[Guest Chirp] Top 5 Banned Fantasy Worlds in Books

It’s Banned Books Week. No, this doesn’t mean you get to go and ban any book you want or highlight all the pages of your least favorite classic. Hey! Put the highlighter down. Nobody needs to get Sharpie’d here–and I will totally Sharpie you.


Instead, Banned Books Week is a celebration of the right to read. The American Library Association annually compiles a list all books that have been banned or challenged in the US. There are some amazing stories on these lists, filled with emotional points, famous classic scenes, and sometimes bondage. (Is anyone surprised Fifty Shades got challenged somewhere? Didn’t think so).

But what about the worlds these stories inhabit? The fantastic ones, I mean. What unique and enthralling settings got the axe because something was considered Satanic?

These are my top 5 fantasy worlds. Feel free to comment with your top 5 below! Now then…

5. Carrie by Stephen King

This one barely counts as fantasy, but I added it because Carrie’s world had telekinesis. What does a world where people have telekinetic powers (among others maybe?) even look like? It’s a bit like Harry Potter, magical realism but without the wands. And with a lot more death–wait, no. Not really. (I’m looking at you, Book 7.)

Sure, telekinesis might make most think “science fiction,” but there are no other science-y explanations about Carrie’s powers. She just has them. Science isn’t really mentioned much until the end so IT COUNTS. And I just think telekinesis is cool, okay?

Not surprisingly, this book is one of the most frequently banned books in the US. I couldn’t find out specifically why, but there are more than a few scenes in that book that could make parents want to ban it. But then there’s…

File:The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 006.png4. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Who wouldn’t love a world with yellow brick roads, good witches, and flying monkeys? What is there to challenge?

Oh. Right. Witches.

And magic.

Speaking of magic…

3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I remember this controversy as a kid (which might show my age). My mom debated for a long time whether or not to let me read the books because of the witches and wizards, the magic and everything. I took the decision out of her hands, though, when I read Harry Potter in school–which might explain why some parents and activists have persistently wanted to get the book out of schools.

The world of Harry Potter is fun, entertaining, and memorable. Flying around on brooms, talking and moving pictures, I mean, seriously, the world is amazing. It is fantastic in a way that Tolkien’s works don’t quite reach(more on that later). The universe of Harry Potter is both familiar, in that it parallels our own, and yet so abstract and different to our Muggle reality that kids and adults around the world are still being captivated by it.

File:Harry Potter Books 1-7 without dust jackets, 1st American eds. 2.JPG

In fact it’s one of the most influential series in the world, ever. But it wasn’t as important to me as…

2. The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

This world has influenced most of modern fantasy. It’s beautiful – described at length, page after page. Even though I wasn’t fond of the Lord of the Rings books growing up, The Hobbit shaped me as a writer.

But what’s so bad about the Lord of the Rings? It’s been challenged for satanic themes. What other fantasy series could possibly be worse–oh…

1. His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

I wanted to be Lyra so badly as a kid. And I read the books at around that time I was becoming more aware of myself as a girl, so I could relate to her a lot. The fact that she had a daemon – a shape-shifting constant companion that  represented a part of her – was the coolest thing ever. Plus armored polar bears. I mean, seriously.

Lyra’s world was unique. And I encountered it when I was asking all sorts of questions about life and stuff. The setting and concept of this trilogy, with the parallel universes and universe-defying quests, was just too fascinating. It spawned all sorts of ideas, and man, some of them are still visible in some of my works.

It was banned because, well, as Pullman puts it, they literally kill “The Authority.” Enough said.

Of course, there are a ton of classic books that I could’ve mentioned, but these are my top fantasy worlds – the captivating, influential, and awesome. I didn’t want to use mesmerizing. Or riveting. BUT THEY ARE.

What are your top 5 banned books, fantasy or otherwise?

Banned Books Week: What’s your reading score for the 2000’s?

So you were a Subversive Canary in our Banned Books Challenge Part 1, but how are you in the modern age?

Here are the top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009, courtesy of the American Library Association. How many have you read?

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Continue reading

Banned Books Week: How Books Change Us — And Save Us

When we started research for Banned Books Week, I viewed it as nothing more than a fun, silly exercise. The Canaries were tossing around stories about the risque books they’d read that had ended up on the “Most Challenged Books” list published by the ALA. I was laughing while scrolling through the titles–Junie B Jones, Where’s Waldo, anything Judy Blume ever wrote, even the utterly benign Captain Underpants–until I hit number 64. Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park.

And my heart simply broke in two.

* * *

When I was seven, my cousin died. Our grandparents owned a lake house, and one early morning, he got out. It was a man-made lake, so instead of beaches there were foot-wide retaining walls and a sheer drop. Beyond the wall, there was nothing but deep, cold water.

He was seven, too, and didn’t know how to swim.

I hadn’t wanted to go to the viewing. Instead, I stayed home with my mother to watch TGIF shows like Step-by-Step. Now, two decades later, I don’t recall if I went to the funeral or not. Sometimes I think I can remember his face, serene and sleeping in a casket near a church altar. But I’m unsure if it’s a memory or just my mind filling a hole it knows is there.

I do know that I never talked ot anyone about it. For years. I don’t think I knew how to talk about it, or perhaps I too young to realize that it was even something to be talked about. But the senselessness of the situation ate at me. How had he gotten out of the house? Why didn’t anyone notice? Why did he have to go to the part of the wall surrounded by deep water? The questions had no answers, and the silence was intolerable.

Another hole in my memory is how I first came across Mick Harte was Here. Likely it was given to me by my elementary school counselor, but I also remember getting my own copy at a Scholastic book fair where my mom asked me why I was buying a book I’d already read.

“Because it’s a good book,” I told her.

She accepted that–or at least did not press the matter. But the fact of the matter was that I had to have my own copy. The book had changed my life, had become an essential part of who I was because of the message it contained.

It is a story of Phoebe Harte, the sister of a mischievous little boy who’s killed in a bicycle accident. An avoidable accident. And the death? He would have lived, if only he had been wearing a helmet. The story follows Phoebe as she tries to come to terms with that unfair reality and her grief.

I read the book endlessly, wanting to understand every part of what Phoebe went through in order to come to terms with her brother Mick’s death. And I applied Phoebe’s lessons to my own life. With her help, I learned to cope. I learned how to move on.

* * *

It has been over a decade since I thought about Mick Harte was Here. Its sudden appearance on the ALA most challenged books list came as a jolt. The title brought back a rush of the memories and feelings that I had set aside as a child and not touched again in my adult life.

But mostly, I could not fathom why such a heartfelt, wonderful book could have ever wound up on a list like this.

I decided that I had to read it again, not as a kid looking for help, but from the perspective an adult keeping an eagle-eye out for topics and stories that I would not want my own child to read. After breezing through the slim 59-page book, I think I understand the controversy.

I can see the book being challenged on two grounds. First, and perhaps least obvious, is the reaction of Phoebe’s parents to the accident. They act as we would expect parent’s to–overcome with grief to the point of neglecting their other child. Phoebe’s mom begins to take sleeping pills to get through the night and Phoebe’s father withdraws into himself. I could see how this reaction–while realistic–may not be a reality parents would want their children exposed to. Parents are supposed to be a rock, strong and infallible in the eyes of children. The failings of Phoebe’s parents might be one of the causes for the book’s place on the challenged list.

But I think it is the second aspect that really gets the book into trouble.  There is one section where Phoebe questions why the accident had to happen.

“And my other grandmother says that God must have needed Mick more than we did. Only what kind of a selfish God is that? To just snatch somebody away from the people who love him? […]

Zoe frowned in thought. “So maybe both your grandmothers are wrong,” she said. “Maybe it was a real honest-to0-goodness accident, and God is just as sad about it as everybody else.

I nodded. “Yeah. Well, that’s sort what I’ve been thinking too. Only that would mean that God had no control over it. And if God has no control, then he can’t be all that powerful, can he? Unless, of course, he makes it a rule not to interfere in our lives or something. Or who knows? Maybe there isn’t a God at all. Only I don’t even want to consider that option right now.”

Religion–and especially questioning religion–will always be a hot button among parents. It may be particularly troubling in Mick because the topic is never overtly resolved. There is no moment of epiphany where Phoebe announces how she completely understands and trust’s God’s plan for her family and for Mick.

Still, there is is a subtle moment when something unexplainable happens, something miraculous and simple, that seems to suggest that perhaps God is present–and that he is just as sad about Mick’s accident as everyone else. For a parent and child, the moment would be a beautiful discussion point not only about religion, but also about the fragile nature of human plans.

So I get it. Parents don’t want their kids reading about death, especially when that goes hand-in-hand with questioning the existence of God. But I think that challenging this book underestimates the ability of children to put things into perspective. For those who haven’t experienced the kind of tragedy that’s in Mick Harte was Here, the story can simply spark excellent discussion.

And for those children struggling to cope, those looking for any sort of lifeline to help explain what has happened, Mick Harte was Here can change everything. For me, it was not just a story. It was my story. I shared every bit of Phoebe’s grief, and, so much more importantly, as she learned to move on, so did I.

Related Posts:

Why We Read Banned Books

It’s Banned Books Week, so like many other readers, I find myself coming back to the question of censorship.

When I look over the list of books that most frequently get challenged or banned, my overwhelming thought is that, with a few exceptions, these are all either established classics, or stories that particularly moved me when I was growing up. It’s amazing to me, and a little fortifying, that stories still have the power to frighten and move so many people. So why are some people or groups trying to get rid of them?

Book banning stems partly from fear, of course. I’ve read before, somewhere, that horror movies are one of the best ways to tell what a culture is afraid of—zombies represent mindlessness, vampires represent sex, and so on. The same goes for what we don’t want others to read. Books tell us about who we are, and book banning tells me what we’re scared to admit about ourselves and the world we live in. Continue reading

Banned Books: What’s your reading score?

Here are is the ALA list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990–1999. Which have you read?

  1. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain Continue reading

Banned Books Week

Sept 24-Oct 1

First launched in 1982 as a response an increase in the number of books challenged in schools, bookstores and libraries, Banned Books Week celebrates our freedom to read. Every year, during the last week of September, hundreds of libraries and bookstores commemorate Banned Books Week by showcasing challenged books and related events.

It’s book week, canaries!

What does it mean for a book to be challanged? What does it mean for it to be banned? Continue reading