A Burning Idea: Progress Report 1

Documented cases of book censorship near SUNY Geneseo are difficult to come by. There was an incident in Brighton, not far from here, relatively recently, but said challenge of the LGBTQ Young Adult novel Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez, was already done by a previous group. Instead, then, my partner for this project, Lauren Sternberg, and I had to find an incident still within a reasonable distance from Geneseo, as this project is meant to be local. We examined incidents in Johnson City, near the city of Binghampton, around two hours away, where two children’s books which included portrayals of the violence of the War in Afghanistan were challenged, as well as in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, just over an hour from Geneseo. The incident in Lackawanna involved the removal of several books from recommended school reading lists for their supposed occult influence on children, although said books, including Eoin Colfer’s The Supernaturalist, were eventually restored following protestations of censorship on the part of district parents and teachers. Although there were a couple of other incredibly minor incidents, those were a similar distance away, and, ultimately, Lauren and I decided that we would take up the Lackawanna case, pending one final check for a better option. Fortunately, said better option was found just in time, in the form of the children/young adult novel The Golden Compass (known as Northern Lights in its original British publications and in most places outside of North America), by Philip Pullman. The novel, the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, was widely contested and banned due to its perceived anti-religious and anti-Catholic sentiment. The trilogy’s main antagonists are the world’s governing theocracy, led by the Magisterium, who actively repress facts that would be problematic to their rule, as well as performing cruel and unusual experiments on children with the aim of discovering the nature of sin. It is not at all difficult to see why so many schools, especially Catholic schools, had objections to and banned this book, most notably for our purposes in the Halton Catholic School District near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where is was removed from shelves, only to be later returned. Pullman, the author, having described himself as “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief” and referring to his books as being about “killing God” likely made doing away with his books in some districts all the more likely. The Vatican even stepped in regarding the series and the movie version of the first book that had then just been released, condemning both, with the Catholic League, based in the United States, stating that the purpose of the film was to “bash Christianity and promote atheism” to youths, while encouraging all Christians to stay away from the movie. This novel, series, and movie having been widely banned and challenged, will make an excellent topic for this website on book censorship, especially with the events in Halton and other school districts across the United States and Canada. There is certainly a reason that The Golden Compass has been on lists such as Banned Libraries as one of the most frequently banned books, where Pullman’s novel lasted from 200 all the way to 2007.




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