Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. That week (September 29 to October 2) is a celebration of our First Amendment right to read and access information.
Last summer, I began reading the Harry Potter book series to my then-5 year old son. We had caught a part of the movie on television one night and his interest was peaked. So I borrowed The Chamber of Secrets from my dad and we started reading a few pages a night. Once finished, we celebrate by renting the movie, popping up some popcorn, and enjoying the show. Now on Book 4, my son is a die-hard Harry Potter fan. I still do most of the reading, but I look forward to the day when Darius reads the books on his own.
Last night after we finished Chapter 9 in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I told Darius that some people tried to ban the books because the story was about witches and wizards. My now-6 year old looked at me quizzically and said, “Why would they hate Harry Potter? There is magic and Quidditch and Harry ALWAYS wins in the end. And the bad guy isn’t Snape, mom. The bad guy is always somebody else.”
We talked for a couple of minutes about whether or not Harry’s world of magic was real or make-believe. We talked what it’s like to have really great friends. We even imagined what it would be like to have to live with the Dursleys coming to the same conclusion that our little life in Almaden Valley was a million times better even without the magic.
While JK Rowling may be no Zora Neale Hurston, I can already see how reading has had a magical effect on my child. And I wonder when he’s older which of the books on the Banned Book list will change his life. Will it be Catcher in the Rye or Lord of the Flies? Will he lay under his sheet with a flashlight reading Lord of the Rings hours past his bedtime like his Uncle Ryan did as a pre-teen? Will he forever be haunted of the tragic ending in Of Mice and Men and wonder if he could ever make the same decision to protect his own brother?
When I had kissed my son good-night on his forehead, turned off his light, and began to close his door, Darius called out, “Mom?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m still here.”
“Mom, it’s not fair to tell people what they can read. Right?”
“You’re right. People should be able to read what they want without getting into trouble for it.”
“So does that mean I can finally check out Captain Underpants from the library? It’s only fair to let me read what I want.”
“We’ll talk about it the next time we go to the library.”
I quickly closed the door and began hatching a plan to preserve my personal ban on those books when my husband said, “Just wait till he tells you those Playboys under his mattress are for the articles.”
I guess the freedom to read includes Principals who fly around in their underwear and Centerfolds.