The Curious Case of the Banned Book

[The husband and I received our first jabs last Thursday. I have mixed feelings about this, in no way relative to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, but about the uncertainty about how the next several months are going to play out.]

Last week the publishers of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s children’s books announced that they were going to stop publication of particular volumes. I have mixed feelings about this, too. I confess my first reaction was outrage, but I had to push that aside, supportive, as I like to think I am, of inclusivity, diversity and all those multi-syllabic words everyone throws around. To get an agreeable (to me) opinion about this step taken by the publishers, check out this Politico article. McElligot’s Pond was one of my favorite books, one I either owned or regularly checked out from the library. The bizarre dwellers of the deep, deep underground stream that fed the pond were frightening but at the same time utterly fascinating. Turns out, it has been out of print for decades.

In an A.P. piece about other books under fire, the “Little House” books were given as an example. In 2018, the American Library Association removed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a major children’s literature award, citing racist language in one of the books. My opinion of the Indians portrayed in Little House on the Prairie was that they could be very dangerous to the settlers. I knew Ma hated Indians, but Laura was fascinated by them. In fact, Pa told of how one great Chief derailed plans for a white massacre. Also, don’t forget, whether he was a real character or not, Dr Tan, the physician who treated the Ingalls family for malaria, was “. . . so very black.” A physician for the Indians, Dr Tan was in the area of the Kansas Territory when he heard about the ill settlers. In Prairie Fires, the fabulous biography of the Ingalls family by Carolyn Frasier, there is no mention of who Dr. Tan might have been, not even whether he was one of Rose Wilder’s dramatic concoctions.

Rudyard Kipling, author of Just So Stories and The Jungle Book, is controversial in India due to his support of the British Raj. (this image is a puzzle picture. Find the 2 humans and 1 animal).

Two novels by Nadine Gordimer, esteemed South African writer, were banned in her home country for anti-apartheid politics.

Toni Morrison’s novels have long been the subject of public and parental bans, including the exquisite books The Bluest Eye and Beloved.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, enjoyed the controversy of being banned in Kern County, California because of the author’s lack of sympathy toward Kern County officials.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, an unparalleled work about injustice, has most recently been banned in a Mississippi school district after a request that it be removed from schools by Black parents because of the use of the N-word.

Mixed feelings. In some cases books and their authors deserve to be censured. In others, objections to a certain written work are flabbergasting. To say that demands for censorship are based on subjective opinion is more than obvious. Depending on one’s cultural bias, racism is bad. Or, from another perspective, explicit sex is bad. Imperialism, rebellion, hypocrisy, social criticism, protest, all can be viewed as dangerous. It’s easier to blacken, ban, remove, hide than to discuss. Most people are so wedded to their opinions that they don’t want to hear details, especially about perception.

And it’s even funnier to think about the fact that in a country defined by a Bill of Rights, where a large proportion of the population doesn’t even read, continues to suffer from these spasms of political correctness and blind nimbyism.

Copies of McElligot’s Pond are selling for close to $400.00, at least for first editions. Now, collectors can likely make big bucks on its being a banned book. So it is in America.

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About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

Comments

The Curious Case of the Banned Book — 7 Comments

  1. Banning a book is a fast way to hit the best seller lists. In the 1960s it was “Tropic of Cancer”. This was a book my parents would never buy under normal situations. It was “Banned in Boston.” So my dad brought a copy home just to find out way.

    My 3rd Merlin’s Descendants book “Guardian of the Vision” was banned by 1 church congregation because I stated “No matter what name you give to God, She is listening.” They bought 300 copies in hardcover so they could burn them. Not best seller category but it added to the numbers so the book earned out and got me 2 more contracts with the publisher.

    Sex, religion, race. Write about any one and it will be banned by someone.

  2. Bear in mind that it’s Geisel/Seuss’s estate which has withdrawn the six books from publication. Not the publisher. The estate, as I understand it, felt that the books did not reflect well on Seuss’s reputation. Their call. (Though I will go to my death loving To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

    I could swear that Frasier mentioned Dr. Tan in Prairie Fires, because I’d forgotten about the character entirely (the last time I read any of the Little House books was when I read them to my kids). But I am united with you in my admiration for the book.

    • I share your feelings for Mulberry Street, 🙂

      And yes, I do remember mention of Dr. Tan in Prairie Fires as real and not a made-up character. Or was it in the annotated bio?

      And I read a post in a FB group that one of the Seuss books going out of print was checked out from the poster’s local library…and showed up on eBay a few days later for $$$$$, complete with library stamps. Sigh.

  3. Thanks, Jill. I really deplore the retroactive banning of earlier books because our modern sensibilities cringe from certain words, whatever their context or treatment within the book. We need to consider historical context, and learn, not burn. Phyl, what a story about your book! congratulations! Sadly, in the university English Dept. where I taught, one of our profs had to stop teaching the poem “Leda and the Swan,” because of “triggering” complaints about the mythological rape. Go stick your heads in the sand, I guess — it’s safer?