Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Banned Books: Be A Pilgrim

By Angie James

Even the movies acknowledge the need for books (we could talk about how many movies wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the books that came before, but that’s another topic for another day). I have a great fondness for the Indiana Jones movies. To me, it’s a lot like watching a romance novel. Strong hero, action, adventure, passion and even if Indy doesn’t get a Happily Ever After, he does get a Happy For Now. Satisfying.

I think my favorite is actually the last one, with Sean Connery playing Professor Henry Jones, Indiana’s father. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the movie, they’re searching for the Holy Grail. You know, THE Holy Grail. Rumored to gift eternal life if you drink from it. But they’re not the only ones. The movie takes place during the 1930s, at a time when Adolf Hitler was gaining power and spreading his message, and wouldn’t eternal life have been seductive to someone like him, or those following him? The adventure takes Indiana and his father through Nazi-Germany and has them witnessing a Nazi parade and an absolute atrocity: the, I would call it gleeful, burning of books.

Henry turns to Indiana and comments, “My son, we're pilgrims in an unholy land.” The scene, and that quote, while brief, is powerful to those of us who have a love for the written word and still gives me goose bumps when I see it.

Of course, this is not the only popular movie to deal with the issue of book burning. The ever-popular 80s movie, Footloose, shows a community deeply entrenched in their religious beliefs, banning music and making a move to burn books in an effort to keep their children on the good path. The preacher, this man who we’ve seen trying to keep the children of the town on the straight and narrow, upon being told that they’re burning books, runs over to stop them.

And how can we leave out the most famous of them all, a movie based on a book about book burning—Farenheit 451. It makes me a little sad to talk about this one because to contemplate such a future… For those of you who don’t know the story behind the book (and subsequent movie), I’ll encapsulate it here, with some help from Wikipedia.

Fahrenheit 451 takes place in an unspecified future time in a hedonistic and rabidly anti-intellectual America that has completely abandoned self-control and bans the possession of books. People are now only entertained by in-ear radio and an interactive form of television. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman(which, in this future, means "book burner), certain that his job—burning books, and the houses that hold them, and persecuting those who own them—is the right thing to do. The number "451" refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which a book or paper burns... Over the years, the novel has been subject to various interpretations, primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but just reading about a future so devastating makes me a little queasy. No books. No critical thinking. Persecuted for even owning a book. How does a society come to that point?

In a 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451, the author, Ray Bradbury, said: There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
Looking at the list of banned books, I was shocked at what I saw there (not that I’m predisposed to look kindly on a list of banned books). In fact, when I read some of them to my husband, who’s not a big reader himself, he was also shocked. Flowers for Algernon. James and the Giant Peach. How to Eat Fried Worms.

Maybe less shocking, but no less disturbing are JK Rowling’s books. In a time when literacy seems to be decreasing, kids spend more time playing video games and watching TV, less time falling into a good book, I would wish we would celebrate that which gets them excited about reading.

I saw on the list a lot of books I’d read, some from my childhood that I remember fondly and with great delight. Classics assigned to me during the course of school, that left their mark for their enduring themes. And there are books that I’m going to be sure my daughter reads some day, to help her mind, her viewpoint, her interests grow. To help her expand her horizons, reach new worlds and feel the excitement, wonder and enthusiasm each new book can bring. Some day, I hope to know that my daughter will follow in my booksteps and be a pilgrim, not one of those running about with a lit match.


Denise A. Agnew said...


I'm right there with ya. :) You so don't want to get me started on what I think of people who want to ban any book at all. :)

Denise A. Agnew

Kate Davies said...

Excellent post, Angie. I'm always stunned when I see what books are being challenged and banned.

My childhood reading experience would have been slim, indeed, without banned books. :)

N.J.Walters said...

I can't imagine a world without books. How much poorer we would all be.

The list of banned and challenged books is amazing. My absolute favorite book from my teens--The Outsiders--is on it.

Great post, Angie!

Carolan Ivey said...

"To Kill A Mockingbird" fan, here. :)

I was amazed to see "The Giver" on the list of banned/challenged books. Both my kids read it in 5th grade and loved it. More importantly, they "got" it.

Nicole said...

What a great post, Angie. We've got a banned book display up at work right now and people are always walking by and wondering why this or that book was banned. Scary.

What I find scarier is censorship behind the scenes at libraries. I know my library once had a copy of Kate Douglas's Wolf Tales, but now no longer. Usually if something's lost, they don't take it completely out of the system. And the amount of erotic romance that they buy has gone down a lot.

Mechele Armstrong said...

Angie, I'm right there with you. Except for yesterday, I've been blogging on this all week because I think it's so important.

I'm always stunned to see how many books I've read are on the lists. And I had a personal experience with a book being challenged in the school library. It has stayed with me.

I agree with Kate, my childhood reading experience would have been slim. I want my kids to love books and read for fun. And a lot of the books I read as a kid are on the short list for them to read as they get old enough.

The oldest has already read a frequently challenged book, Bridge to Teribithea (which oddly enough isn't my cup of tea but she loved it). I hope she reads many more challenged books.

Sam said...

Who decides which books get the banned label?
It makes you wonder...

Great article, Angie!!

TinaGerow said...

Great post, Angie!

I would bet that the consumption of those banned books would go up. People are always curious to know why something is so bad that it should be on the banned book list. So, what't the first thing they do? Go buy it to see :)

What a scary scary future we would have without books!!

Jennifer McKenzie said...

Great post. I love this week because it reminds me that literature represents IDEAS and those will always be in danger.