In my opinion, no overflowing, crumbling bookshelf could be truly happy without a well-worn, dishevelled copy of Alice in Wonderland. A childhood classic, it gave me a romantic, nonsensical view of life from an early age. I couldn’t pass a locked door without peeping through the keyhole, just in case something wonderful lay in wait on the other side. The antique Victorian medicine bottles that adorned my grandmother’s vanity would be carefully studied and sniffed in case they had once contained a magical shrinking potion. I would use a stool to climb onto the fireplace mantel to prod and poke at the mirror, wondering whether I too could step through the looking glass. Flowers were never, ever to be picked; they had thoughts and feelings too you know.
As I grew older, I was shocked to find that a book, which contains no violence, sex, nudity or references to drugs – bar the innocent, hookah-smoking caterpillar – could possibly have been banned. Yet it had been. In the Hunan province of China, it was blacklisted by the Governor in 1931 for the simple reason “animals should not use human language” and that it was “disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level.”
How could a book – born on a sunny afternoon boat ride in Oxford – be considered sinister, I wondered? How could it be possible for one man to have the power to banish pages that, in all honesty, made my childhood? I mourned my discovery and the lost opportunities of the Hunan children of that era. Childhood, for me, has everything to do with imagination and nonsense. If animals were not allowed to talk, a young bookcase would be uncomfortably bare. No Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, 101 Dalmatians, Winnie the Pooh and certainly no tardy white rabbits. It makes me cold just thinking about it.
At the very least, Alice in Wonderland taught me to respect animals and my natural surroundings. At the most, it made me the writer I am today. I dread to think how just one banned book may have shaped the lives and characters of countless people in China. Did they live without that hint of wonder, suspense and mystery I took for granted as a child? Did they miss out on the adventures and discoveries I made out of sheer Alice-like curiosity?
Banned Books Week strives to educate people in the catastrophe of banning works such as Lewis Carroll’s world-famous novel. As Alice once said, ‘What the use of a book without pictures or conversation?’ To the same degree, what’s the use of a world without Alice in Wonderland?
Guest post by Kerry Hiatt