Climbing on the “banned”wagon…

There is definitely a school of thought among writers along the lines of “ban my book, PLEASE!” because of the focus of interest that banning a work of literature – in what is purportedly an ‘open’ and enlightened society – throws on the book in question. That said, reasons for banning books are usually ludicrous, and are rooted in personal opinions or prejudices of those doing the banning in the forlorn hope that their own (alternative) views might carry the day. Harry Potter was banned in places because it was supposedly “teaching children witchcraft”, for the love of god. There was a list of banned books somewhere that had me scratching my nogging mightily because I could not for the life of me conceive of why a book like “Call of the Wild” might be on such a list.

But a recent kerfuffle about a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel brought it all into a sharper focus – the book was ostensibly banned for the usual ludicrous reasons, but the real reason is that it was dangerous to those clinging to status quo because it had the unmentionable potential of MAKING CHILDREN THINK. The book, of course, is Maus (and the ludicrous reasons included “nudity” – think about this, a naked mouse! – and “bad language” – and honestly, if the Holocaust doesn’t give you reason for the occasional “bad” word, what does, and in any event you’d really have to go TRAWLING for examples of this…) I had heard of Maus, of course (and was certainly not ignorant on the subject matter that spawned the book). Graphic novels not being my usual thing, though, I didn’t own a copy.

When the book was clutch-pearled banned by idiots who thought they could stifle the idea of the Holocaust by banning a graphic novel showing history in metaphorical images of – well – mice, I made it my business (and I am glad to say that many others had the same reaction) to obtain a copy for my own library. Ban THIS, I thought, clicking the purchase order. (the book – whose original publication dates start in the 1970s) and then watched the book shoot straight up into bestsellerdom status; it quickly became unobtainable because so many people were ordering a copy – the publisher was left scrambling to order a new printing.

We can argue about whether this is “children’s literature” – but that isn’t because it’s a graphic novel (grown ups can and do read those and some are very adult in nature indeed) or even because of the Holocaust story which is the heart of it. It might possibly not be so because of the very adult portrayal of the relationship between the author and his father, with issues that clearly stem from the unspeakable experiences from the camps. But that is neither here nor there – and if school-age children are to be aware fhat something like Auschwitz existed, and they SHOULD be, then this can’t be beat for a vehicle to convey those ideas. And no, one image of a naked mouse is not enough to cry banning and burning. The fact that this was used as an excuse basically flabergasted me when I first heard it and flabbergasts me even more now that I’ve seen the book in question – I barely found the “nudity” in question when I was actively looking for it, and I have to question the basic sapience of somebody who would ban a book because nudity but is not remotely concerned about the logic of it portraying MICE who are wearing CLOTHES.

Whatever might be said for its target audience (if there is one that was targeted) what DOES have to be said is that this is a book that wasn’t written for people who “ought” to read it – it was created because it “ought” to be read. This is a powerful and searing story – quite literally the mouse who roared, as it were – and not only should it not be banned but it should be lauded. I am pleased that the banning of it had such an opposing effect, in other words, and that so many people are scrambling to get hold of a copy.What any particular reader gets out of it is something for that reader to deal with – but even if it is just asking more questions that is a result that is more than essential in today’s world. If history is to be taught in schools – and it should be – and if children of an age to learn modern history can be provided with a graphic novel which teaches it to them – yes, even if it has naked mice in it – what is the problem here… other than some people wanting to ensure that certain darker parts of history are swept as much under any convenient carpet as possible and not talked about at all. The problem is that it isn’t ancient history, it’s still within living memory or at the very least within the memory of the generation once removed (like teh author of Maus itself) and it isn’t forgettable, and nor should it be. We shouldn’t condone flimsy excuses being used to try and minimise or erase it. if a child has to face a naked mouse in order to know that something like the Holocaust existed… I say that’s a bargain price.

I bought this book BECAUSE it is banned. I intend to stay on the “banned”wagon and read banned books. I hope every human being with a heart and a mind does the same – with this book, and with any other with a “banned” sticker on it – it’s worth being banned, it’s usually more than worth being read. I’m not about to go all graphic-novel-crazy because of one book – it’s still not generally my thing – but I am pleased and proud that my library has been enhanced by a book like “Maus” coming to take up residence on my shelves.