It's Banned Book Week over here on YA Stands! I don't usually write bookish posts here, but I was given a pass this week to talk about one of my favorite banned books ever.
A friend of my mother's gave me The Golden Compass when I was eleven, saying, "I think you'd like this."
I still don't know why I never read it back then. It sat on the little shelf built into my bed for eight years, just waiting for me to open its cover. I even took it to college with me, still intent on picking it up and reading it someday.
I powered through the whole series in a weekend. It stuck with me for weeks afterward. No, months; maybe years. I suppose years is the right answer because here I am, still mulling it over, still thinking about Will and Lyra and how no book will ever quite do what His Dark Materials did.
The Golden Compass shows up twice on the ALA's Top 10 Frequently Challenged Books list: in 2007, when the movie was released, and again in 2008. Cited reasons? "Religious viewpoint" in 2007, and "political viewpoint," in 2008.
Having read the series, I laughed it off when I was first told The Golden Compass was a frequently banned book. It's a spectacular fantasy (brilliant, imaginative, all those other fabulous words) inside a fairly close facsimile of our own world, with a truly delightful twist.
Until a friend of our family back home told me he would never let his children read it, for "atheist undertones." I was aghast. An intelligent person--someone I respected--was going to keep this book away from his children because he was afraid they would be exposed to viewpoints other than his own; that it might influence them in some damaging way.
I won't deny the close parallel between the Church in His Dark Materials and the Catholic one in terms of structure, clergy, and scripture; I can see why some religious groups might fidget. In Pullman's novels, the Church uses their power and intense dogmatism to oppress.
Pullman defends his "agenda" in a great video on Beliefnet. He has true words of wisdom that can apply to all challenged books:
"I trust the reader; I trust the audience; I trust them to have the sense to see what qualities the book is championing."
Even better--and points with which I completely agree in regard to The Golden Compass: "The qualities the book celebrates are... kindness, love, courage, and courtesy."
Knowing what a fabulous, quality book series it is, it bums me out to think of how many kids won't read it. How does one raise thinking, feeling adults if they're never exposed to other "religious and political" viewpoints?
The Golden Compass hasn't risen to the top of the banned book list again since 2008, though I don't doubt it's still routinely challenged. As long as books have power, that power will be feared. But I would hardly be the person I am today if I hadn't encountered a few new and challenging ideas in my life.
Viva the banned books!