If Only They'd Banned the Books at Alexandria Instead...

Over in the Gryffindor Tower forum, discussion has been raised again over attempts in a handful of towns and libraries to ban the Harry Potter series of children's books.

A Wrinkle in Time, published by Dell
A frequently challenged book in the United States

As a fan of the Harry Potter series, and speaking in a forum for fans of the series, you can guess why my opinion and the opinion of the fellow posters were. However, I've rarely viewed book banning with anything more than contempt. Possibly this is because I'm an aspiring writer and, moreover, the son of two librarians. The mentality behind book banning strikes me as remarkably similar to the mentality behind book burning, and people who advocate the outright ban of books are, more often than not, cut from the same cloth of barbarians that destroyed the library at Alexandria.

Why do some people believe that books are dangerous? Really, it's like standing on a chair and screaming at a mouse. Even if the mouse is loathesome in its appearance, screaming at it is an overreaction. Take, for example, when the head of Indigo Books, Heather Reismann, stated that there would be no copies of Mein Kempf sold in her bookstores. It was generally agreed that, while her heart was in the right place, her actions were counterproductive.

True, she runs a private business and not a public library, so she has the right to decide what gets sold in her stores, but if there was any campaign to remove all copies of Adolf Hitler's hateful tome from all the libraries, it would be seen as a destructive attack on freedom of information. While full of the most loathesome hatreds, the book does nothing to corrupt what isn't already corrupted. Indeed, this book illustrates that Hitler planned his reign of terror from the beginning. The book has a place in our libraries because it is a window into the mind of one of the worst individuals of the past century. Any reasonable human being can see through the text and see the book for what it is.

Mein Kempf illustrates the strong arguments that do exist in favour of regulating the access to certain books (there are limits to everything), but Harry Potter is not Mein Kempf. As we go down the scale of controversial books, the arguments to ban these books grow correspondingly more pedantic, closed minded and outright stupid.

What is so dangerous about Harry Potter? According to the advocates who would ban it, it is the fact that this book features wizards, witches and magic. Nothing more. It doesn't matter that Harry, Ron and Hermione have perfectly Christian senses of right and wrong, and are unquestionably on the side of light. The fact that this book steps outside the narrow boundaries of what certain people deem acceptable religious practises makes it evil. These people are basically saying that if you believe in magic, you are a Wiccan and that Wiccans are the spawn of the devil just by their choice of lifestyle or faith. They're probably not that far off from saying that homosexuals are in the same camp. Or Muslims, or Jews.

The fact that they would attack Harry Potter is also telling. It's wildly popular, and therefore by attacking this wildly popular phenomenon, they attract attention to themselves and give themselves a platform on which to promote their narrow-minded views. It's the only explanation as to why J.K. Rowling gets all the attention while Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy -- explicitly critical of the corruption of the Church -- receives nary a mention.

And to further illustrate how narrow-minded some of these people are, consider some of the other books they have called to have banned: Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, for the presence of a non-evil witch and the advocation of "New Age philosophy" (despite the fact that Ms. L'Engle is an Episcopalean theologian -- although too liberal for some idiots to consider Christian). Indeed, Ms. L'Engle is one of the ten most banned authors in the United States. More ludicrous still, C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was targetted for, you guessed it, the presence of witches and magic, despite the fact that the book is a children's allegory of Christ's death and resurrection.

One good thing about book banning is that it often ends up having the exact opposite result to what the book banners want: publicity for the book in question. John Nathan-Turner, the former producer of the television show Doctor Who said that he hoped that his show would attract the ire of Mary Whitehouse (a noted anti-television violence advocate) because any press-release issued by her usually bumped up the ratings of the next episode by a million or more. Harry Potter shows no signs of disappearing, and I'm sure that has the book banners' snarling at their own impotence.

If a book is really despicable, advocating hatreds or other loathesome ideals, the truth will come out. People will step forward and attack the ideas put forward by the book. They will illustrate, point for point, the logical flaws, the false premises, the straw-men arguments, and the utterly crappy prose. Witness the scientific debunking of the theory that the moon landing was a hoax. The proponent of this theory has been shown up to be a kook, and is now sinking into the obscurity that he so utterly deserves. Banning his writing would turn him into a martyr without giving the flaws in his logic the airing they deserve.

But for people who would deride Harry Potter as promoting witchcraft and devil-worship, logical arguments are an impediment to their goals. They can't come up with valid reasons to back up their claims. In many cases, they haven't even bothered to read the books in the first place. Thus book banning is, more often than not, an irrational act advocated by people not intelligent enough to get their positions across through logic and rational argument.

Maybe I should try to get my as-yet-unpublished books banned somewhere. You can't buy that sort of publicity.

Further Reading

From The Forbidden Library: Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was "challenged at the Polk City, Fla. Elementary School (1985) by a parent who believed that the story promotes witchcraft, crystal balls, and demons. Challenged in the Anniston Ala. schools (1990). The complainant objected to the book's listing the name of Jesus Christ together with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders when referring to those who defend earth against evil."

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