Recently the Catholic School Board in Halton Region pulled The Golden Compass, a children's novel by Philip Pullman, from the shelves.
Supposedly not because of anything in it, but because the man who wrote it is an avowed and proud atheist. He does not believe in God. I heard that's allowed in some countries.
In theory, I can understand the school board's perspective.
As a native person, would I want somebody working at Indian Affairs Canada who didn't believe in Ojibways? It's a difficult position.
On the other hand, as a professional writer, I have rather severe concerns about pulling books - especially when it has nothing to do with the contents.
If I remember correctly, Lewis Carroll liked to take photographs of prepubescent children. But Alice In Wonderland is a fabulous book and still pretty much available. I wonder where the Halton Catholic School Board stands on him.
And he was a clergyman, too.
Banning has precedents. There was the obvious Nazi fondness for bonfires. Perhaps, more aptly, in the 17th century Catholic missionaries in Central America burned all Mayan books because they thought their words were the language of the devil.
As a result, only five texts in the Mayan language survive. In Halton Region's defence, I don't think any public school board was involved in that incident.
This whole issue makes me wonder if there's a double standard. Should the Bible be pulled from school libraries because Mark, Luke, John and other contributors didn't believe in the theory of evolution?
You see my point.
Currently, a review committee will assess The Golden Compass to see if it will remain on the shelves. Until then, the book will be removed from public display and placed behind the counter - the librarian's equivalent of barbwire - making it available for selective viewing.
Trust me, banning or restricting books makes them more desirable. I know. It was in the mid-1970s when I went behind the counter and obtained secret peeks at Marian Engel's Bear. All the good reads were back there.
It's like the VIP room for books. Readers always dig the bad ones (by "bad" I mean evil, not poorly written), going all the way back to banned classics like Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher In The Rye.
Think of it as your parents' liquor cabinet. Maybe this is the board's attempt to get more students to join the library club.
The logic of these subjective literary assaults always puzzles me. Pullman's book was pulled because he was an atheist. What if he were merely an agnostic? Would the Halton Catholic School Board then just wonder about pulling The Golden Compass? What if he were an Orthodox Jew? Or a Muslim? Or is it simply a case of "it's not what you believe, it's just a matter that you do believe something"?
I remember years ago, in my own county of Peterborough, there was a big stink over banning Margaret Laurence's The Diviners. I was young at the time, and the particular details escaped my attention. I was too busy reading Dracula and Frankenstein in their original versions.
But somewhere in my adolescent mind, I do seem to recall thinking, "Wow, if they allow little kids like me to read about all this repressed Victorian sexuality and vivisection, about the power of evil and man's striving to do better than God, I can't imagine what goodies await me in that book."
Needless to say, I was a little disappointed. I could not find one decapitation.
But in a peculiar way, I am for banning books. I think more should be pulled. A lot more.
Back in the 90s when a fatwa was put on Salman Rushdie's head for his book The Satanic Verses, many of my artist friends went out and bought it on principle.
The irony being, the book was practically unreadable in the first place, a salute to postmodern art and incomprehension. But now it sits on so many shelves, mostly unopened, that Rushdie, though forced into hiding for several years, became substantially richer for it.
I sure wish somebody would pull some of my books. I could use the money.
I recently had my first novel, aimed at teens, published. It's called The Night Wanderer. Its about an Ojibway vampire. An atheist vampire.
If some school board out there would like to read it, I'd be very interested in talking about a possible ban. While I'm not an atheist, I am a BAP (born again pagan).
That must be almost as bad.
We believe God did not spend 40 days in the wilderness. He spent it at Casino Rama. Ignored land claim obligations are the true original sin. Residential schools were hell and the court system purgatory.
So if any trustee is reading this and is interested, there's a 20 in it for you.