Guest contributor: John Jackson
Please let me begin by saying: Book banning can never help any societal issue to such a degree that it justifies the immediate and resultant harm caused by curbing the legality of free speech. There should never be an argument on this point in the United States. For once the right to speech is abridged, all other rights must fall.
I must note that many of the books on the Radcliffe 100* were not banned in the U.S. (a very rare occurrence), but rather had some unpleasant incident or outcry against them.
It is a curious historical fact that banning spans both sides of the political spectrum. While many assume that religion plays the largest part, banning is just as often a tool of progressives. I will note instances of both, in just a moment.
The concept of appropriateness applies only to children, and parents have the age old right of argument over what is age appropriate in any give community, and thus in its grade schools. The argument is a moral and societal good, in and of itself. We should not seek to avoid such arguments as they are the only true test of a given community’s real needs and values.
I read many of the books on the Radcliffe 100* in high school, by choice and without having to for the sake of class work. Today’s challenged books often become the next generation’s most important works.
Going back further, my father read Animal Farm to me when I was 11. It was as thrilling a drama as I have ever experienced. Originally targeted in Great Britian for its anti-socialist/anti-communist message, Animal Farm makes solid, unshakable points about the destructive nature of leftist logic gone wrong. Ironically, one government official that is believed to have “advised” a book publisher not to publish Animal Farm may have been a Soviet spy.
Moving ahead to high school I am reminded of A Clockwork Orange, the film version of which raised a government outcry in the U.K. because the (truly) awful behaviors of the protagonist are never “punished” out of him. Throughout our brief look at his life he is utterly unrepentant, even in prison. In fact “Little Alex” goes on to live a rather idyllic and rage free life, simply because he grew up. No government intervention necessary. It was claimed that conservatives on both sides of the sea felt this conclusion was utterly abominable and for many years, even in America, the infamous “last chapter” , in which Alex is shown as a happy young man, was left out. Without the last chapter it appears to the reader that Alex has died as a result of his hateful lifestyle. Apparently, marketing “experts” felt that the self-execution of a teenage boy was more appealing to some readers than the idea that he simply got over his problems.
Sex, violence, religion and the role of government are always controversial. This is natural, as is the very human desire to maintain a status quo, even when it no longer benefits the society. Some of the greatest books of the age cover these topics, and of course were challenged for it. A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, Gone With the Wind, All the Kings Men, In Cold Blood, The Naked Lunch and more, helped create the tone of our very society. Some of the greatest books ever written, as well as the most self-indulgent tripe appear side by side on the Radcliffe 100. They are to be loved or hated, but never ignored or banned. Not if we want to remain a great nation.
So, on I go, and I suggest you do as well, to read everything that appeals to you and perhaps some things that don’t. Books written by atheists and agnostics can shed a new light on the nature of faith. If your faith is strong, differing opinions should help you better judge your own behaviors and perhaps even your sincerity. Conversely books on many faiths and philosophies may bring new light to the human condition or even comfort to the non-believer, if he lets it.
Finally, read current banned, or targeted books to better understand the reason they were written at all. Hiding from an idea can only hurt you. If the content is truly vile to you, it is better to ask yourself why, than to hide the book from others. If they agree with you that the book is onerous, it will be condemned in the most potent way possible, a way that does not cost anyone their personal freedoms; it won’t sell.
Illustrator and publisher John Jackson is co-owner (with Ken Chapman) of League Entertainment, an intellectual property developer and publisher in central Florida. His latest book “V is for Vampire” (as Johnny Atomic) is available at Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. For more on John: www.johnnyatomicstudios.com
*The ‘Radcliffe 100’ is a list of the 100 best novels of the 20th Century, compiled in 1998 by students of the Radcliffe Publishing Course. Forty-two of the novels have been challenged or banned at some point.