Banned Book Week gets me all aflutter. There have been years at I’m so busy that it slips by before I notice it, but each year I try to incorporate it somehow into my reading challenges. This year my book was Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell. Yes, it’s a young readers’ book. Most banned and challenged books are. Why censorious adults feel the need to keep ideas out of print is pretty obvious in these Trumpian times. (Please note, dear Republicans, many Democrats criticize Biden on a regular basis; we do not worship him. American Marxist my donkey!) Book censoring only serves fascist tendencies. Ideas will find a way to be born, regardless.
Scary Stories, of course received a shot in the arm by Guillermo del Toro and his interest in making a movie based on it. The stories themselves are drawn from folklore—they’re populist, you might say—and reflect what passes around from perhaps less insane times. As an adult a reader tends not to find these stories frightening. For one thing, many of them are stories we’ve heard before. For another, life has already thrown many scary things at us. Not only that, but we try to ban books to make adulthood even scarier. You see, folklore doesn’t go away just because children are kept from the books. These stories find the gaps just as water does. They get told in the dark. Instead of trying to censor them we should try to talk about them.
Adults’ own discomfort with ideas such as death and decay often stand behind our efforts to “protect” our children. Then they reach maturity not prepared for the adult world of sex, exploitation, and dying. Our modern comfort-based lifestyle tries to shut away the unpleasant aspects of existence. Books, however, are the food of the imagination. To ban them is to try to suppress the truths that authors have uncovered. Growing up in a conservative household, we weren’t subjected to censorship. I couldn’t afford many books, but my mother never said “No, you can’t read that.” Some of my early reading faced uncomfortable facts. I read both Jaws and The Godfather long before I ever saw the movies. I read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as a form of solidarity with young minds. There are benefits to learning to deal with fear early on in life. And Scary Stories, even if not so frightening, has an appropriate place in it.