Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been banned for alleged perversity and for being critical of religion.
PLATTSBURGH — Harry Potter faced an array of obstacles as we watched him grow, from evil wizards and hideous creatures to the loss of loved ones.
But his greatest obstacle has been readers, with J.K. Rowling’s series topping the list of the most challenged book since the year 2000.
Those who banned the book claimed it promoted witchcraft, Wicca and Satanism.
Recently students, educators and community members gathered at Plattsburgh State to discuss and read from challenged and banned books during a Banned Books Celebration, which the American Library Association holds annually and which occurs throughout the nation.
“The American Library Association has held a Banned Books Celebration for the last 30 years to highlight the issue of ‘freedom to read,’” said Cerise Oberman of Plattsburgh State. “To my knowledge, SUNY Plattsburgh has never held an event that focused on this important issue.
“Many students and faculty are not aware that books are routinely challenged and often banned, primarily from school curricula, but also at public libraries,” Oberman said.
Book censorship occurs throughout the world and can carry legal penalties. It often starts when a book is challenged on the local level and can result in the book being removed from schools, libraries and entire countries.
Banned books are often perceived to be obscene, usually because of sexuality, race, drugs or social standing.
Governments sometimes ban books they believe could threaten, embarrass or criticize them.
Religions often issue lists of banned books, though religious materials have also been subject to censorship or banned by various governments.
Between 1990 and 2000, there were 6,364 challenges recorded by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, was banned in Hunan, China for portraying animals and humans as being on the same level, something the government there believed would be a disastrous lesson for children.
Animal Farm by George Orwell was not printed from 1943-1945 because it was perceived to be critical of the USSR. A play of the book was banned in Kenya in 1991 because it criticized corrupt leaders, and in 2002 the United Arab Emirates banned it in schools because it went against Islamic values.
The Bible has been censored in dozens of countries.
Some European nations and the Russian Federation banned Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, while in Austria it cannot be printed and it is illegal to own and distribute existing copies.
Those gathered at Plattsburgh State read from 25 of the hundreds of banned titles. Each individual described the book and why it was banned and read an excerpt.
Dr. Simona Sharoni of Plattsburgh State selected “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.
“It provides a frightening view of the future in which racism and homophobia run rampant,” Sharoni said. “It is a satire, a feminist’s ‘1984,’ and it has been challenged continuously.”
Among the challenges, some claimed it was overly critical of religion and promoted lesbianism.
Dr. Danielle Garneau chose John Knowles’ “A Separate Peace,” which was challenged in 1980 as a filthy sex novel.
“The story is set in an all-boys prep school in New Hampshire,” Garneau said. “It is a story of love and fear and intense betrayal.”
Holly Heller Ross of Plattsburgh State read from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which is the 28th most challenged book for allegations of pornography and that it glorifies criminal activity and corrupts juveniles.
“It was most recently banned in 2000 in California,” Heller Ross said. “It is the story of a mental hospital and an individual who convinces folks at the prison he is insane so he can get into the mental hospital where he fights against the establishment.”
Plattsburgh State President Dr. John Ettling read from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, which he pointed out has been admired and controversial since its publication in England in 1884.
“For almost as long as people have been praising the book they have been criticizing it,” Ettling said.
The reasons have evolved over the years, starting with outcries over its use of so-called barbarous and grotesque characters and language that was only suitable for the slums to accusations of racism.
Of course, at the time, Mark Twain was using characters who lived during a certain period in time in slave states.
“We want to raise awareness that book banning is not an uncommon event in this country,” Oberman said.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was challenged in 2007, and in 2010 the military destroyed the first-edition copies of “Operation Dark Heart,” a memoir by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer.
“We want to raise awareness that books that are considered part of the literary ‘cannon’ are still challenged, such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, J.D. Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ and Richard Wright’s ‘Native Son,’” Oberman said. “We often take our freedom to read for granted. Highlighting the issue reminds us that we have a collective responsibility to vigilantly guard our freedom to read.”