Thoughtful Thursday: Freedom to read

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

This week I want to take on a more serious topic than normal.  September 26th starts Banned Books Week, an annual observance of the importance of the First Amendment to protect your freedom to read.  This is especially pertinent to fantasy readers because young adult fantasy novels are frequently challenged.  The J.K. Rowling Harry Potter books and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series are two of the most challenged books over the last decade.  If Fantasy Literature’s motto is “Life’s too short to read bad books” then for the next week, let it be “Life’s too short not to read bad books.”

So this weekend I’ll be rereading one of the Harry Potter books to celebrate my ability to read whatever I want.  What will you be doing to celebrate your right to read?


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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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8 comments

  1. I will totally be reading AND TANGO MAKES THREE, the cutest and most challenged picture book! It’s not fantasy, but it’s adorable.

  2. I probably wouldn’t have bothered reading Harry Potter if it weren’t for the uproar about it. I wanted to make sure it was okay for my kids. I loved it, of course, and read all of them.
    Somewhat related: I just finished a Salman Rushdie novel.

  3. Just last night, I finished “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”. It was the sixth Potter book that I have read, aloud, to my children. We start the Deathly Hallows next, and they are 5 and 8 (they are particularly fond of my Hagrid and Delores Umbridge voices). As a Christian and avid fantasy lover, I have no difficulty with Harry Potter, and I am utterly convinced that the book-banning idiots have never read the books. Just like that bunch of raving maniacs in Texas who burned the Lord of the Rings as being satanic (the whole Middle Earth story is riddled with christian themes and metaphors, and Tolkien was a devout Catholic).

  4. rebecca /

    I once read an amusing article in the Onion in which a group of devout fundamentalist Christian teenagers decided to rebel by getting their hands on “The Catcher in the Rye”…only to be severely disappointed that it wasn’t anywhere near as risque as they thought it would be.

    Obviously the Onion is a satire, but I wonder if something like this has ever happened in real life. As everyone knows (except the book-banners themselves), a sure-fire way of getting everyone to read a book is to ban them from doing so.

  5. And one must remember that it is not just fundamentalist Christians who have committed this kind of ignorant crime, but persons of all different faiths who feel threatened by something that they don’t understand and don’t care to try to understand. Look at Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Rushdie has been under the threat of death for over 20 years since that book was published, because of his satirical treatment of a Mohammed-like figure (not Mohammed himself). Then there is the Hitler-esque type of banning by governments in the last few centuries, as a means of keeping political control.

    What those do who ban books without thought or investigation is deny themselves and others the chance to avoid ignorance, and in some cases, this is to protect their own positions of power and influence (Stalin, Castro, Hitler, Pinochet, etc.). In fact, some of them revel in their ignorance. I remember going to see Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (a rather indifferent and over-long film, in my opinion), and a woman trying to convince my brother and I to not see it because it told lies about Christ. I asked her if she had seen it, and she said no. Immediately, any persuasion that she might have had over me, and others in the line around me, was gone. Also, the fundamentalist opposition to the film that had some small part in my wanting to go see it.

  6. I was at opening night of Last Temptation here in Rochester (possibly even first in line) where we had a group of Christians protesting. I even got interviewed on the local news. As an English teacher, I’ve dealt with book complaints a lot–Things They Carried, Catcher, Cuckoo’s Nest, Handmaid’s Tale, etc. It’s often the case parents haven’t read the books, which was always frustrating. Then again, I had one administrator, when a parent complained about Handmaid’s, who read the book and highlighted in yellow everything she thought could be offensive. When we sat in a meeting with the principal the next day, the book looked like it had jaundice. I asked to see it and darn if I could figure out what was offensive about half of what she had highlighted. It was very depressing (she was a former social studies teacher). I eventually won out not on merits of an argument but because luckily the AP had Handmaid’s on their list of recommended books so the principal had someone to blame.

  7. I’m trying to decide between Wrinkle in Time and Farenheit 451. Maybe I’ll read both. I don’t get banning books. I did censor the books that my children picked out when they were younger if I felt there was content that wasn’t age appropriate. They are all now at an age where I’ve told them they are in charge of their own reading picks. I did give them all permission to toss any book they felt was wrong for them.
    Maybe I’ll go order that ‘I read banned books’ t-shirt to go with my ‘I read past my bedtime’ one.

  8. My family and I are going today to *hopefully* find some books we’ve been after for awhile, most of which (for me anyway) are fantasy, and hopefully get some reading done. I’d never heard of this banned books week before, but it seems like a good time to read !

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