On Banned Books

The Great Gatsby, Harry Potter, Looking for Alaska, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple, The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, The Fault in Our Stars, The Lord of the Rings, The Kite Runner, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Persepolis.

Books that have passed through my classroom. Books that teenagers love to read. Books that I teach. Books that are great pieces of literature. Books that have critical acclaim. Books that are timeless.

Books that have been banned.

And now we will add to that list: Ted Dawe’s Into the River.

As a New Zealander I have been privileged as a reader and as a teacher to intellectual freedom. I have been given the right to read whatever I want and to share and recommend these texts.

Not anymore.

I am 22. In my lifetime, New Zealand has not banned a single book. Into the River is the first in 22 years. The first since before I was born. The season of intellectual freedom has come to an end. My lifetime of reading what I want has gone.

I have always taken pleasure in scoffing at countries where books are frequently banned. This time last year John Green’s The Fault in our Stars was banned in Riverside Unified School District middle schools in California due to the fact that it involves illness, death, and sex. In response to this Green wrote on his Tumblr:

I guess I am both happy and sad.
I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.
But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

Harry Potter has been banned because it has ‘satanic’ ideas.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been banned because it contains drug use and is sexually explicit.
Captain Underpants has been banned because it is offensive.
The Hunger Games has been banned because it contains high levels of violence.
Gossip Girl has been banned because it includes immoral themes.
Twilight has been banned because it is anti-religion.

Across the globe these books have all been banned from schools and libraries – places where young people can easily access them. But Into the River has been given a blanket ban. Individuals will be fined $10,000 if they distribute it and can face up to 3 months in prison, and business will be fined $25,000.

So I could go to prison for lending a book to a friend?

The New Zealand Film and Literature Board of Review has banned Into the River due to the book containing “teenage sex and drug taking”. The New Zealand Herald reported that this has been done in order to “protect the public good and young people”. Fair enough, but why is this out-rightly banned? This ban even denies adults the right to intellectual freedom. How is this book worse than 50 Shades of Grey or the countless pornography magazines that are available to anyone over eighteen who wants them?

The banning of this book could be the beginning of a wave of censorship in New Zealand. And it’s not a good thing. By all means, give books ratings, as we do films. But don’t ban them, because a ban takes away more than just the pleasure of reading a book. It takes away the right to choose, the right to think for ourselves, the right to intellectual freedom.

Ironically, Banned Books Week is at the end of this month. A week to celebrate free speech and thought, a week to celebrate the fact that we can read what we want. But maybe this banned books week, we won’t be able to do that at all.

Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.
Alfred Whitney Griswald

‘Banned Books Mugshots’ by Kate Boryeskne

3 thoughts on “On Banned Books

  1. You do realise that it’s only been temporarily banned while the restriction is debated, right?

    This is not a traditional outright ban, it more that there is debate about if it should be unrestrictred, R14 or R18, and while that debate is happening (less than a month) the book needs to be made unavailable. It’s no different really from books being blocked from sale by court order while a case about defamation/libel is heard.


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