Book Bannings: "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding

William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" is one of the most popular and controversial novels of the 20th century. It was the first book the man ever published and was his greatest success. It came out in 1954 and was initially mildly successful. However, it wasn't long before the quality of the book and its multiple, well-incorporated themes of good and evil made it must read for both education and enjoyment.

"Lord of the Flies" is the story of a group of boys who find themselves trapped on an uninhabited island. It seems that the boys were being evacuated by plane when their plane went down, killing all of the adults on board. This leaves them to sort out how to survive and behave without the guidance of adults. Eventually, the group splits with the more "evil" of the bunch in one group and the more "good" of the bunch in the other. However, the lines start to blur and fear of a "beast" on the island, which is actually just a dead man, drive the children a bit crazy. In the end, two of them are murdered by other boys and the structure of their island society becomes primeval.

What made "Lord of the Flies" so good was also what made it so controversial. Throughout the novel, there is profanity, mentions of sex, graphic violence, animalistic behavior, racism, religion, sexism and references to the consequences of fear, isolation and war. The way William Golding incorporates these themes, some of which are generally found offensive, was brilliant. The story is engaging, it suspends disbelief wonderfully and it evokes emotions in the way only a good novel can. Nonetheless, not everyone can stomach indelicate novels. Therefore, it has been challenged, repeatedly, for more than 50 years.

Despite attempts at banning the book, "Lord of the Flies" is required reading in classrooms throughout English speaking countries and even elsewhere. It is a great novel for sparking discussions on society, war, youth, human nature, fear, murder, justice, kindness, logic and much more. Its characters make great fodder for analysis and, best of all, it is an entertaining story. Thank goodness saner heads have prevailed and "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding remains on bookshelves.

Shelly Barclay

Book Banning: "Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell

Public domain depiction of
"Big Brother" propaganda

"Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell is one of the most controversial and popular novels of the 20th century. It was George Orwell's final novel before his death from tuberculosis mere months after it was published. Because of this, what the author meant to say with the novel is debatable, though many would say it is obvious. Because of the very strong themes in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and the fact that people will choose to interpret novels as they see fit, it was banned in Russia and has almost been banned elsewhere. That hardly hurt the sales. It sold like crazy in the UK and the United States immediately after it was published and is still very widely read today.

"Nineteen Eighty-Four" is the story of Winston Smith, who lives in what was once England in the year 1984, which was the future when the novel was published in 1949. In Winston's world, the people are kept in line with mind control, propaganda, surveillance and even torture. The main antagonist in the novel is Big Brother, a dictator who is "always watching." Over the course of the novel, Winston becomes guilty of numerous crimes in this totalitarian society and is eventually brainwashed, tortured and forced to betray a loved one.

Truth be told, George Orwell was not a man to keep his opinions secret. He obviously found the idea of a world like that in "Nineteen Eighty-Four" appalling. Was he warning against allowing the government so much control? Many people think so. However, one thing is certain and should be considered when considering the fact that it was banned. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is a work of fiction. It is certainly a commentary of sorts on moral, political and civil rights issues, but it is still fiction. Yes, it was daring. Yes, it was penetrating. Works that shine so harsh a light on any political system, real or fictional, are always going to be criticized by those who fear criticism of their political systems. Was that why it was banned? You decide.

Shelly Barclay

Book Banning: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is a classic 19th century novel by American author Mark Twain. It is the story of the eponymous character Tom Sawyer and some of the trouble this young lad gets into in his fictional hometown of St. Petersburg, Missouri. In the novel, Tom Sawyer gets in trouble with his guardian, falls in love, falls in with the wayward Huckleberry Finn, they land themselves in trouble with Injun Joe and then become something like local heroes. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is an innocent enough novel but, like so many before it, it has come under scrutiny and been banned in its time.

In 1905, Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, commented himself on the matter of his two most popular characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, being banned from children's areas in libraries. Tom and Huck, while considered rather tame today, were the epitome of naughty boys in Twain's day, so some adults, a woman in this case, took it upon themselves to complain. Mark Twain's response was that his books on the two young men were never meant for children and that he was "troubled" that children had access to them to begin with.

Well, Mark Twain would probably be shocked to learn that "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is pretty much standard reading for young children these days. However, one can take away from his response to the complaints and bannings that it is the responsibility of libraries, schools and parents to filter the content given to children. He does not go on to express an opinion on book bannings themselves, in this particular missive.

When it comes to "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," this was not the only complaint by a long shot. They continue to this day. In fact, I myself heard a rumor that it was going to be edited for content we would consider racist today. Just like bannings, I find the idea ridiculous. By all means, be careful what your children read, but do not deny the rights of others to read what they wish. Surely, raise your children to be fair and to treat people of all races as equals, but do not whitewash the past. "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" is a wonderful book. Given that its author is long gone, it should remain just as it is today for Mark Twain is not here to change it and no one living should have the nerve to change or ban the words of a man like Mark Twain.

Shelly Barclay

Character Analysis: Derfel Cadarn in The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell

Derfel Cadarn is the protagonist and narrator of The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. At the start of the novels, he is an orphan being raised in Merlin's realm. Merlin took him in, in a way, after a botched sacrifice nearly killed Derfel. Derfel is originally Saxon, but he identifies as British because he was raised as such. Over the course of the series, it becomes clear that Derfel's ties to his homeland are more than meets the eye. In short order, Derfel Cadarn becomes a warrior and friend of Arthur. The novels revolve around the Arthur of legend, but only through his connections to Derfel. Derfel is the true hero of the story.

Initially, it appears that Derfel Cadarn is not much more than a wayward orphan. He is in love with Nimue -- Merlin's favorite. He has no real trade and knows little about the world outside of Merlin's realm. He knows of Arthur and was there at the birth of Mordred -- Arthur's nephew and future king of Dumnonia. That is the extent of his experience. However, he is soon thrust into the middle of a drama upon which the entire country balances. It is through tragedy and necessity that he becomes loyal, brave, intelligent, dependable and much more. There are very few instances in the novels where Derfel Cadarn strays from being, in many ways, a better man than even Arthur. Even in those instances, there are always mitigating circumstances.

The life of Derfel Cadarn, as almost entirely created by Bernard Cornwell, is quite extraordinary. He is there in battle, even when Arthur is not. He is privy to Merlin's actions to a far greater extent than Arthur. He becomes the lover of a witch of sorts and later the life partner of a princess. He sees the rise and fall of Arthur and Arthurian Britain. He lives a life immersed in paganism and then another immersed in Christianity, for the sake of his beloved. He is a fierce and almost unmatched warrior and then he is a peaceful monk. Derfel is witness to Arthur's shame when Guinevere betrays him. He is witness to the corruption and wickedness of Mordred and what appears to have been the mortal wounding of Arthur. Through Derfel, Cromwell weaves a tale that is both new and ancient. He uses elements that are familiar while creating a story that has never been told quite like this.

My opinion is that people who read The Warlord Chronicles will pick it up wanting to read about Arthur and keep reading because they want to find out what happens to Derfel. Only a very good character could take attention away from one of the most popular characters in literary history. Even the oh-so alluring Merlin is overshadowed by Derfel and Guinevere never stands a chance. If Bernard Cornwell decided to write another series about Derfel told through another's eyes as he did with Arthur through Derfel, I would read it.

Shelly Barclay

Character Analysis: Zaphod Beeblebrox from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of the primary characters in Douglas Adams' undeniably amazing contribution to science fiction literature -- "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Of course, he was also a character in the original radio series and in the television series, but, given that the book is the most common and popular reference point and that there are differences in the character across the mediums, we'll stick to just the novel.

Zaphod or "The Best Bang since the Big One" is rather central to the story. He is related to Ford Prefect, one of the two most prominent characters in the series, with whom he shares three mothers. The explanation for this impossibility is rather typical Adams humor, being an accident involving a time machine and birth control. He is also Arthur Dent's competition when it comes to Trillian, another central character.

Beeblebrox's personality can only be described as unwarranted. He is self-centered, a bit of a cad and he is constantly plotting, though in a more humorous than evil way.  It can only be assumed that his brash, impulsive and thoughtless behavior stems from his over-inflated ego. However, he is not entirely unlikable. He has friends in the book and is a beloved character when it comes to readers. Despite some depictions of him, he is not entirely idiotic and does instigate many of the more entertaining parts of the novel.

Physically, Zaphod is undeserving of his sense of self-importance. I mean, the mannish thing is from Betelgeuse, has two heads, three arms and an alarming sense of style. He is the seven-time winner of the "Worst Dressed Sentient Being in the Known Universe Award." Given the creatures and people that appear in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," one can only assume that he has atrocious taste.

As for Zaphod Beeblebrox's head, meaning the extra one, it is never fully explained. He was likely born with it, given that the ghost of his grandfather also had two heads. The most recent film adaptation of the novel attempts to explain the head, but does so using the mechanism used to explain how, well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's just say that the attempt was weak and never mention that film again. As for his extra arm, well, he had it added.

One of the most important accomplishments of Zaphod Beeblebrox is his appointment as President of the Galaxy and subsequent theft of the "Heart of Gold," a spaceship central to the plot of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." In order to manage this scheme, he had part of his brain removed so his intentions to steal the ship were not picked up on the required brain scan when he became President of the Galaxy, which is similar to the botched mechanism used by the writers of the aforementioned never to be mentioned again film to explain the extra head.

Memorable Quotes of Zaphod Beeblebrox in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:"

"If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now." 

"I'm a great and amazing guy, didn't I tell you baby, I'm Zaphod Beeblebrox." 

"Don't you try to outweird me, I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal." 

Shelly Barclay