Posted tagged ‘Harry Potter’

Do *you* read banned books? (Probably, yes.)

October 6, 2015

Have you finished your banned book yet?

If you started reading during Banned Books Week (Sept. 27 through Oct. 3), maybe not. Some of those titles run long. Of course, so do the lists of them. If you’ve ever delved into the Harry Potter series; The Kite Runner; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; or To Kill a Mockingbird, you’ve read a book that someone somewhere has banned or restricted.

Classic? Young adult? Play? Graphic novel? Short, long, fiction, even nonfiction? Humor, historical, horror, allegory, how-to, science/medical, satirical? Doesn’t matter. There’s always a reason.

People and groups that challenge or ban books make strange bedfellows. Nationalism and obscenity are common reasons around the world. So is racist language. (Sexist language is apparently not a problem.) That’s the main basis of perpetual battles over Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Black Boy, and even Mockingbird. The keep-them side sees these classics as learning tools and reflective of their times, and each side accuses the other of failing to see what’s more damaging: reading racist words and racist depictions of people and situations or cleaning up or avoiding the same in an effort to sanitize history, literature, and thought.

Then there’s the religious argument. The Harry Potter series is godless and promotes witchcraft. Brave New World is antifamily and antireligion. Fahrenheit 451 not only uses foul language but shows the burning of a Bible. (Hello, irony.)

Another angle to the religious argument (often including obscenity) is the attempt to ban books that show “immoral” situations: extramarital sex, homosexuality, rape, and so on. That covers Forever, Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, Lolita, Daddy’s Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, The Kite Runner, even In the Night Kitchen (Mickey the toddler is nude!).

Overlapping that religious angle but often coming from the opposite political viewpoint is the desire to shield children from books that depict violence, abuse, suicide, and general misery, especially involving other children. There go The Kite Runner (again), The Hunger Games, The Color Purple, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Ordinary People, Lord of the Flies, The Chocolate War, Blubber, Summer of My German Soldier, Catch-22 ….

Current popularity is no protection. I was surprised to find Friday Night Lights, among other most-read titles, on a Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books List. (Is it the football worship?) This is a novel that’s spawned a film and a very successful TV series. No surprise about magic-filled Harry Potter, the bestselling book series in history, which has been credited with getting hundreds of thousands of nonreaders to read; its seven print installments have been made into e-books, audiobooks, theme parks, video games, a stage play, and the second-highest-grossing film series of all time.

I gave my mother the “I read banned books” pin I received at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference this year. She smiled. “Banned books are the best books,” the career librarian said.

It’s not too late to find your own banned book and defy attempts at censorship. Try Banned & Challenged Classics (The Great Gatsby is #1) or the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2014. Then you too can say, “I read banned books.”

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Ludus cum Dick et Jane

March 13, 2013

“Habemus papam,” read the shortest announcement on the website of what I’m pretty sure is the world’s smallest (in area) sovereign power. Not that I was monitoring the Vatican’s website. I was monitoring the Washington Post’s website, which had a screen shot—and a translation. The first was enough: I could read “Habemus papam” without giving it a thought.

“Latin Surges in Popularity” is the headline on a U.S. News article from October 2008, the most recent such article I can turn up right now. “In the past 10 years, the number of students taking the National Latin Exam has risen by 30,000 to about 135,000, while the number of students taking the Advanced Placement Latin exams has nearly doubled,” the story says. “Some say the resurgence is linked to increased interest in SAT preparation and Latin’s ability to help students succeed on the test’s verbal section, while others believe young adults’ obsession with Harry Potter and his Latin spells are driving the trend.”

The article notes that students also love the engaging links to archeology, literature, and mythology. “The reason we know about the Greeks and the Romans and the reason we can talk about the significance of the literary works is because of the language. Language and culture are inseparable,” says the president of the American Classical League.

Those are the two halves of my answer to those who say, “Latin is a dead language. Why bother?” To back up the first half, I could be obnoxious and point to—mirabile dictu—my 5 on the Advanced Placement English exam despite never having read any of the books listed as essay subjects. (Long story. Thank goodness for a clear memory of Billy Budd.) Studies show that two years of Latin tend to boost a student’s SAT verbal score by 100 points.

Generally, though, I mention how knowing Latin strengthens a person’s understanding of English—both vocabulary and grammar. (Some 60 percent of English words come from Latin.) It makes a person a better writer, a better speaker, a better speller. A better reader, too, probably.

Not to mention a better citizen. After all, our form of government is derived from England and Old Europe, and the Founding Fathers had a classical education, meaning Latin and Greek as well as history, science, math, and geography. Want to enter law, medicine, science, economics? Expect to see a lot of Latin. And if you add another Romance language, you’ll pick it up much more easily. Without Latin, I’d have been tempted to drop out of French tout de suite.

And then there’s just getting a fair amount of popular culture, everything from books to articles to movies and even music and TV. When the aforementioned Mr. Potter wanted to knock a wand out of an opponent’s hand, he looked up expelliarmus. Years ago, I was sitting in a Georgetown crowd with two pals, one of whom I knew had taken Latin. “Like all of Gaul,” the speaker began, “my talk today is divided into three parts.” Mike and I looked at each other and exploded in giggles. “What?” hissed the friend sitting between us.

I was corresponding this morning not with Mike but with Rick. “Sic, habemus papam. Sed ubi, o ubi, est eius sub ubi?” went the email. (“So, we have a pope. But where, oh where, is his underwear?” One of the hits among a certain segment of the eighth grade.) I’m not telling who said what to whom, but there I was giggling again. Who says “dead” languages aren’t fun?

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.