Monday, September 26, 2011
Banning Imagination and Manufacturing Truth
Day three of ALA Banned Books Week brings us two books that have been banned or challenged in libraries on many occasions. Let's watch the book trailers to see if we might figure out why.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Why did would-be censors attack Nineteen Eighty-Four? The two most common grounds were political ideology and sexual content. As for the latter, the book's pretty tame. As for politics, Orwell attacks totalitarian regimes and encourages individuals to rebel against oppressive governmental authority. Seems like the American colonists did something along the same lines in the mid-1770s through the early 1780s.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, however, has usually not been banned or challenged on political grounds, even though the book is loaded with humorous, veiled references to 19th century English society, attitudes, government, religion, and everything in between (James Thurber notwithstanding--we're getting there in a moment). Ordinarily, expulsion of the book from schools or libraries is sought because it allegedly promotes drug abuse ("Drink This" leading to weird, distorted perceptions of reality), includes violent imagery ("Off with her head!" and such like), and encourages defiance of social norms and authorities. James Thurber, a famous 20th century American author, felt that the book was filled with silliness just for the fun of reading it. He felt the suggested deeper or hidden messages were largely inventions of overwrought academics or self-appointed literary guardians. I respect Thurber a lot, but I think he may have been oversimplifying matters. Lewis Carroll was a member of the clergy, and ecclesiastical satire of the 18th and 19th centuries was usually disguised in fantastic, but seemingly harmless, plots and characters (see, e.g., Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift).
People who want to ban books from schools or libraries, or who challenge such books in those or any other places, usually have little or no idea what the books are actually about. Often, the critics have not even read them. It makes it easier to criticize something you haven't bothered to examine.
I invite anybody who likes to read to consider both of these books. 1984 is a dystopian novel of the future (well, it was the future when Orwell published it in 1949), and it is, frankly, rather a "downer," but it was meant to be a cautionary tale. Those are sometimes rather harsh. Alice's adventures, on the other paw, are pure fun romps. Who cares about all the underlying symbolism; as Thurber encouraged, just have fun reading the silliness. More than anything else, that's what Lewis Carroll intended. I'm down with that. Felines go for the fun, every time.
Whew! Enough With the Serious Analysis, Already,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
BBW News Beat
P.S. For the soundtracks to these two book trailers, we used portions of Music Therapy for the Deranged (2010). If you'd like to hear all three movements, go to this website.