Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Banned Books and a Mini-Challenge

As part of the Fall Read-A-Thon – a mini-challenge/task type thing was posted about Banned Books. This sparked my interest so if I find myself rambling, I’m sorry! The task was/is:

To look at the list of ‘Frequently Challenged Books’ here at The American Library Association’s website (check out the left hand list) and select a book that you’ve read and discuss why you read it, in particular, if this was because of its banned status etc. Then, share your thoughts on
the book and any other comments about whether you would recommend it etc.

The lists themselves make for some very interesting reading and I was genuinely surprised at the kinds of books that get challenged and/or banned and how many of those books I’ve actually read. Either I’m subliminally searching out controversy or I have a taste for books that upset everybody else…actually, what I suspect it is is that any book that’s popular for any length of time is challenged by a group of people who resent the influence that book may have over its generation. Take Harry Potter for example – I read and loved them along with most of the population but every time a new instalment came out, someone would try and taint it by moaning about its promotion of sadism and the occult…huh?!

Anyway, I chose the Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman.

Why? Two reasons:

1. It turns out it was the second most challenged book of 2009 (I hadn’t read #1…); and

2. I remember hearing about said challenges not long after I’d read them so I read at least one of the books in knowledge of their challenged status.

So, in line with this task: Why did I read [them]?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a great story about fighting oppression…my Dad bought them for me when I was about 15…

My thoughts: These three books start in Oxford, England and follow the adventures of Lyra and her animal-daemon Pantalaimon as they embark on a dangerous rescue mission to the ice kingdoms of the far north, where they begin to learn about the mysterious particles known as ‘Dust’, which could just start a war between worlds…

It was criticised, if I remember rightly, by Christian groups as some characters openly criticise institutional religion, the story flounts the traditional concept of heaven and there are somewhat wayward angels.

I loved the series and thought they were an amazing fantasy series that are suitable to young adults (and adults). I would recommend them to anyone who even remotely mentions a passing curiosity about them!

But, I suppose the key question would be, were the criticisms justified? No! I am pretty open-minded when it comes to what I read and I don’t take offense if a book contradicts my own opinions. With this, the story is so fantastical that any criticisms of religion are set up and fit in the story and, as Pullman himself said about the issue, they’re characters…not real people and not a way for him to air his views. Enjoy them for what they are and you’ll be fine 🙂 And you should read them – they’re fabulous!

  • The whole controversy that surrounded this book and when the movie came out made me sick! I remember I got into a heated discussion with some religious right-wingers about it on a forum. My point was that if I didn't sense any Christian undertones from The Chronicles of Narnia when I read them when I was a pre-teen, I didn't think that a pre-teen would sense any anti-religion undertones in the Dark Materials books unless an adult pointed them out. I mean, I was in my late 30s when I read the first book and I didn't even hardly notice. It's just not that blatant. I thought the book was a great fantasy and I can't wait to read the other two. And my boys will be welcome to read them, if they so choose.

    Great choice, Charlotte! Thanks for sharing.

    Are you in the UK?

  • Hi Michelle! My thoughts exactly – it's nonsensical and just means that people read the books without enjoying the story as much because they're waiting for religious controversy that they otherwise wouldn't even have noticed. I always think that people who criticise books in this way are missing out on so much while being so offended…And I would like to think that I'll be able to share books with my children (when I have them…) and that they will enjoy reading and engaging with different ideas in a positive way.

    And yes, I'm in the UK – northern England to be precise 🙂