Ban The Fiddler’s Gun

By

[Note: September 25 – October 2 is Banned Books Week

Some ten or fifteen years ago, I called home to see how my parents were getting along and Dad told me the town was in an uproar over a book called The Giver. There was a movement afoot to have the book banned in the school system and as one of the little town’s most respected preachers, he’d been called to appear before the school board to deliver his own arguments on whether or not the book ought to be left on the shelves.

Now, having grown up in this town and having had to defend myself regularly from such questions as “Why you always readin’ them books?” and “Them books got good pictures?”, I have to admit that I was a bit shocked to learn that someone else was actually reading. The fact that they had then decided to ban the book was far less surprising to me.

tfgbannedThen it occurred to me that I didn’t know which side of the issue my dad would be arguing for. I had suspicions, though. My parents are great people in a million ways but when I was growing up, they were incredibly suspicious of secular culture. We weren’t even allowed to listen to Christian rock music because there was an outside chance that Petra was as evil as Journey. I’m not kidding. They did come around as we got older (Beat the System was the first vinyl I ever bought), but when I heard about this book-banning business I instantly relived those old suspicious days and my hackles went up.

I needn’t have feared, though. I asked Dad what he was going to tell the school board and the first thing he said was “Well, I read the book . . .” and right then I knew what he was going to say. I knew it because he’d read the book, he’d dispelled ignorance. He went to the school board and made his case and the book stayed on the shelves. In retrospect I know my Dad wouldn’t have been in favor of banning a book whether he’d read it or not, but in that moment, I did wonder.

He told me later that the council chamber was split down the middle between those who were for the banning and those who were against it. I can’t help but wonder how many of those on the against side could start their arguments with “Well, I read the book . . .” Probably not many, and I bet those who could did their reading with suspicious eyes and little context. So, well done, Dad. The book is still on the shelves and I have a feeling a that whole lot of people in the county went out and bought a copy during the uproar just to see what the fuss was all about. I doubt there was much uproar left after folks started reading it and some may have even had their horizons broadened by an inch or two.

More recently, a family I worked with at a group home listened to all the Harry Potter naysayers and banned the book in their house. They wouldn’t even entertain my defenses of it or my suggestion that they ought read it first and make up their minds second. I spent a lot of time with one of the boys they cared for who had read most of the Potter books before he joined the home. I had a number of great conversations with him about their humor, characters, themes, and lessons and those talks laid the basis for a healthy and joyful relationship between us. For a teenage boy from a broken home with a built-in mistrust of adults and authority, this was a step in the right direction.

But when his houseparents found out he’d been hiding a book in his room and reading it in secret, they burned the book and punished him. He came to me later, knowing I would understand their ignorance, and asked me to buy him the next book in the series. It broke my heart, but I had to tell him no. I had to tell him that even if I disagreed with his parents’ decision, I still had to abide by it and wouldn’t help him sidestep their rules. What he didn’t understand at the time was that there was more at stake than merely a book to read, there was a deeper lesson to learn about honoring those who are given authority over us, even when (especially when) we think they are wrong.

I continued to have a great working relationship with the boy but his relationship with his houseparents was completely broken. In their ignorance, by judging the books they’d also judged him. Instead of seeing an opportunity to deepen a relationship, foster discussion, and encourage growth, they’d taken something that was beautiful and meaningful to the boy and called it evil. They cast it out, forbade it from their presence, and then punished him for it. They never regained his trust.

The difficult part for me was that these parents were good friends of mine. They were wonderful people who blessed me in a multitude of ways. But they let themselves be blinded by ignorance to the point of destroying not only a book, but their relationship with a child who needed their support. So what exactly did they gain by banning the book? I still don’t know.

Every time I read about someone trying to ban a book, I have to scratch my head and wonder what on earth they hope to accomplish. I just can’t find an upside to that kind of thinking, which is, of course, another aspect of the ignorance that starts the fuss in the first place. The most obvious result of an attempted ban is that the book will sell a heck of a lot more copies. People will read it out of sheer curiosity. People who don’t even like to read books are wont to pick it up and give it a try. Book banning is a self-defeating goal, plain and simple. The only effective way something can be banned is quietly, George Orwell 1984-style; and that’s truly scary because the masses never know that the subject of the banning existed at all. Hopefully, nothing like that will ever happen in our country. (This is close but somewhat justifiable, I think. Still scary.)

So by all means, if you want to ban a book, be vocal about it. Let me know its happening so I can run out and buy a copy and make up my own mind. If I don’t like it, guess what happens. Nothing. I don’t tell people about books I don’t like (well, not unless they are Twilight bad). And if it’s full of themes and language that I don’t approve of, guess what I do. I read something else. You don’t want your kids reading something that you suspect is subversive? Ignore it; downplay it. Give them a wealth of other choices. Are they required to read it in school? Great! You’ll have a lot of important conversations about it. If a book offends you and you feel like you have to speak out, protest the content and advocate for other options.

Or you can try banning it. I wish people would ban The Fiddler’s Gun. I really do. I’d love to see it argued over in town hall meetings and picketed at libraries. I’d love to see it on the news being burned by Fred Phelps. I’d love to have the readers and the sales.

I’ll leave you with a (partial) list of books that have come under the threat of being banned in just the last ten years. You heard me right. Ten years. People have tried to ban these books, not thirty or forty years ago, but since the year 2000. It’s scary. I really do wish someone would add my book to the list. It would be in good company.

Of Mice and Men
Harry Potter
The Catcher in the Rye
Bridge to Terabithia
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Beloved
The Color Purple
The Golden Compass
The Kite Runner
Twilight
To Kill a Mockingbird

And beyond ten years. . .

The Great Gatsby
The Grapes of Wrath
The Lord of the Flies
1984
Catch-22
Brave New World
Animal Farm
The Sun Also Rises
A Farewell to Arms
Gone with the Wind
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Call of the Wild
The Lord of the Rings

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


62 Comments

  1. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Great post, Pete! I, too, wonder what people hope to accomplish by limiting information intake. Also, I wonder why people think everyone will have the exact same reaction to a book.

    And yes this is often done in the name of Christianity which breaks my heart. After all, the Bible has to be one of the most challenged books throughout history and if we want the right to read it, why would we ever deny others the right to read something?

    My parents tried to keep me from reading Sweet Valley High when I was really young and I found a way around it. I really don’t think it messed me up. I encourage parents to have discussions with their children about what they read and you’re right that downplaying books that bother us is probably the best way to go! 🙂

  2. Vonnie

    One of my mums favourite sayings when I was growing up was “You have your own brain, so why are you using mine?” She was a big believer in letting us kids make up our own minds (as long as we had all the facts). As such I am always amazed and saddened by how fast people will jump on a ‘band wagon’ – such as the banning of a particular book – without actually knowing what they are really about.

    Imagine the world of understanding and love we could live in if everyone took the time to make up their own mind instead of letting themselves be caught up in the flow of what’s going on around them…

  3. C. M. Gerbman

    Fiddler’s Gun is banned in my house!!! So is Fiddler’s Green! (Just wish I could get my hands on a copy!)

  4. Dieta

    I’m amazed at how many of the books on your two lists were either required reading for myself or my children, or both. Which goes to show, I guess, that one person’s ignorance is another person’s great literature. I am hoping my children get to live in a world that let’s them taste and see for themselves, not based on another’s bias.

  5. Laura Peterson

    Love this post, Pete. Thanks.
    I remember reading “Tuck Everlasting” in fourth grade (required reading) and being very concerned about the whole “water that makes you live forever” thing with no mention of Jesus. Yipes! I asked my mom what to do, and it led to a great conversation about faith and fiction. And a great example story for her to tell other parents who are interested in what their kids are reading at school. “Tuck Everlasting” now sits on my shelf alongside many other favorites….most of which are probably also on the banned books list!

  6. Chris Whitler

    Good post…I agree. Banning books is pretty dumb. But school boards don’t really need to worry, Americans are banning books from their lives without any help.

    From a recent post on Don Millers blog…”According to Para Publishing, 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. And 42% of college graduates follow suit. 70% of U.S. adults have not stepped into a bookstore in the last 7 years and 80% of American families did not purchase or read a book last year.” Post is here…http://donmilleris.com/2010/08/06/do-this-one-thing-and-youll-rise-above-your-peers/

    So, please keep encouraging reading here and in your kids too. I’m grateful for all the good suggestions for books that I get here in the RR.

    One thing that bugs me here sometimes though… I liked Fiddler’s Gun. I like the Wingfeather books. I recommend them all the time. I have not read Twilight. And I know it was a joke but, do you think it might be a bit off point to put down other authors and artists here? I mean, if a real die hard Twilight fan is reading this, how likely are they to buy your book now? You just insulted a book they love. And it’s a book that many, many people love.

    The Inklings made fun of bad books, I’m sure, as they talked there in the Rabbit Room. But they were just a group of friends in a room by themselves drinking beer. They weren’t trying to sell music, books, t-shirts and mugs on the internet. This is a wide place with lots of opinions and .com stands for commercial. So sometimes the message gets convoluted for me.

    I do like to hear what you all like but I’m a little turned off when this room gets cynical. The atmosphere here is best when it encourages good things and doesn’t put down art that one of you feel is bad.

    (steps off soap box)

  7. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    “do you think it might be a bit off point to put down other authors and artists here? ”

    As a general rule, we don’t do bad reviews. We recommend what is good, and avoid the bad. To date, I’m pretty sure Twilight has been the only exception to that, and the exception was made for comedic purposes (as it was in this post).

    On the other hand, criticism is an important part of any art form and when I see things that fall short of good standards, I don’t have any trouble pointing them out. And I don’t mean personal preferential standards, I mean basic standards of grammar and storytelling. It’s about accountability.

    It’s no different than pointing out that Ronald McDonald is no gourmet chef. I can recommend Evie’s cooking all day long but sometimes it’s worth mentioning the low end of the spectrum just for contrast.

    If you have any doubts, by all means, read Twilight and make up your own mind.

  8. Dan Foster

    Thanks for the post Pete. It stirred up some thoughts I had. These are not meant to be contrarian by any means, but just furthering of the discussion.

    My brother is a long-time Christian school teacher now getting a Master’s to become a librarian. As a conservative (politically and theologically) in a very liberal field, he finds the interaction stimulating. We were recently discussing censorship and book banning. He pointed out that it’s not really a question of _whether_ we ban something, but where we draw the line. Can we all agree that child pornography should not be in our libraries? Legally, it’s not allowed. So there’s a line. How about adult pornography? In a Christian school it may be obvious, but not so much in a public library. What about expletive-laden, soft-core porn, violent, poorly written, literary-value-devoid pulp fiction?

    Ultimately, a library/school/store has to make choices. What does it really mean to “ban” a book? If a library chooses not to purchase a book and put it on its shelves, is it thus “banned”? Libraries can’t have every book ever written, so thus some books will become de-facto banned. And I think we should be happy they don’t have every garbage romance novel on the shelves (though maybe they have most).

    Likewise, in my house, if I don’t purchase a book or I don’t let my child read a book, am I banning it, or just exercising discernment? I just finished Fiddler’s Gun about a week ago. I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to Fiddler’s Green. Thanks for writing it! When I started, I wondered if it would be good for my daughter to read in 5th grade next year as she studies the American Revolution. After the first section, I decided it would not. She’ll have to wait until high school. Am I banning this from my daughter? A parent needs to shelter his children when they are young and lead them to maturity and the independence to follow God on their own and make their own choices as they grow. How that happens differs for each family and child. Again, it’s not _whether_ parents should ban books from their children, but for how long and in what circumstances.

  9. Becca (I. Ray)

    Great thoughts here. Hey, do you think there’s a difference between “banning” a book and choosing not to present it in a particular venue? I have some great resources on marital intimacy, but they wouldn’t be a good fit for an elementary school library.

    That’s an extreme example, of course. ‘Easy choice there. But I don’t envy the job of librarians who must decide what to display for vulnerable young readers. I think there might be a lot of hard choices there.

    Because I live in a conservative mecca, it’s easy for me to get frustrated by legalistic parents like those you mentioned in this piece. But there are sometimes other factors involved, too.

    Have you ever spent time in a bookstore perusing mass-produced “youth” books that glamorize suicide, reckless sex, drug use, etc. These aren’t thoughtful, controversial, quality literature like _The Giver_ or _Harry Potter._ These are just crap. Bad writing. Too little meat.

    If I were a librarian, watching aimless kids without adults involved their lives check out this stuff, what would I do? Where would I draw the line? Would I offer a book showing sex tips for teens? Would I offer a book advocating racial violence for young people? Would I be “banning” those books, if I decided to display _Harry Potter_ instead?

    Obviously there should be standards on quality and age appropriateness. But what are they? When does good discernment become “banning” something? I’m not sure I know what lines I would draw, if I had to make those choices. Any thoughts?

  10. thomas

    Great post Pete.

    I am willing to start the Ban Fiddlers Gun movement, but it does look bad that I am telling everyone to read it while waiting for Fiddlers Green. Then again I can start the ban Fiddlers Green movement at the same time.

    Banning books is stupid. They should never be banned. But, how do we protect or better yet honor parents wishes that their children are not exposed to a certain subject matters in a school library?

    I graduated from a high school that had junior high through high school in it. We all used the same library. Is a 11 or 12 year old ready to read a book (Speak) about a high school-er who gets raped? Whom makes that decision? If it is the parents, how are their wishes that their child not read this book to be honored. If a school is unwilling to help honor a parent’s request about their child’s reading material, I can understand why they would want a book banned from it’s library.

    Society has already established rating system for many forms of entertainment. We put age recommendations on movies, cds, and video games. Imagine the uproar if a school was allowing students to watch rated R or NC 17 movie. Imagine the uproar if a teacher was playing a album with graphic language. Imagine the uproar if a teacher allowed some graphic violent video game to be played in their class room that is not age appropriate for their classroom. I wonder how many of us who say books should never be banned would be the loudest critics if it was our child or relative who was exposed to such material in a classroom of school library.

    I guess it can be easy to say how uninformed, uneducated people are when it comes to when they want a book banned. If we are not willing to understand and even acknowledge that there might be some logical reasons to their objection, I guess maybe they can make the same argument that we are the uninformed uneducated group in the first place.

    Pete, I have to give you credit for honoring a parents wished in regards to their child reading material.

    Amy, sneaky one. This admission surprises me.

    Thomas

  11. Tony from Pandora

    I don’t think of parents not letting their kids reading certain books “banning”. It’s the parents’ right to choose the books their kids can & cannot read. You may disagree with their decision, but they’re not your kids. Pete’s example of the ‘Harry Potter’ ban may be wrong, but what parent did everything perfectly?
    If we’re talking about what children are too young/immature to read/hear/see, then we shouldn’t even let kids ride the school bus. I grew up in a town that had K-12 in one building. 1st graders sitting two rows in front of seniors on the bus. I learned more about sex on that bus than in any book or health class. How much time do we as parents spend sheltering our kids vs. talking through the stuff they learn?

    P.S. My oldest daughter just started kindergarten this year. I’m very frightened for her innocence… and we have a neighbor take her home from school to avoid the hour long bus ride…

  12. JJ

    “If you have any doubts, by all means, read Twilight and make up your own mind.”

    No, I won’t. But thanks for the suggestion. 🙂

    I was in the “Harry Potter is evil” camp originally too. Had I read the books? Nope. Where did I get my info from? Some Christian websites who shall remain nameless. But some trusted friends advised me to just read them and make up my own mind. The first book had me hooked and I read through the first five books (that were available at the time) in five weeks. And I loved being a part of “Pottermania” when the last two books were coming out.

    Now I rank them up there among my favorite series. But it still makes me sad (and a little irritated to be honest) when people continue to hate on something they haven’t informed themselves about, especially books. While reviews are helpful in weeding out the junk, sometimes you just have to read something for yourself.

    Except Twilight. No one should be reading that. 😉

  13. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Great questions and ones I thought about while writing the post. You’re right, the line is fuzzy.

    I think the issue for parents is different than for say librarians or bookstore owners. Parents (should) know their kids, know their interests and be involved in guiding their intellectual lives for years before an issue like this raises its head. Then, when something objectionable does enter the picture, there’s a basis for discussion, a context for a judgement call, and a trust between the parties involved.

    And just so to be clear, I think a parent has every right to forbid things in their home. The issue there is in making that call from a position of ignorance. If someone has read Harry Potter and still doesn’t want it in their home, I’m far less apt to argue. I may still think they are wrong, but at least they’ve gone to the trouble of making an informed decision.

    The school library issue is a sticky one, especially if the library is shared by the elementary school. It seems to me that a librarian has to be allowed some trust and latitude in deciding what fills his/her library.

    But there’s a give and take, isn’t there? The librarian needs to understand and have respect for the community he or she serves. And if we are going to invest someone with the responsibility of being the caretaker of our community’s books then we are also acknowledging that that person has a great understanding of literature and we give them latitude to discern what is and is not appropriate. That librarian is not always going to make the same choice that a parent would, and in those cases, it’s the parent’s responsibility to parent their child, not to ban the book from the library.

    In the internet age the idea of a ‘ban’ has become almost completely irrelevant. There’s nothing that can be banned that can’t be gotten elsewhere with a little bit of looking around. I’m not suggesting that that’s entirely a good thing. It’s not. Pornography being the prime example. But the issue is only going to become worse, which is why I think it’s of vast importance to provide excellent alternatives. If we as a society dedicate ourselves to creating works that are excellent, meaningful, and edifying and raise up those good works then we are helping to draw the spotlight from things that are substandard or destructive.

  14. Becca (I. Ray)

    Does anyone have thoughts on how the premise behind Romans 16:19 applies to personal boundaries on what we read? (…”I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”)

    How do I give things a fair shake while staying innocent toward evil that could distract/harm me? There have been times in my past when I invited some pretty harmful stuff into my heart in the desire to be knowledgeable. (Former Dr. Faustus here.)

    I want to be humble enough to admit that some influences could be harmful to me. But I don’t want to be ignorant, drawing conclusions about books without accurate data.

  15. Jen

    When I was a kid in Christian school, I remember there was once a conflict because one of my classmates wanted to read A Wrinkle in Time. Though I didn’t read it until many years later, I’m still puzzled why this one offended people.

    And one of the main reasons I read Harry Potter was to see what all the drama was about. Plowed through the first five books, then pre-ordered the last two as they came out. It’s one of my favorite series and I wish I’d had it when I was younger. Maybe I would’ve read more then.

    Great post, and good thoughts everyone on a complicated issue. In the end, doesn’t it all come down to parents being involved in their childrens’ reading choices and teaching them to exercise discernment? My parents were always conservative about the books and movies my sister and I were exposed to, but they also taught us good judgment, so I think we turned out okay. 🙂

    Chris – I would hope that most RR readers, even if they sort of like Twilight, would get the humor… I think you can love a book while knowing it’s terrible. I make fun of them all the time, but I have to admit… when I was sick in bed with the flu last year, Twilight was way easier to handle than the literary novel I was trying to read. 😉

  16. Drew Zahn

    As a dad of 14, I get the “Dad, can I read this?” question often, sometimes with cultural phenoms – like Harry Potter – or other times with books on my shelves – from “Lord of the Flies” to my latest Douglass/Child novel.

    Now, I confess I don’t even know what “banning” a book means (homeschooler here, and if a public library doesn’t carry it, by golly, someone might have to actually BUY the book!), but I do have to say “no” to my children now an then.

    I consider that a book is not merely a story, not merely a source of information, but a walk in the woods, the start of a relationship with the author. You go into the author’s mind and spend days in conversation with him, the memories of which can last a lifetime.

    So the question of Scripture, “Bad company corrupts good character,” comes into play when allowing my children to start a friendship with an author. To this end, I do sometimes “ban” a book from a child, at least until he or she is ready to fend off the twisted teachings of certain particular authors.

    My nine-year-old, for example, may want to read “The Golden Compass.” But I would not entrust her to that author’s tutelage (here I say this, but I haven’t actually read the book … fer shame … good thing my daughter hasn’t asked!). Likewise, I am a huge fan of John Steinbeck, but until my kids can learn to think critically about his bitter atheism, they won’t read much more than “The Red Pony.” This all gets much more difficult when talking about Mark Twain …

    This may constitute “banning,” but if I have any call, cause or authority to limit the people my children spend time with, then I have believe I have equal cause to limit the authors they spend time with. Thus, I’ll “ban” a book, even a great book. At least for a time.

  17. Becca (I. Ray)

    Has anyone thought about how the premise behind Romans 16:19 applies to your personal (or family) reading boundaries? (…”I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”) The passage context isn’t about choosing books, but I think there’s still something in it…

    How do I give books a fair shake while staying innocent toward evil that could distract/harm me? I don’t ask this lightly. ‘Lit major in undergrad, and I invited some pretty harmful stuff into my heart in the desire to be more knowledgeable. This was done in a conversational academic context and not just out of rebellion. I learned the hard way that some humility would have been beneficial.

    It feels goofy in the modern information age to admit that some influences can be harmful to ME. (Maybe to someone else, but I’m enlightened, right?) I tend to boldly look at all things. A fool rushing in. (Was it William Blake who read Shakespeare on his knees, in a commitment to humble exploration?)

    I don’t want to be ignorant, drawing conclusions without accurate data. But also, I am vulnerable. I’ve learned this much.

    How is all this done well?

  18. JJ

    “And just so to be clear, I think a parent has every right to forbid things in their home. The issue there is in making that call from a position of ignorance. If someone has read Harry Potter and still doesn’t want it in their home, I’m far less apt to argue. I may still think they are wrong, but at least they’ve gone to the trouble of making an informed decision.”

    That’s it exactly. It’s the same with any form of media for me whether it’s movies, music or video games. Parents need to be informed. Sometimes that information appropriately comes from outside sources. What parents wants (or needs) to sit through a gory movie? But sometimes you have to get your feet wet and read/watch/listen to whatever it is of your child’s interest.

    I think I’ve reached the point where I won’t even try and argue a book with someone unless they read it. I can’t argue facts with something they read on the internet from someone who hasn’t read it either.

  19. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    With kids there are appropriate ages for things. When I saw Return of the King in the theater for the first time there were some families in there with four year olds; we’ve got to ask ourselves “What does this piece of art do to a four year old consciousness?” With my kids it has often been a battle over what is age-appropriate; often they have friends who are allowed to watch movies I consider inappropriate for my children’s ages. Also, it works the other way. I consider the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series to be beneath their ability. My son wanted to see all the Star Wars movies at seven years old, an age I considered as too young for him, especially for Revenge of the Sith.

    So there is a difference between “banning” and discerning what is age appropriate. The two times I have absolutely banned something have turned out badly and I changed my course. One was Yu-Gi-Oh cards. What I actually did, stupidly because I know better, was create an obsession in my son for Yu-Gi-Oh by banning it. That’s what legalism does; it creates and empowers the very thing it is trying to stop. The ban also drove a wedge between me and my son, with the usual “My dad doesn’t understand me.” The obsession went on for several months, and I finally got him some cards and learned to play the game with him; it actually required a lot of brains to play, and our relationship became closer because I took the time to enter his world. Not long after that the obsession died and Yu-Gi-Oh was passe. Take a look here at the wider implications of a legalistic concept of God, the obsession with sin it creates, and the wedge it drives between us and Father.

    It’s a lot harder, and better, to get my son to use his own head. If I merely control him like a drill sergeant, when he grows up he will just look for others to tell him what to do.

  20. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    On cynicism in the Rabbit Room: I don’t find much. There is not a thing wrong with saying something negative about a piece of art. The One Minute Reviews ™ often have negative things to say, and thank goodness; I’ve sometimes saved money because of that. Think of certain artists in music. There is music that lasts generation after generation, because it is substantial, beautiful, deep. There’s also music that is fluffy, shallow, and it lasts as long as the fad and advertising create the necessary buzz.

    Although we shouldn’t major on the negative, there’s nothing wrong with saying something negative about a piece of art.

    Also I have the distinct impression from knowing the Petersons that this website is not a primarily a commercial consideration but a labor of love.

  21. Laura Peterson

    Becca, GREAT QUESTION! I was an English lit major too, and I think I know that tension. Alas, I don’t really have an answer as to how that is done well. I try to rely on book recommendations from people who I trust and know, and let that guide me towards what might be beneficial to me and away from what might be harmful. There’s a bestseller out right now that I’ve glanced at a few times, thinking “Maybe I should read that…you know, just to be informed.” But, my dad just finished it, and based on his horrified response when I asked what he thought, I think I’ll skip that one in favor of something more likely to entertain and edify me. That way, when someone asks “Have you read….?” I’ll have to say no, but I’ll be able to recommend something else instead. Also – good books and good writing will stick around for awhile. I like to leave room for my opinions to be changed. What I think is harmful to me now might be less so in, say, 50 years, when I’ve lived a little more and my skin’s a little thicker.

  22. Elsa

    I’m going to disagree with a few things here, so before I do, I’d like to affirm:

    1. Actually banning books is repulsive to me.
    2. Children should be encouraged to read, including things that stretch their minds.
    3. Parents have the primary responsibility to train and guide their children, including by directing their reading.
    4. Ignorance is a terrible reason to fear anything.

    That said, the ALA list of “banned” books is highly disingenuous. None of those books are banned; that’s impossible in this day and age. If the school library doesn’t have, the public library does, and if they don’t, you can always buy it yourself.

    The books on the list are actually the most-frequently CHALLENGED books, meaning that someone questioned their inclusion in a library collection. If you click through to the list that Pete linked to, you will see that the reason given for 8/10 of them is “unsuited to age group.” And they ARE unsuitable for certain age groups.

    So I guess I’m saying: What is the big deal? Parents should watch out for what their kids are learning, and if that includes asking their library or school to change the books available to them, they ought to do so. God knows that most kids’ parents don’t care a lick about what their kids hear or see, so if some vigilant parent gets “The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things” removed from the shelves, I don’t have a problem with it. Maybe they’ll pick up an Ursula LeGuin instead.

    The example of the boy who was not allowed to read Harry Potter is, to my mind, not about banning a book at all. It’s about two parents who hurt their son because they didn’t listen to or understand him. Had they said to him, “We have heard from people we trust that those books are dangerous, and since we don’t really know what is in them, we don’t want you reading them. Please choose something else,” he would still have been disappointed, but they would have acknowledged what was really going on and avoided some resentment.

  23. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Forgot to mention that playing Yu-Gi-Oh with my son was also a great opportunity for talking about the issues in the story – the reality of evil, the demonic, possession, and Christ as the real source of power. I’ve had similar conversations with him about the Harry Potter books and movies. Controversial things are often a perfect catalyst for talking with our children about issues that sometimes don’t come up in day-to-day life.

  24. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Ooh these comments!

    I agree that parents have a right to make decisions about what their kids are reading..but with that comes a responsibility to really know your kids and the world they live in. I struggle with the issue of SPEAK for example because this is a book that has clearly helped thousands of people deal with secrets in their lives, not least of which are young girls who have been raped. To me, this book should absolutely be on school library shelves. However, you could say a parent has the right to refuse that book to their child, believing, as Scroggins does, that it’s soft pornography. But what if their child has been raped and this book could help them? That’s why I think it’s better for parents to discuss what their kids are reading with them, than to just say no to the book, especially based on rumors of its content.

    I think the difference between the pornography on shelves etc and the banned or challenged book discussion is that one considers the book is already in circulation when it’s challenged. So the choice has already been made to include the book and someone is saying “no way”

    P.S. Re: Twilight, I have to admit that while the aesthetic beauty of the prose might be lacking, these books clearly do something right to communicate with millions of people. And I can’t buy that it’s because millions of people are stupid enough to enjoy it. my two cents.

  25. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    This is a great discussion, and one that makes my head swim. John Milton’s Aeropagitica must surely be the best thing ever written about book banning (he’s against it). It was written in an era when not only books got burned, but also the people who wrote them.

    Which brings up Elsa’s good point. The “Banned Book List” bugs me too. Actual book banning is a really bad thing. Ask Salman Rushdie. But nobody has issued a fatwa regarding The Earth, My Butt, and other Big, Round Things. It’s okay for parents to ask librarians to put thought into the appropriateness of books in the children’s area. Some parents are overly fearful. Some are semi-literate. That’s a shame, and I know they make life hard for librarians. But the language of “book banning” seems a little hyperventilative to me. More to the point, it sounds like the language of slick publicity.

    The “Banned and/or Challenged Books” annotation on the ALA website mentions a single episode to back up the inclusion of Orwell’s 1984: it was challenged in Jackson County, FL in 1981 on the grounds that it was pro-Communist. Okay. I’m finding it hard to believe that the publishing world is really feeling threatened by the fact that somebody in Jackson County, FL has so thoroughly misread 1984 as to believe it is a threat to democracy. Yet there 1984 is, right there on the list. I’m sorry, but there’s something intellectually dishonest about that. If we want to include the Jackson County challenge on a list of laughable instances of anti-intellectualism, fine. But please don’t put 1984 on a list of BANNED BOOKS! on the strength of that one challenge in 1981 and expect me to get all wound up about it.

    To summarize: I oppose book banning. I am actually pretty permissive even when it comes to letting kids read books that seem too mature for them (with the caveat that we parents need to be there to discuss those mature elements with them). But I’ve got some reservations about the slick, commercialized BANNED BOOKS! week.

    Still, I think banning Pete’s book is a great idea.

  26. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Becca, Laura,

    It is also crucial to fill our hearts and minds with our real identity. Think of a power source inside us – if we tap into it, plug into it, it will continually cleanse our hearts and minds, and shield us from being too affected by outside influences.

    That said, just as it is important to know our bodies and what is best for our physical health, it is also wise to recognize what is best for our souls and spirits. Our society is bent on what I call The Doritos Principle. Super-Extreme; SALT, SUGAR, BUY NOW!! As C.S. Lewis said, “A man with an obsession is a man with very little sales-resistance.” Blue Pepsi and Doritos are not food in any stretch of the word. Likewise, there is art that is super-stimulating to the soul’s taste buds but which is not at all fit for human consumption, which actually weakens us. And there is spiritual teaching that, while tasting super salty or sugary, is actually death to our spiritual health. I believe shallow music, shallow books, shallow movies, just like shallow food and shallow Bible teaching, result in a deadening to the Real, the True, the Deep, the Life-giving.

    As we eat the foods our bodies were actually designed for, we begin to crave those foods, losing more and more the desires for fake foods, and the same principle holds true for the art that we eat with our souls, and the teaching we eat with our spirits. Php 4:6-8: “”​Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with ​thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and ​​the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are ​​true, whatever things are ​​noble, whatever things are ​​just, ​​whatever things are pure, whatever things are ​​lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” That’s the food we’re designed for.

    Of course we don’t need to turn this into legalism. But it is wisdom.

  27. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Pete, just reread this post with Ethan. I asked him, “So, what do you think? Do you think Christians should ban books?” He said it’s up to each individual Christian as to what they choose to read. I also asked him, “Should I watch anything I want to watch, even a movie about a serial killer killing people in various bloody ways?” He said, “What is in there that you would want to watch?”

  28. whipple

    Ron, I think we shall have to sit down to a Yu-Gi-Oh! bout. Now we know what goes on backstage at those Allison Krauss concerts.

    Pete, I would be interested to know what your dad said in defense of the book. I really enjoyed The Giver, and although I admit that I felt it could be controversial, I couldn’t put my finger on why. It seemed so beautiful in its story of self-sacrifice.

  29. Bret Welstead

    Tony said, “I was unaware that they made a book out of the ‘Twilight’ movies…” – HA! 🙂

    And Ron, Ethan’s comment is brilliant: “What is in there that you would want to watch?” I’ll have to remember that one. What is in this movie that I want to watch? Is it profitable?

  30. Chris Whitler

    I don’t think the Rabbit Room is a cynical place overall but hey, it can happen to anybody. I know this is a labor of love and that’s why I love reading here. As a long time reader (since the place opened) and listener (hey, where’s the podcast?) and purchaser I’m just letting you know how comments like the Twilight one affect me. They cast a little shadow. And I know it was a joke. I’m not defending Twilight, I haven’t read it. It is better to be defined by what you are, not by what you’re not. But yeah, I’m not all bent out of shape…I love this place.

    A recent post talking about our speech asked us to ask the questions, “is it kind, is it good?” Scripture asks us to think on whatever is “true, right, pure, noble, praiseworthy,” etc. And while it may be true that there is “bad” art out there…is it “true” to point it out. Or, is it better, as this very post suggests, to just let the bad stuff go it’s soon to be forgotten way and recommend the good to each other.

    I don’t mind reviews. I love Tom Mckenzie’s reviews and take his advise often. I disagree sometimes and mostly agree. But he doesn’t make movies. He also doesn’t do reviews of other Anglican pastor’s sermons. Travis has said that he will not write fiction, he’s better at writing about books. He’s a critical writer and thinker about books. I think it’s ok to look at stories through that lens. But I just don’t think artists make good public critics. Help me see it another way but it just seems like bad form.

    We readers want you to write your stories. And we like to hear about what you’re reading and liking. It’s a good communal thing going on here. And I also think, casting shadows on other’s works will inevitably cast a shadow on your own.

    No Rabbit Room artist would stand in front of an audience and say, “that guy wrote a really bad song, so here’s a good one” They would just sing their good song. This is a really big audience, perhaps bigger than any one collection.

    It just seems like it’s really hard to write a book (I follow your process online quite a bit Pete). Much less to write one that strikes a chord with so many. With your art, books, music and musings, you do that and we can take part in the discussion, that’s what makes this site beautiful.

    Hope you can hear the 10 positive things as well as the one critique.

  31. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Chris, I hear what you’re saying. Makes sense, especially about artists not making good public critics. I wouldn’t write on the internet about particular bluegrass bands or songs not having depth; I do write in a general way about how the music is losing its rootedness, and how young players need to do more digging into the roots. But of course Bluegrass is a small genre, and it could potentially be hurtful to say things publicly to specific people or bands.

    I wouldn’t want Rabbit Room to become negative either; it is a place where friends get together and say, “Hey, check out this book I read – it changed my thinking in a great way.” In my early bluegrass years I spent too much time critiquing and not enough time looking for the best in things and in people. I used to go to movies and see anti-Christian bias; now I go and often see Christ-ian truths presented by secular film makers. The trouble with too much focus on the negatives in the art of others is that it ends up making us self-conscious in our own. The judgment we use is measured back to us; the racquetball slams back at us with the force we used to slam it to the wall. In being a musical improviser, and here often a prose improviser, I find that looking for the good in others causes me to be more relaxed, more spontaneous, and free in my own music and writing. If we are critical of others on a constant basis, we will subconsciously project their judgment onto us, making ourselves self-conscious and unable to be our real selves – and thus unable to be free in our improvisation (musically, in prose, or in life. Think of the judgmental, pressed-lips, hair-in-a-bun Christian who is always against everything and never for anything, and you’ll get the picture).

    So I get it about casting a shadow in here, but of course a comment here and there isn’t going cause all that.

  32. Ashley

    Wow. The story about houseparents hits so close to home. My husband and I were relief houseparents in Alabama for a time. The boys loved the Harry Potter books. A new set of houseparents decided they weren’t going to allow them in their house. The most unfortunate part is that they threw the books away, and when we asked where they were the house mom actually said one of the boys stole them. She really damaged a wonderful opportunity. Harry Potter is what created some of the quickest bonds we made with those boys. One of my favorite memories is sitting at the dinner table and during a lull in conversation hearing one of the boys (or the house pop) brandish a fork and yell, “Expelliarmus!”

  33. Claire

    It’s truly a shame that several books become challenged and banned. It’s even weirder that most of the books our school reads are banned! Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Animal Farm, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, The Golden Compass, Farenheight 451, Bridge to Terabithia, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, and probably more! Also, with The Golden Compass, I didn’t get an atheist reference until I heard about the movie, which meant I was probably too young to understand what it was. When I saw the movie, I got the atheism they were talking about, but it was just touched on so it didn’t really affect me.

  34. whipple

    I still laugh at the “Finding God in…” books that seem to pop up every time a fantastic story of hope is written, but my laughter is growing wearied with each representation of the failure of believers to read well between the lines.

    All the same, sometimes I think a multitude of readers would be better off if such religious “Cliff’s Notes” were written about books like The Giver. Mentioning The Golden Compass, I will say I’m glad no one has written a paranoid “Finding the Antichrist in…” series of books. There’s hope yet.

  35. Nathaniel Miller

    Excellently written. I could see the Fiddler’s Gun being a book that could be banned in some Christian environments. “How could anyone who calls themselves a Christian include such language in a book?” I admit, the language made me queasy. Actually, everything that Fin winds up in made me queasy. But any Christian that would call for a ban of such a book is simply doing themselves a disservice. It is apparent from the story that deep down inside, Fin feels just as queasy. But what do I know about it all? I haven’t read the Fiddler’s Green yet. But I know what I want for Christmas!

  36. Sir Jonathan Andrews

    Oh no my wife Ashley beat me here and stole the story I was going to tell. Well i’ll just add about being house parents and the Harry Potter books being thrown away and lied about. We never had a full trust of those house parents again. They broke their trust with the boys and us and in a place we were the decision of what the boys could watch or read was made as a group so they had no authority by themselves to ban a book. I new they were going to be interesting to work with the day she said, “I don’t know why I believe it. I just do because that’s what my pastor says.” They wouldn’t let the boys read Harry Potter but they didn’t care what they watched on TV. We need to be involved in our children’s lives. I love what some of you have said about having discussions with your kids about things they don’t understand. If you just tell a child NO and don’t explain in love why then of course they will disobey and not ask for advise and counsel. I love to hear about good parenting and kids that are allowed to ask tough questions.

  37. EmmaJ

    So much to be said and so little time…

    I enjoyed The Fiddler’s Gun very much and look forward to the Fiddler’s Green. Consider it a compliment that it’s okay with me that it won’t be released until December, and even after it is released, I still might postpone reading it for some special occasion. One doesn’t like to rush through the really good stuff in life, you know?

    I offer my humble stamp of approval to Fin’s first adventure – a worthy composition, indeed, Mr. Peterson. And… I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, in fact, win the paradoxically wished-for stamp of disapproval in a few school libraries. If that should come about, I wish your tale a correspondingly expanded audience.

  38. Chris

    You have to wonder is people ever think about that. I mean, all this uproar only feeds sales…If nothing else, someone has to buy them to burn them. My Mother tried to explain once why Harry Potter was straight from the hands of Satan but The Lord of The Rings was just the basic struggle between good and evil. She’s never seen or read either series so how does she know?!

    I think people are so afraid that their kids are going to be taken over by these things and make bad decisions as a result. The thing is, it can all be thwarted by, as you said, talking about the subject. If you shelter your kids, you will end up with a teen or young adult that don’t know how to handle everyday situations.

  39. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I have to side with Elsa and JR (because, like a kick-ball game, we have to have sides).

    The “Banned” books week stuff is such weak stuff and has always been an irritant to me. It’s all headlines and no story.

    “They banned what?!?! In America?!”

    Oh, not really? OK, big deal.

    The greater questions about school libraries are so revealing because they shatter the myth of neutrality. The myth that education can be non-indoctrinating. Everything is religious (and by that I mean everyone is religious about what they love/believe –nonsense or not).

    I’m glad you made a quick point, Pete, about the importance of authority. I have seen the story go as you’ve said, with the dumb, legalistic parents. But also have seen the dumb, open parents who expose their kids in a devastating way to corrupting stories which are polluted and toxic to such an extent that the children are –well, basically– abused by the perversity/rebellion of the story. And I mean much more than “content issues,” though that’s important as well. But what the story assumes, values, explains and relegates. The deeper things. Those assumptions that make so much of what is produced for film to be so stridently antithetical to the world as God made it at core. Especially regarding authority –a massive blind spot in our age.

    Lewis’ advice about reading old books to avoid the errors of one’s own age is HUGE. Our cultural blind spots are so very, very blinding.

    Oh, and I’ll go on record against banning and burning books (unless, like the believers at Ephesus, you’re burning your old magic books Acts 19).

    Heck, I’m even against abridgments.

  40. RG

    Wow – this place is unbelievably cool. I am drinking in all the discussions but only feel compelled to weigh in on the one about casting a shadow. I think, Chris W, you were super thoughtful in your criticism and I’m glad you brought it up.

    When does a criticism become a cut-down? And would we even agree that public cut-downs are bad? So many of our conversations here are seasoned with salt, and there is so much love that goes on among the readers, but that an be fertile soil for arrogance and so we need to be voices that are free to speak up.

    If I did not already know and love and respect Pete, I may have tasted the same bile Chris did upon reading his comment. Iron only sharpens iron through friction.

  41. Kim Watson

    Drew, thank you for your “Bad company corrupts good character” reference and your other well- said comments. I would prefer to read and have my children read books by authors who share our worldview. Not that non-Christian authors don’t have talent and wisdom to share, but there are SO many good Christian books for adults out there, I’ve not yet had time to read them all! The few non-Christian books I’ve read recently were “good literature” by talented authors but left me feeling I needed to run my mind through the dishwasher.
    For my children, I’d much prefer books like the Narnia series LOTR or Wingfeather over Diary of a Wimpy Kid or even Harry Potter. But what’s next on the list? For kids the books by Christian authors are not so easily accessible thru the library or the Scholastic book list. Any suggestions?
    My 9-year-old son is a terrific reader but I’ve seen how books with dark, mysterious themes increase his fears and make him anxious. Seems to be what’s popular with his age group (or fluff that is like an earlier post said “beneath his abilities”).
    Certainly parents and school librarians should use discretion when choosing books for their children. Banning, no but discretion, yes. I certainly did not have any business reading Stephen King or VC Andrews as a teen and those books did nothing to increase my literary skills or edify my spirit. In fact they surely did tarnish my some of my innocence. But my busy parents did not have time to read every book that I brought home from the library. To think the school district spent money on those books!
    As parents we have the responsibility to guard our children from things that are too heavy for them. They are not yet ready to face the reality of all the evils of the world. We guide them through them, little by little. But it would certainly be a tragedy for a child to read about rape in a book at school when that child’s parents are still in the process of teaching him about God’s design for intimacy between married couples.
    Thank you for stimulating discussion here.

  42. Danielle

    PEOPLE ACTUALLY WANTED TO BAN THE LORD OF THE RINGS????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  43. Karen

    Pete, I’d like to know your recommended age for reading The Fiddler’s Gun & The Fiddler’s Green (once we can get our eager hands on it) . I recently received our copy from The RR and I’m on chapter 5 and loving it. Our 11 year old son started reading it and although he hasn’t gotten very far, he says he really likes it. I’ve only come across two references that I might want to talk to him about but that’s about it so far.

    He’s an avid reader (yeah!) and has read the Harry Potter series, Percy Jackson series, Levin Thumps, Narnia, The Wingfeather Saga (duh), is half way through the Lord of the Rings., etc. I’m trying to read faster than he does just in case, but I’m not sure how long I can keep that up! Your thoughts?

    While I’m at it, I’d love to hear any other suggested reading for him. We are always looking for the next series to keep him reading.

    PS. Your little note in the back of the book regarding a mis-spelling was enough to convince my husband he wanted to read The Fiddler’s Gun also.

  44. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I generally tell people that age 13+ is safe. It depends on the reader of course, but I worry that 11 might be a tad young. I’d encourage you to finish it ahead of him and make that call.

    Fiddler’s Green probably skews a little older.

  45. Karen

    Thanks for the leads on some great books!! After reading up on Jonathan Rogers (thank you Rabbit Room!), I’m thinking The Wilderking Trilogy might be a great read for him (and me) too.

  46. Jessica

    I had parents angry at me for having my high school lit students, in a Christian school,read King Arthur stories, because of the adultery between Lancelot and Guenevere. I tried to kindly point out to them that using that logic they should probably forbid the Bible to their kids, or at least black out huge chunks of Old Testament narrative, like David and Bathsheba, for instance. Personally,I don’t think Pete Peterson’s book is too young for eleven year olds. My son is ten and he has read it. The Bible is full of mature themes, just read through Genesis if you don’t believe me, and most of us would encourage Bible reading among our children. I have always remembered reading that nothing was forbidden C. S. Lewis from his parent’s bookshelves, and I think there is a lot of merit to that philosophy.

  47. Dave Peterson

    Great post Pete. I have never read the Potter books. Tried the first one but couldn’t get into it. My wife has, and because of that we have seen all of the movies. My wife has also read the Twilight books…anyway, as a pastor I once made the statement in the middle of a sermon along the lines of “As Christians we always seem to find a target to attack, rather than trying to follow Christ we feel better about ourselves if we can lock onto Pokemon, Harry Potter, Teletubbies or Twilight, take aim and fire.” I then went on a bit about our responsibility to take the gospel to the world in word and deed, with our lips and our life and that when we go on attack mode rather than lead anyone to Christ, we push people away. I have never gotten more emails or phone calls about any one message in my 7 years of being the pastor at this church. People were up in arms about me “defending” Potter and Twilight. I tried to explain that I was not defending anything, rather I was trying to get people to look at their actions and see the harm they may be doing. I had even explained in the message that the current Twilight issue will fade away and there will be another cultural phenom. that we will attack. Well, nobody agreed with me, but I am still the pastor there. Looking forward to the next Harry Potter movie that is coming soon….and I might just read the books one day.

  48. Brad

    Good discussion. I know for our children we have never really run into this issue (7 kids, oldest is 18). Until I read this post I haven’t even thought of it that much. What we *have* done is try to fill their minds with good, godly things and big, important ideas. We do want them to think deeply.

    I’ve been told that when banks try to teach tellers to recognize counterfeits, they don’t show them a bunch of fakes, they get them familiar with the real bills. My older children tend to reject a lot of stuff on their own. And we don’t just read “Christian” material, but look for what has redeeming value in learning to think and live like Jesus.

    My only other thought (yes, the only other one I have!) is my concern that sometimes there seems to be pressure in Christian circles to prove how “progressive” you are by not being too restrictive. It sometimes seems like a badge of honor that some wear. As was pointed out quite well in earlier posts, we are always “banning” something in our lives, the question is simply where the lines are drawn (do public schools have Bibles and religious texts in them? Seriously wondering).

    We’ve watched most of the Potter movies, the children haven’t been interested in the books. They rejected the Twilight series, I never had to say anything. They enjoy history and fiction. Love Lord of the Rings and Narnia (books and movies). We just try to follow one rule, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Phillipians 4:8

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