The new literary phenomenon The Hunger Games, along with its sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay are at number three on the American Library Association’s List of Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011, for apparently being insensitive, anti-ethnic, anti-family and satanic. In many ways, being on the list this shows the books are doing something right. Entries for this decade include Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, as well as the children’s series His Dark Materials and Harry Potter. That’s some pretty illustrious company. However, their entry brings two questions to mind. Firstly, have the people who made these accusations actually read the book? And secondly, why should we allow ANY book to be banned?
Having read the Hunger Games trilogy, I cannot deny that they contain a of of violence, blood, gore, pain and suffering. They are certainly not bedtime reading for a child of six. But they do not glorify or encourage violence, nor are the violent actions of the protagonist needless or senseless – she kills in order to survive – and one of the major themes of the book is how the killing of children leads to the loss of humanity in society.
However, there is no obvious reason to say these books are anti-ethnic. Suzanne Collins includes important characters from a wide range of ethnicities, from the black-haired, olive-skinned Katniss, to the blond hair and blue-eyed Peeta and the ‘dark brown skin and eyes’ of Rue. All come from the poverty-stricken Districts; all must face death in the Hunger Games. In fact, the most worrying thing has been the racist reactions of some ‘fans’ to the casting of African-American actors as dark-skinned characters in the film adaptation, saying that the casting of black actors ruined the film for them.
Equally, I do not understand how these books are anti-family. The heroine constantly puts herself in danger to support her family and is willing to risk her life to save her younger sister and the loss of members of her family has a devastating effect.
Also, could someone to point out exactly where, in a book which contains no mention of religion, Suzanne Collins is advocating Satanism? I would love to know where that one came from.
Reading literature is never a subjective process, and I accept that others have every right to disagree with my interpretation of a text. But I cannot accept that anyone anywhere has the right to dictate what other people are reading, and while there are many books which are not suitable for some children, this should not lead to books being no longer accessible to all.
When I was twelve I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, another on the list of banned books. The dystopian world of state-mandated sex, drugs, social engineering and psychological conditioning had me shocked from the first chapter. But I couldn’t put it down. It made me think, made me question, made me challenge ideas and beliefs. It forced me to expand my horizons. In short, it did what all the best literature should do. Did it terrify me? Of course. Was it good for me? Absolutely. What hope have we of nurturing intelligent, enlightened, balanced individuals if we constantly try to shield them from the slightest contact with the uncomfortable and controversial? To me it is more than a little ironic that people are trying to prevent the reading of books which criticised authoritarian censorship.
I’m not saying that other twelve year olds may not be ready for Brave New World. Emotional maturity has nothing to do with how old you are, and different topics affect people in different ways. In my experience, a child won’t read what it can’t handle. But ultimately it is up to parents to judge the suitability of their own child’s reading material, and if they are concerned about a particular book I would suggest they read it themselves before making a decision. By trying to get the booked banned they force their personal parental decisions onto other parents, and support the control of access over literature.
By Georgina Rose