Let Them Read

Let Them Read

Disclaimer: I’m a Christian. I like to think I’m an open-minded, non-judgemental, nice person. Most people, when they hear I go to church, assume the opposite. Please don’t judge me before you know me because that is not nice :( I’m writing this post from the point of view of a 16-year-old brought up in a Christian family who thinks censoring books for religious reasons is stupid. Just in case that wasn’t clear enough by the end of it.

In my life, I’ve come across quite a few people who try and control what their children, friends, siblings, next-door neighbours, etc, read. Some will do this only occasionally – “Oh, I don’t think you’re quite old enough for that book yet. Try this one.” Others will basically censor the shelves of the local library before they’ll let their children near it.

One of my first experiences of this was when I was at primary school. A friend of mine was forbidden to read not only Harry Potter but also the Lord of the Rings, because of the magic in them. Her parents were rather strict Christians and had very strong ideas on what this would do for her overall spiritual health.

Er, hello? JRR Tolkien was a Catholic, and anyway the main point of both of those series is that they’re about good triumphing over evil, not the other way around. In my experience, those who stop people from reading Harry Potter for the reasons I’ve mentioned above haven’t usually read Harry Potter themselves, and so they’re basing this off hearsay and misinterpretations.

When I was seven I wanted to read the Lord of the Rings and my parents prevented me, or rather, they recommended that I didn’t. At the time, I was very angry about this. In fact, it still irritates me sometimes. It wasn’t because they thought it was unsuitable or anything – the reason given was “you’ll enjoy it more when you’re older.”

I read it when I was eight and loved it to pieces, and couldn’t understand why they’d kept it from me for several months. It was my favourite book for a solid two years.

I had a few incidents when I was given books for my birthday that my sister didn’t think were suitable for someone of my age and she used to tell me not to read them. Sometimes I listened, and waited a while, and then read them. With one or two I thought, “I don’t understand why I couldn’t read that last year.” With others I thought, “Okay, she was right. I was too young for that.”

But one thing I always ignore is “Guidance: adult content.” I mean, come on. Slapping that on a YA book and expecting a voracious 12-year-old reader not to pick it up is like insulting Darth Vader and expecting him not to force choke you. Stupid.

My sister had one of those, on her shelves. I waited until she went to university, a couple of months before I turned thirteen, and then read it. And yeah, I was probably too young, but it’s a great book and was a big influence on my writing, and I don’t regret reading it then.

People also warned me against the His Dark Materials books. As I’m from a Christian family, they weren’t at all sure about some of Philip Pullman’s ideas about God, but it can’t be denied that they’re well-written books and so no one stopped me from reading them. They just warned me to be careful.

I was eleven and it went straight over my head. All of it. “Dodgy ideas about God?” I said to my mum when I finished it. “What dodgy ideas about God?”

(When I was fifteen, I read them through again and thought back to that opinion … “Oh.” Okay, in case any of you guys missed it like eleven-year-old me, God dies. Also, they have sex at the end. They’re like, twelve. That’s weird.)

Even though I now see the aspects of those books that contradict what I believe, that doesn’t ruin my enjoyment of them. To me, they’re just another fantasy series, and I don’t expect books to believe what I do. If they did, that’d be boring. I’d never have learned to think about things. They’re well-written, so I like them. Books that go out of their way to be shocking and to insult the Christian faith – those are the ones that bother me. Not children’s books that don’t have a Christian moral.

I always preferred the ones without morals anyway. Much more fun.

But the thing about all of these books is that no one stopped me from reading them, hid them from me, took them away … they just said, “I don’t think you should read that now.” Or, “I won’t buy that book for you until you’re older.” If I wanted to read it regardless, I could.

I saw a post on Tumblr a while back where a student asked if she was doing the right thing running an illegal library out of a spare locker in her strict Catholic school which had banned a lot of books, including The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams), Mort (Terry Pratchett) and Sabriel (Garth Nix). All of these are books I have read multiple times and enjoyed. Why were they banned? Because their ideas about death and the afterlife (Mort and Sabriel) or about God and creation (Hitchhiker’s Guide) contradicted the religious ethos of the school.

You shouldn’t stop people reading books because they contradict your beliefs. For a start, people don’t automatically start imitating the life choices of characters, or I’d be a complete psychopath by now. And people need a challenge to the beliefs they’ve been brought up in so that they can make their own mind up about what they believe.

If they never hear another opinion, how are they ever going to assert their faith as their own rather than their parents’ or guardians’?

Books shouldn’t be censored. It’s not up to parents to decide what their children believe, and reading books that broaden your worldview is only going to make you a better, more open-minded person. If they really believe something, it’s not going to be shaken by a humorously blasphemous book like Good Omens (that doesn’t insult anyone and only gently pokes fun at Christianity). Also, if you’re going to stop someone reading a book because you think it’s theologically dodgy or whatever, read it first.

Please. The next person that tells me Harry Potter is advocating black magic and will turn their children into Satanists will be locked in a room with the series and forced to read it. Possibly at wand-point.


30 thoughts on “Let Them Read

  1. Haha, here you have a post that begins with “Disclaimer: I’m a Christian.” and just yesterday I had a post where I quoted the Bible and explained that I’m an atheist. Nice timing. :P I’ve been thinking about stuff like that a lot.

    “Also, they have sex at the end. They’re like, twelve. That’s weird.” I guess it’s just the way you put it, but that comment made me laugh so much.

    Personally, if someone tells me not to read a book, then I… read it. It’s strange how that works. As soon as someone is told they can’t do something, they want to do it even if they didn’t care about it before. And most of the time when I *do* think I wasn’t old enough to have read something, it wasn’t due to the cursing/sex/violence/whatever. It had more to do with themes and nuances and character motives. I didn’t realize Narnia was a Christian allegory for years…

    I’ve read His Dark Materials several times, most recently, oh, about 2 years ago, and I still didn’t realize God dies. O_O I need to reread that again. I don’t know WHAT I thought happened…

    When people say Rowling worships Satan, I smile very widely and explain the parallels between Harry and Jesus in DH.

    *apologizes for the comment that just kept getting longer and longer*

    1. It’s okay – essay comments are my favourite kind of comments! :D And I leave plenty of them, all over the place.
      I figured if I was going to criticise the strict Christian mothers I knew when I was a kid, I wanted to make sure no one could accuse me of dissing Christians, because that would be… odd.
      Most of the time, books people told me not to read had seriously mature themes or ideas – things that I wouldn’t be able to get my head around at that age. Sometimes it was just swearing – we don’t swear in our house. I mean, I swear sometimes, but never when my parents are there. That’s a big no-no. :D Also, quite a few it was because of sex because I was an innocent little child until I was about eleven and they all tried to protect me.
      Making people laugh is my aim. Okay, I try and write meaningful stuff as well, but I like laughter. Laughter is good.

    2. Excellent. :D

      My family is the same way with swearing…

      My parents acted like I was a little kid until I was about 13. :/ Sort of awkward. At that point, I’d come across various things in books by accident anyway, like I would check out a book and not really know what it was about.

      I love making people laugh. I’m practicing to be a comedian. :D Or maybe just a really, really insane writer.

      1. Dad’s are worse than Mom’s when it comes to realizing how old their kids are… I swear it wasn’t until I had kids of my own that my Dad realized I’d grown up *eyeroll* Probably didn’t help that he wasn’t able to be around a lot do to my parents divorce wehn Idid most of that growing up stuff. :}

        I don’t think I ever had my parents tell me not to read a book. :}

  2. Call me a crazy heretic, but . . . if God didn’t want us to write “heretical” books, then why did he give us the capability to write them? Thinking about it, a timeless, ageless, all-powerful being probably doesn’t care what a bunch of mortals write about it. Heck, maybe he finds it funny. I dunno. I don’t tend to presume to know the thoughts of things that could squish me with a thunderbolt any time they like.

    I agree with you here – especially on the Vader front. Seriously, if you tell me not to read a book, you’ll find me curled up in a cupboard with it ten minutes later. Unless there is an actual legitimate reason for a child of a given age not to read a book – i.e. massively innapropriate content, either sexual or violent or whatever – I don’t agree with book censorship. Besides, like you saw with Northern Lights, most of the “inappropriate” bits goes straight over the kids’ heads anyway!

    Also, hi-five for friendly, liberal Christianity. I’m not sure if I’m strictly in the Christian bracket, but friendly and liberal I’ll do. And I believe God loves everyone. Even the peeps who put the word “bum” in their books ;)

    1. How dare you use such horrifically profane language on my blog! There will be small children staring at that ‘b’ word in horror! *collapses in shock*
      Agreed – kids don’t get it, so it’s a good time for them to read it just for the storylines. Later, they can dissect it for religious meaning, when they’re old enough to have worked out what they think about things.

        1. I am most traumatised. Of course, all of the borderline rude language in St Mallory’s would be yours.
          … says the girl responsible for the only swear word in the thing. *shifty eyes*

  3. Love the gif at the end! Haha. I totally agree with the post. Censorship of any sort is completely unnecessary, even when adults dictating what teens/pre-teens should read. We’re people too. We should be able to make our own reading choices (as long as the book is, well, age appropriate).

    1. Yes, especially now that we’re teens, I find I get more and more frustrated when I’m treated like a child. It’s bad enough with adults dumbing stuff down in case we don’t get it (dude, I’m at least vaguely intelligent, give me a break), without them just failing to tell us anything in the first place. Sigh.

  4. I know some people who weren’t allowed to read HP for ages cause their parents thought it was wicked…but it’s about good triumphing over evil! And you can’t say you think magic is sinful…cause Narnia!!!! (And yes I am aware that “cause Narnia” is not any sort of explanation but you know what I mean ;) )

    1. “cause Narnia” is totally a decent explanation. For everything. Ever.
      “So why do you think this about [insert political issue here]?” “Oh, ’cause Narnia.”
      Works. Always works. Mainly because everyone just backs away slowly and doesn’t ask any more questions.

  5. When I was a kid I censored myself. I took a book out from the school library, started reading it that night at home, and after about two pages took it to my mum and said “I don’t think I should be reading this”. I think there were like six swear words (proper ones, not like “bum”) in the first paragraph.

    I think most kids have enough sense to not read stuff they don’t understand. And if they understand it, then they’re old enough, no matter their physical age.

    1. That’s true. Sometimes in the past, if I found that something made me uncomfortable I would stop reading it. There were a few books like that. But that’s a personal choice thing, and that’s very different from other people trying to make those decisions for you :D

  6. I love this. And totally agree. I first heard of Harry Potter after I graduated high school. Someone told me “It’s glorifying magic. All the people with magic are good and all the non-magical people are bad.” (not true, of course) I thought that was kind of a dumb thing to do in a story, but I didn’t immediately decide it was horrid.

    The next time I heard about the books was in a conservative Christian newsletter my family had. It ran a story about how Rowling worshiped Satan and supposedly quoting an article where kids said things like, “I love Hermine and I think Satan is awesome.” I’d never heard of the Onion, (the satirical newspaper that ran the original made-up article), but even at nineteen I thought that the connection between HP and Satanism seemed really tenuous and not quite logical.

    Then I read HP. I enjoyed them. And found out everything everyone had been telling me was wrong. But even without reading them, I still was able to evaluate what people were telling me because I was a voracious reader who was used to thinking about what I read.

    The ability to evaluate what you read and make up your own mind about things comes from reading itself. The more you read, the less susceptible you are to manipulation, IMO.

    In other words. Boo censorship! Yay books!

    1. Yes! That idea that the Muggles are the enemy is what my mum had picked up (though it didn’t bother her). I hastily explained that that wasn’t it at all, and she’d got totally the wrong end of the stick.
      As for the Satanist claims, that’s patently ridiculous. You only have to look at the constant themes of love, forgiveness and second chances to see that that isn’t the point she’s trying to make at all.

  7. Geez, Miriam! These last few posts of yours have been utterly fantastic! I couldn’t agree more, being a young reader myself, I totallly get the whole censorship thing and why do parents hide their kids from expierencing good literature. I still gasp that there are people who haven’t even seen the HP movies. But the idea that parents “shield” their kids from coming up with their own opinions on so many different subjects is just ridiculous to me. I do, on the other hand, understand why parents want to make sure that they’re reading things that aren’t too mature for them, due to like, content and stuff. That I understand. Awesome post ! :)

    1. Ha ha, thank you! I’ve been trying to concentrate on ‘quality’ (especially after my post that criticised filler posts, ehehe), and I’ve just had so many ideas recently. It’s a way to flex my non-fiction writing muscles as I’ve been doing a lot of editing :D But I’m glad you appreciate it, I’m very grateful.
      Yeah, what I’m criticising here is censoring things for religious or moral reasons rather than due to suitability. I get it if you don’t want an eight-year-old to read Holly Black’s “Tithe”. That’s understandable. =D (Which, by the way, is the book I mention up there that I read as soon as my sister went to uni.)

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