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I loved His Dark Materials - was hooked from the first page of the first one and devoured the lot. I recall at the time there being a lot of huff and puff about the anti religious stance and I remember reading a few interviews with Pullman where he spoke about his views on that. When he sold the movie rights he made a decision, that unlike JKR, he would not get involved with the making of the movie since it was apparent that the "religious" tone would be played down, given the film was being made by Americans.

As for banned books - well, growing up here, then, piles and piles of books were banned from Das Kapital to Lady Chatterley's Lover and a whole lot in between!

Anonymous said...

couldn't agree more with your last paragraph. "quality" books such as "Holes" and "Hoot" should be checked out. how about "Tin Tin"?

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I have a standing rule about banned books.

If it's banned it ought to be read and very probably added to my library.

Problem solved.

Books are banned by people who can't see very far.

PS - I did a Christmas meme and I'd love it if you played along... what's this holiday like in Paris? Come by and check it out.

Merry Christmas!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Aine said...

The Harry Potter fandom introduced me to the banned books list-- they celebrate "Banned Books Week" every year (it's in early October). The list is a great resource when I'm looking for a book to read.

Debi said...

I loved the whole trilogy (though couldn't quite grasp the creatures on wheel things ...).

What amazed me is that the books are actually very spiritual - anti organised religion only.

Great post, V.

kyklops said...

I'm with Wanderlust--if it's banned, if somebody doesn't want me to read it, then by "default" it becomes good (at least temporarily) and should be read.
BTW: My verifying word is lyhion...

Sam said...

Oh, I love banned books. I keep hoping one of mine will get banned. I had a few comments from the religious right about my 'Angles on Crusade' and got my hope soaring, but apparently speaknig up against the inquisition is all right.
I try to get my daughter to read quality books, but she insists on reading 'The Saddle Club', to my despair. However, she IS reading, and that is what counts.

Sam said...

And that really should read Angels on Crusade.


kimy said...

v - wander over to the mouse there's a noisy cadeau which is waiting to go home with you!

re the post....if it's banned it's gotta be good! can't wait to get my tail to the movies!

Verilion said...

Ooh gosh I have been abandoning this blog recently. Hi Minx, yes I was a bit doubtful of the last book. I've seen the film now and actually wasn't too disappointed. Yep if the book is banned there tends to be a good old tale behind it, not always subversive though. The people who are keen to ban books seem to get offended by what they think they perceive rather than what is actually there.
And Vanilla and then when you read those books did you wonder what all the fuss was about?
Was Holes banned? Damn! I loved that book and it was the kids who put me onto that one!
Hi Scarlett, this Christmas in Paris is hectic partly because in 3 days I'm on a plane off to India! Sorry I'm being a party pooper and not joining in, but I do promise to tell you all about India.
And Aine and Kyklops, couldn't agree more.
Hi Sam, I was wondering what was so contentious about Angles on a crusade ;) and yep at least your daughter is reading. Then slip in Black Beauty and some other classics with horses in it. Eh, can't think of anything else, but I'm thinking...
And Hi Kimy I popped over and Thank you so very much. I'm off to India on Friday, the cat went on holiday on Sunday and the computer goes for its yearly service tomorrow! If I don't post before I go, I am extremely grateful and will do so in Janaury. Thanks again.


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