Sunday, November 22, 2009

There's No Such Thing as a Happy Book-Banning.

In preparation for tomorrow's class I reread a paper I wrote back in high school on A Wrinkle in Time. Despite my seriously pompous writing style (really, who do I think I am?!), I had some good points about L'Engle's use of quotes in the novel, and how many times life experiences escape the definition of words. Katie pointed this out in her blog, and I think L'Engle definitely had some tricks up her sleeve when it came to writing this book for children. However, from an adult perspective, and from within the perspective of our banned books class, this novel I now see in an entirely new light.

First of all, I was surprised to find I was just as confused by the science in the book as I was back when I was 15. I thought that I would have at least some expanded knowledge of the subject after three plus years of higher education. Interestingly, L'Engle's science has just enough mystical quality to it to distract even the most rational of minds. I forgot how wonderful it was to get wrapped up in her world. What is so magical about this story is its ability to somehow create a fairy tale within our world as we know it.

Anyway, this paper that I wrote, like I said, focused on the quotes that Mrs. Who used, as well as the quotations she used from the bible. I thought it was interesting that there was such an emphasis on Jesus, creation, and God in a science fiction novel. As a young girl attending catholic school, this was a happy medium (no pun intended) between supporting the ideals I was upholding as a catholic and enjoying a fast paced and daring story.

I was surprised to learn that this was a banned book. I could see it being banned for its pointed appraisal of Christianity, from the other end. However, I hate that books have to be banned for swaying more one way or the other-- after all, free speech is one of the most important and utilized amendments in our country. Also, after watching the made-for-television Disney adaptation, I have a lot more to say about literature and its (as I like to call it) "radioactive element," aka its level of antagonistic quality.

In the movie, the character of Meg was more average, less oddball, and sans glasses/braces. Not only was she kind of a shitty actress, but she portrayed Meg as much less daring, and was borderline boring. Although Meg was a stereotypical nerd straight out of the 60s, she was still much more exciting than the plain-jane 90s interpretation in the movie. I felt overall the movie was "dumbed down" for the purpose of broadening the range of audience-- less emphasis was put on the science, and more on the fantastical light displays of tessering. Not only was this completely contrary to how tessering was described in the book (um, how does complete darkness morph into bright rainbows of light?) but it took away valuable time from describing the plot. I watched the movie with my roommate, who had never read the book before. I warned her in advance that I had no idea how this movie was, but she agreed to watch it with me anyway. At the end, she said "I wonder if this is how people feel after the end of a Harry Potter movie who haven't read the book-- confused." The movie was so disconnected that my friend couldn't really get the full effect of the story's events. She said she felt that there was something great there, but the movie just didn't cut it. I totally agreed with her, by the way. Apparently, L'Engle agrees with us, too. Someone asked her if the movie lived up to her expectations, and she said "Yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is."

One of the most obvious differences about the movie is its complete removal of all christian-themed subject matter. In the list of famous "fighters of the darkness," Jesus' name was conspicuously absent. Also, the quotes Mrs. Who said were completely omitted from the dialogue.

I understand that these things were omitted to possibly again "broaden the audience," but that takes away so much of the book's ultimate message. Though L'Engle was Christian, its not like she had Jesus swoop down from a cloud and save everyone. Her heroine is a young girl, totally awkward, and scared out of her wits. Clearly, her message wasn't to "submit to the power of God," but something like God's ultimate goodness gives us the power to create our own lives.

Thinking back on my service learning experiences, I think that the children I work with at the school would benefit highly from a "love conquers all" message. The school has had a really bad problem with bullying and fighting across all grades. A book like A Wrinkle in Time, if banned, could prevent children like these from being changed for the better by its message. Also, you have to let children think for themselves. By drilling the same old same old into the minds of today's youth, you are doing exactly what L'Engle portrays as evil.

I just think that the whole banning books business is tricky, and it often leads to more harm than good. After all, Disney made a crap-tastic movie that was so far gone from the original it was hardly recognizeable (Charles Wallace...don't even get me started on Charles Wallace). By censoring speech, in any form, you are barring a society's people from making changes, which is inherent in our own nature as human beings- maybe equal, but not all exactly alike.

One thing I still like about my high school paper is its closing statement: "Madeleine L'Engle used various quotations to inculcate positive morals into young readers' minds, and even instill new insights into those of adults." Though my insights may have been more about my failing society than about the novel itself, it's still one of the most uplifting novels I've ever read, and will always be one of my favorites.

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