Whether or not you’ve seen The Andy Griffith Show, Deputy Barney Fife really knows how to lay it on the line. Nobody says it better than he does: “Robin Hood should be banned from schools. It teaches that sheriffs are the bad guys.”
Never mind that the Sheriff of Nottingham is of questionable character. Never mind that a few minutes earlier, Barney claimed that Robin Hood was good reading for young-uns, and that he enjoyed it as a kid.
But in the span of two minutes, Barney goes from a raving Robin Hood fan to blatant book-burning mentality. In true Barney Fife fashion. Hilarious!
This is from the episode “Opie and His Merry Men” (season 4, episode 12), when Opie and his friends play Robin Hood and steal food from their parents to give to a hobo.
Note the mealtime scene beginning at 7:20 when Opie asks about Robin Hood. Or start at 9:00 minutes when Andy asks Barney if he read Robin Hood as a boy. It’s just a two-minute clip.
If you’re not able to watch it, see how it unfolds here:
Andy: Barn, did you read Robin Hood when you was a boy?
Barney: “Sure, I read all those childhood classics. I was a avaricious reader. Get my hands on a book, I’d read it cover to cover. Of course, I didn’t want to say nothing, but Opie had it all wrong.
Andy: What do you mean? He’s a good reader.
Barney: Well, you know how kids skip through things . . . he had the sheriff being the bad guy.
Andy: He was.
Barney: The sheriff’s the bad guy?
Andy: In Robin Hood.
Barney: You’re kidding me.
Andy: I am not. The sheriff in Robin Hood was fat and stupid and he had this stupid deputy.
Barney: Now you’re putting me on. You’re trying to rile me so you can see that vein in my neck stick out. You like that, don’t you?
Andy: No, Barney. Aunt Bee, what was the sheriff like in Robin Hood?
Bee: Robin Hood was always outsmarting him.
Andy: ’Cause he was stupid,
Bee: That’s right.
Andy: And he had this real stupid deputy.
Barney: Well, what kind of a book is that for kids to be reading? A book like that ought to be banned from the schools.
Andy: How can you say that?
Barney: I mean it, a book like that. Gives the sheriff’s office a black eye. How you gonna teach kids respect for the law if they’re gonna read that kind of stuff?
Andy: Barney, Robin Hood’s one of the most popular kids’ stories there is around. It’s harmless.
Barney: Oh yeah? How do you know how many criminals got started by reading Robin Hood? How do you know it wasn’t read by Jesse James or Dillinger or Jack the Ripper? How do you know that?
Andy: I don’t know that. But I know this.
Andy: That vein in your neck’s sticking out.
We laugh, but how quickly do we make snap judgments like this based on our own criteria?
I’m probably opening a can of worms here, but today I invite your thoughts about how you choose what to read or not read, and what you allow your children to read or not read.
Some anecdotes to consider . . .
When the first Harry Potter book came out, a friend and I went round and around about its value and/or harm to young readers, vehemently staking our claim on opposite sides. (I’m not yet saying which side I was on.)
A lot of clamor ensued after the movie A Wrinkle in Time hit theaters. Some folks were upset that the movie abandoned the original spirit and Christian themes of Madeleine L’Engle’s book and instead perpetuated a completely different and humanistic worldview. Therefore, some parents didn’t allow their children to see the film, or were angry they had.
One particular middle school curriculum includes The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (Deborah Blum). Part of the rationale is that even the most reluctant of readers enjoy engaging in this series of factual—though morbid—stories.
When my son Jeff was in high school, I decided to be a “good mother” and not allow him to read The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) along with the rest of his class, because of objectionable sexual content. (I think he was the only kid who opted out—begrudgingly.) Yet unbeknownst to me, he chose instead to read The Silence of the Lambs (Thomas Harris), a story that takes you into the mind of a cannibalistic serial killer. Oh, my word! I should have just let him read The Kite Runner.
Books Banned Over the Years
Books are usually censored or banned when found offensive based on moral, religious, or political grounds. Consider this partial list of banned or controversial books, which include many of the classics.
• The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850—Conservative clergy have regularly condemned this for its theme of adultery. Some schools banned it for Hawthorne’s sympathetic treatment of the adulterous Hester Prynne, told mainly from her point of view.
• Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 1953—In this dystopian story, books are illegal and thus burned to suppress original thought. In real life, without telling the author, the publisher produced sanitized versions of this book for schools (1967 – 1973). Furthermore, it has been banned in numerous schools for its questionable themes. Highly ironic that a book about book burning would be banned!
• The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939—This book was burned in California (the story’s setting), New York, and Illinois, plus challenged or banned in 10 states for its obscene language, communistic leanings, and violence, to name a few. Won Pulitzer Prize, 1940.
• The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, 1997-2007—Burned in New Mexico and challenged in 19 states for promoting the occult and witchcraft, sorcery, and rebellion against authority.
• The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum was once banned by librarians for its style and for being a part of a series. Also, some people rejected it on religious grounds, because of its having “good” and bad witches.
• The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, 1940s-1950s—Embraced by many Christians as a gospel analogy, it has also been rejected by Christians who disapprove of the story’s references to pagan mythology.
Here’s a partial list of more banned books of the past century or so. Some of this took place in the United States, too.
Note how many of these classic titles have won awards–including the Pulitzer–and/or are currently part of the high school literature curriculum.
• Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852—Banned in southern states during the Civil War because of anti-slavery content. Also banned in Russia under Nicholas I because of equality themes.
• A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway, 1929—banned in Italy (1929), Ireland (1939) and in Boston (1929). Burned in Germany by Nazis (1933). Challenged by various U.S. school districts for having coarse language, violence, and sexual references; was considered too left wing.
• For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, 1940—banned for its brutalities in the Spanish Civil War. The U.S. post office declared it unfit for mail (1941).
• The Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales, many editions since 1812—Banned in Allied-occupied Germany for themes opposing Nazi propaganda. Various books were banned in U.S. schools for either excessive violence, negative portrayal of females, or reference to alcohol. Eschewed by 19th century teachers, parents, and religious figures for the same reasons.
• The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, 1936—A children’s picture book burned by Hitler in Nazi Germany and banned by Francisco Franco in Spain, its story viewed as a pacifist and/or political statement.
• Animal Farm by George Orwell, 1945—Banned in numerous countries (particularly in the USSR, North Korea, and Vietnam) for the animals’ rebellion against authoritarian government.
• 1984 by George Orwell, 1949—Seen as a satire of Stalin’s leadership, this was banned in 1950 in the Soviet Union, and almost banned in 1960s U.K. and U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
• Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, 1957—Set in the Russian Revolution and afterward, this novel was not published in the USSR, but was smuggled out piece by piece to U.S. Though it won the Nobel Prize for literature, the government forbade Pasternak to accept the award. The book remained banned until 1988.
• Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1969–Banned or challenged at least 18 times in U.S. schools as being depraved, profane, immoral, vulgar, anti-Christian, or anti-American.
Too Much Sex:
• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou, 1969—Her autobiography has been challenged for themes of child sexual abuse and racism. Nominated for the National Book Award (1970), won the Coretta Scott King Award (1971); both book and author won the Literarian Award (2013).
• The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy, 1986—Problematic for its depiction of sexual assault, violence, and suicide.
• Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987—Banned in schools for violence, racism, sex, and the supernatural while dealing with the effects of slavery. Won the Pulitzer Prize, 1988.
Too religious or Irreligious:
• The Bible
• On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin, 1859—banned in Cambridge (where Darwin was a student), Yugoslavia, Greece, and Tennessee for its teaching of evolution.
• The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954—Burned by a church in New Mexico in 2001 for being satanic and promoting witchcraft. Even with its Christian themes, some considered it irreligious.
• The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, 2003—The book was banned in Lebanon and by the Vatican. The movie was banned in various countries for being inaccurate and offensive to Christianity.
• The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, 1387-1400—Banned from U.S. mail in 1873 as filthy or inappropriate.
• Shakespeare’s Richard II and King Lear—Changed and/or banned due to negative depiction of the monarchy.
• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1884—Banned as racist trash, its protagonist Huck Finn is a bad example.
• Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865—Banned in China in 1931 for its talking animals, seen as an insult to humans.
• Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 1888—Banned in South Africa in 1955 for objectionable and obscene content.
• Call of the Wild by Jack London, 1929—Banned in Italy and Yugoslavia, burned by Nazis in 1932.
• The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 1906—Banned in 1956 in East Germany because it wasn’t compatible with Communism.
• Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1931—Banned in Ireland and Australia in the 1930s and removed from many classrooms in the U.S. over the years due to themes of sexuality, drugs, and suicide.
• Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, 1936—Rejected for romanticizing slavery. Won Pulitzer Prize, 1937.
• Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, 1937—Banned for profane language, violence, depressing themes, and prejudice against race and mental ability.
• Anne Frank: The Dairy of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, 1947—Challenged in Scandinavia with claims that Anne Frank never existed; challenged elsewhere as being pro-Jewish propaganda; and often banned in U.S. schools for being sexually offensive and for being too tragic and depressing.
• The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, 1951—Challenged for its offensive language, for being sexually explicit, and for undermining family values. Protagonist Holden is a poor role model for teens.
• To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, 1960—Banned for depiction of rape, profanity, racial slurs, and racism. Won Pulitzer Prize, 1961.
• Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, 1961—Banned in various U.S. states in the 1970s because of derogatory references to women.
• James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, 1961—Banned for being too scary for children, for references to tobacco and alcohol, and also for its mysticism, sexual inferences, profanity, and racism.
• Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, 1960—Temporarily banned in China for anti-Marxist themes.
• In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, 1966—Banned in high schools for sex, profanity, and graphic violence.
• The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, 1982—Banned in the U.S. for language, sexual content, drug abuse, and incest. Won Pulitzer Prize, 1983.
• Ordinary People, Judith Guest, 1982—Challenged for offensive language, disrespect for adults, sexual content, emotionally disturbing scenes, divorce, and suicide.
• The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) and Benjamin Bunny (1904), by Beatrix Potter—Banned in London schools because the stories portray only “middle-class rabbits.”
You may have been surprised to find some of the titles on this list. I was!
I also learned that September 24 to October 1, 2018 was the annual Banned Books Week. And there are book clubs that focus on reading only banned books.
Get more information about book bannings and burnings here.
And, for a smile, be sure to check this out:
Even if you don’t believe in book burning, book banning, or censorship, how do you select books for your children? And how do you determine what is worth your time to read or not?
Is your criteria political, social, moral, or religious? Does it have to do with the worldview espoused?
More on this later . . .
Some questions to consider . . .
Is it possible to appreciate a novel’s artistry through characterization, plotting, and description even if we don’t agree with its worldview?
Should novel selection be based on whether or not a story’s themes lead to vigorous discussion?
Is it okay for novels to challenge us to rethink our values and tightly held biases?
I welcome your comments below!