Saturday, October 1, 2011
Banishing Zombies & Other Fantasies From Library Shelves
As ALA Banned Books Week draws to a close for this year, we complete our week-long look at challenged or banned library books with a couple of fantasy heavyweights.
It's easy to guess why would-be book censors target zombie novels. The graphic violence. The obsession with the undead that is part-and-parcel of the subject matter. The smell! (Well, perhaps only felines notice that.) The usual justification offered for zombie book removal is to protect children from such monstrous literary representations. Surely, this would hold true only for children under age 10 in today's American society. Young adults, whom people as old as Scowl-Face called teenagers, would not be easily shocked or offended by reading about such fictitious creatures. Considering that many challenges of zombie books have occurred in secondary school library settings, the argument about protecting our young children falls rather flat. We may safely counter that teens are old enough for such fare, so leave those books in those library sections catering to readers ages 12 and older.
One particular censorship target in this genre is The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks. The book is clearly satirical; it is pretending to talk about zombies as if they were real and living in our everyday world instead of our imaginations. It is a pastiche of "how-to" manuals and brilliantly sends-up both zombies and user guides. Read it for laughs. Book banners, consider my advice: Don't take it so seriously, for crying out loud. It's harmless fantasy, like rooting for the Chicago Cubs to reach the World Series. (JUST KIDDING!) Poor Cubbies. They get no respect.
The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales, by Béla Balázs; illustrations by Mariette Lydis; translated by Jack Zipes (Princeton Univ. Press, 2010), was originally published in 1921. The author is best remembered today as a movie screenwriter, but this collection of "oddly modern fairy tales" (as the current publisher's book series declares such works) is filled with strange characters living anachronistic lives in pseudo-Asian cultural locales. Everything seems slightly off, and yet there are recognizable themes working here--friendship, alienation, the meaning of life and death, Taoism, to name a few--wrapped around and between peculiar characters and situations. It is a fantasy that is fantastic, in the sense of being larger-than-life and surreal.
Why has Cloak of Dreams been challenged or banned from schools and libraries? Presumably, critics don't understand its complex philosophical underpinnings and odd plot twists. Like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, opponents don't comprehend the stories, but they assume something undesirable is in there somewhere. Better safe than sorry, they think, so off the shelves with the book.
Cloak of Dreams is fiction that primarily appeals to college academics. It takes significant effort to plough through these fairy tales, and one needs a considerable understanding of historical contexts and social conditions in the early 20th century to "get" what's really going on. If that's your can of tuna-in-oil, then give it a try, by all means.
Time For a Nap, After All That Analytical Stuff,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
BBW News Beat
P.S. "Zombies Ate Her Brain," by The Creepshow, from the band's debut album, Sell Your Soul (2006), seemed like a good fit for this posting. It's all in good fun, especially if you like the "psychobilly" sound.