Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, September 22, 2017

Banned Books Week 2017:Stephen King Edition

Once again, readers everywhere are taking the time to celebrate our literary freedom with Banned Books Week, which runs from September 24 to the 30th, and hosts a variety of activities, including a Twitter tournament for "rebel readers."

As a former indie bookseller and a lifelong reader, I feel the need to take special note of this event(particularly in the harsh times we're living in these days) and highlight the need to read freely without fear of censorship.

For my focus this year, I decided to look at a trio of often banned books by our modern day master of fear,Stephen King. His works have been on many a list of challenged titles yet his popularity as a writer has grown stronger over the years.

When you mention that a Stephen King book has been banned or pulled, most folks would be quick to say "Well, he does write those scary books, with the bad language and violence there. What do you expect?"

For one, I expect the truth about why his books are often targeted. Yes, he does use "adult" language and even his non-supernatural works have elements of violence within them. However, in thinking over the reasons given by most of the eager book banners out there, I have my doubts regarding their usual "community standards" and "we must protect the children" themes.

 Let's start with Carrie, King's first published novel and one of his most iconic books. This tale of a mistreated teen girl has had it's share of real world bullies for decades, to the point of earning a spot on the American Library Association's list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books back in 2000.

Among the reasons cited(language,sexuality,overall content) by censors, a major accusation is that the book is "anti-Christian" or promotes Satanism. Neither is true, as the major religious figure in the book, Carrie's mother Margaret, is actually an abuser of the very faith she claims to have.

Margaret uses her religious beliefs(which are mostly taken from several different sources) to give herself a sense of authority and control, particular over her daughter, who is rather isolated from society and despairing of ever being part of it.

 When Carrie starts to gain control over her psychic powers and realizes that this could be leverage against her mother's determination to keep her down, the shift in power between the two of them is intense, to say the least.

If you read those scenes and imagine them without Carrie's telekinesis, you can see that at the heart of them is a breaking away from parental authority and trying to gain emotional independence, which I think is the real reason that some of these folks want to keep Carrie away from their kids.

Some of them might even see a bit of Margaret White in themselves and prefer to blame the messenger instead of looking within themselves there:

Another King book that often gets puts on the censorship chopping block is Cujo, a novel that even the author admits is a very grim one there. The story of a trapped mother and child fighting off a rabid St. Bernard is a harrowing experience, to say the least.

Even the film version gave the story a slightly happier ending and King had no problem with that( and as we well know, the man is far from shy when it comes to making his opinion known in that department).

Yet, when it comes to objections from banners, their biggest complaint is based on sex-Donna, the main character, has an adulterous affair that is briefly touched on but not really the point of the story here. When people think of Cujo, they think "big scary dog", not Donna's love life! Sure, they complain about the cursing,too, but not a word against the real heavy horrors in the book.

That avoidance is what I truly believe is the real issue for these people; the all-too-real fear of being in a dangerous situation where you can't protect your child from harm. Granted, it's understandable to not want to think about something like that but not a good reason to prevent others from reading this or any other book. What they're truly mad at King about is for bringing them a horror that hits too close to home:

Oddly enough, sexual content is often cited for Christine, King's killer car book that I reread over a year ago and I honestly don't recall any major sex scenes in the book(or the movie, for that matter).

Yes, troubled teen Arnie does try to get very intimate with his new girlfriend Leigh yet there is another romantic rival in their way and she happens to have four wheels. Not even Arnie's pal Dennis has a big league love interest at first so it must be the dark devotion between Arnie and Christine that has those censors burning rubber to ban the book.

It's no secret that society has a wink and a nod approach to how certain people(mostly men) have an intense love for their vehicles, with jokes about wives and girlfriends being "the other woman" in that relationship. It's a common enough trope that just about every sitcom I've ever seen has resorted to it as an easy go-to for a couple to fight about.

 King takes that taken for granted notion to a very scary place, which probably irks a lot of people who don't know exactly why but it grinds their gears the wrong way nonetheless. Instead of dealing with that in a mature manner, folks prefer to park that particular car in a locked up garage, which won't fix that problem as magically as Christine repairs herself:

Sadly, I think it's safe to say that Stephen King's works will still be the target of censorship for many more years to come.

However, that dubious honor also comes with a blessing that many writers would envy; generations of readers who will keep on reading his books and encouraging others to fight the good fight for the freedom to read.

And finally, to those who insist that King's work are bad for children-while I do agree about age appropriateness,  there is no sweeping generalization that justifies hiding the young from finding that the world can be a scary place at times. Books like Stephen King's can actually help them deal with those fears and learn to make proper sense of things, a skill that is badly needed right now,as we have daily proof of:

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