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Christ came to take away our sins, not our minds.
—Rev. William
Sloan Coffin,
Credo, 2004


• • • Censorship Page Index • • •
  1. Entry page
  2. Religion, Harry Potter, and the Taliban
  3. The Vatican weighs in on Harry Potter
  4. 'Forbidden fruit' concept in censorship
  5. Banning 'Bridge to Terabithia'
  6. Censoring Red Riding Hood's grandma
  7. Censoring Thomas Merton, Judy Blume, — even Bill Martin Jr.
  8. The Great Textbook War
  1. Book-lynching in Indianapolis High School
  2. Saving us from 'Private Ryan'
  3. Censorship and hysteria: McCarthyism, Walter Cronkite, and a smear victim
  4. Picking the censors: William Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, or Murdoch's Fox Network?
  5. Test and textbook censors
  6. Capt. Underpants and Junie B. Jones
  7. When is it 'inappropriate'?



By Jim Trelease

© 2001, 2007 Jim Trelease / updated: 3/30/11

Long John Silver: How big a threat?

   John Monk, an editorial writer for Knight-Ridder's daily newspaper The State in Columbia, SC, wrote an editorial in response to the protests, noting:

"Some claim the Potter books lure children into witchcraft. Poppycock. You might as well say Gone With the Wind teaches young readers to be slave owners, or Treasure Island entices children to be pirates, or Peter Pan urges children to run away from home."

n February, 2003, the Vatican made an official statement regarding Harry Potter's magic relationship with children. Rev. Don Peter Fleetwood, a Vatican culture official, stated that he saw no problems with the magic embraced in the Potter books. "If I have understood well the intentions of Harry Potter's author, they [magic and occult forces] help children to see the difference between good and evil."

The key to preventing a book challenge from dividing a community is to ensure the "hearing" is conducted in a civilized, rational manner.

In the decade since the arrival of the Potter books, school crime dropped ("Crime in Schools Fell Sharply Over Decade, Survey Shows," by Fox Butterfield, The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2004), teen pregnancies declined (, and teen smoking and drug use dropped (Associated Press, “Smoking and Drug Use by Teenagers Drop Again,” The New York Times, Dec. 22, 2004). Additionally, the thousands of midnight Potter publication parties in bookstores were marked by nothing but orderly, good-humored behavior on the part of nearly one million children and their parents—something that probably couldn’t have been said about similar gatherings of children and parents at a thousand midnight Little League games. If, indeed, there were all those Satanic connections to the Potter books, where is the evidence of the devil's work upon tens of millions of children's souls in the last decade?

If you are a school district or library being challenged on the Potter books, you might wish to call up support from two Christian (one Protestant and one Catholic) resources: Looking for God in Harry Potter (Reed Elsevier) by John Granger, a home-schooling Christian father of seven; and Father Roderick Vonhögen, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Utrecht (The Netherlands), who has explored the positive classical and Biblical origins of all the Potter books in his popular podcasts ( And by all means visit the American Library Association's Web site for support materials (

The key to preventing a book challenge from dividing a community is to ensure the "hearing" is conducted in a civilized, rational manner. Two books on this issue stand out in bold relief. Both are written by experienced educators and offer striking examples of how easily good teachers, students, and schools have been railroaded into silence by censorship or its fears — something we normally associate with totalitarian countries, not democracies like our own.

CENSORSHIP: A Threat to Reading, Learning, Thinking, edited by John S. Simmons (International Reading Association 1994   |   278 pages)

This is the more comprehensive of the two books, covering censorship threats in nearly all the academic disciplines, from elementary to high school. Its 19 chapters have been authored by national experts, writers, educators, and even school board members. The text straddles the line between excoriating censorship and the ways to negotiate one's way around it, including advice for principals, librarians, and school boards.

AT THE SCHOOHOUSE GATE : Lessons in Intellectual Freedom by Gloria Pipkin and ReLeah Cossett Lent  (Heinemann, 2002  |  230 pages)

   The authors, two veteran Florida secondary teachers, describe the long, winding road they traveled in that state as they attempted to educate and expand the minds of young people through reading and writing. Their approach was often in direct contrast with the traditional approach — memorizing fact-bits to be regurgitated at test time but hardly productive when it come time to think or act critically or intelligently. The book is both inspiring and frightening in its scope and ramifications.

'Do not touch' the forbidden fruit!

  The book-banners might also consider the concept of "forbidden fruit" and its effect on human behavior. Seldom is a book successfully banned but sales and circulation always increase as a result of the attempt. Book bannings make as much sense as a parent telling her children in December, "Don't look in the back of the hall closet." You've just advertised the fact that something is there you don't want them to see. This is true for both children and adults.

 "Make movies of great books, and then forbid children to see them."

 The adult reaction is exemplified in the story told to me by Nancy Weatherman of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. She had successfully weeded an antiquated library collection in one of the state's prisons when the warden wanted to know how she planned to dispose of the hundreds of books she'd weeded.

"That's easy," she told him. "Just pile them on tables under a sign 'Do Not Touch!' They'll be gone in days." They were.

   Children's reactions are much the same. When Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Washington Post's Book World declared the film "Jurassic Park" to be too frightening and therefore off-limits to his nine-year-old son, he failed to take into consideration the lure of "forbidden fruit." That attraction, combined with the television commercials, were enough to provoke the boy to go to the original source. Painstakingly but with great motivation, the nine-year-old read the entire 399-page book that summer. This, in turn, provoked the father-editor to wonder if maybe this isn't the key to turning on all those reluctant readers: Make movies of great books, and then forbid children to see them.

    The humorous aspects of the forbidden fruit is explored further by storyteller Bill Harley in his Nov. 27, 2001 essay for NPR in which he describes his sixth-grade idea of sneaking James Bond books to school. Soon everyone was bringing in their parent's books, hoping for cheap thrills. The essay can be heard with RealAudio player at Forbidden Books.

BACK       • Censor subject index     • NEXT— The 'Terabithia' threat

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