Harry Potter loses power to scandalise book borrowers

AFTER four years at the top of the list, it seems Harry Potter has lost some of his magic - to offend.

The American Library Association (ALA) has published a top-10 list of books that its members received the most complaints about in 2003, and Harry has been relegated to second place.

JK Rowling’s enchanting series of tales about the boy wizard had been top of the pile from 1999 to 2002 inclusive, as a number of concerned parents, mostly Christian fundamentalists, complained that the stories celebrated witchcraft and evil-doing.

At the height of those complaints, a community in New Mexico burned copies of the third book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, outside their church, claiming it was “a masterpiece of satanic deception”.

But last year, another series on American library shelves received more complaints, thus ending Harry’s lengthy reign.

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s “Alice” series, aimed at readers between the ages of 10 and 14, details the growing years of a young woman.

According to the ALA, the Alice series drew complaints from parents and others concerned about the books’ sexual content and what they deemed was offensive language.

Third on the ALA’s top 10 list of challenged books in 2003 was John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, for using offensive language.

It is just one of a number of classic novels that have been challenged down through the years.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is another.

Although off the list in 2003, it received many complaints in years past on grounds of racism, insensitivity and offensive language. The ALA also published its list of the 100 most challenged books between 1990 and 2000.

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, The Colour Purple by Alice Walker, The Witches and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Beloved by Toni Morrison all featured prominently.

The ALA published the lists as part of Banned Books Week which runs in the US until Saturday and which celebrates the freedom to read.

That is not a freedom with which every American agrees with, however.

In 2001, the Bible was challenged in Florida, while in 1998, after a failed challenge of a novel mentioning homosexuality, the Texas complainant kept the book out from his library for an entire year.

Other complaints are more easily understood.

At number four on the 2003 list, for instance, was “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture” by Michael A Bellesiles, which was pilloried by leading academics who branded the author’s research deeply flawed.

Madonna’s infamous book of erotica, “Sex”, made the 1990-2000 list, as did DJ Howard Stern’s crude autobiography, “Private Parts”. Both have been the subject of numerous challenges.

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