The Real Danger of Books

“One can resist the invasion of armies; one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.”

-Victor Hugo

I was at a conference a few weeks ago, and I had the privilege of listening to a panel of writers discuss the idea of banned books. They talked about censorship, specifically as it pertained to teen books. One writer told a story about how she had recently received a letter. In it, a stranger stated that her book had been banned by the county and burned at a meeting of some sort. “They had to buy the book, though,” she quipped.

Not surprisingly, the panelists held the same line when it comes to books, namely that books shouldn’t be banned.

“No book should be censored,” said one panelist. “People talk as if books are going to destroy their teenager’s life.”

I agreed with the panelist for the most part. Sometimes parents do overreact when it comes to the content they allow their children to consume. Parents (I hope) set boundaries for their kids to protect them, though, not to coddle a child intellectually or socially.

Still, I was on the side of the panelist. That is, I was, until he said something very disturbing.

“Besides, books aren’t dangerous.”

The other panelist nodded, as if a great wisdom had been shared. The panel went on for another twenty minutes or so, but I was stuck.

“Books aren’t dangerous?” I thought. “What’s the use of a book if it’s not dangerous? Danger’s a good thing!”
Books are dangerous. I do not mean they are all full of danger, and that only good types of books will contain dangerous scenarios. I mean that books are miraculous. Books can change people, move people, and help people. Stories are powerful, and it’s this power that makes them dangerous. I do not mean danger in a negative sense; it’s not a bad thing that books are dangerous. I simply mean that because books have strength, because books can move people, they can be dangerous. Let me explain:

Good books do wonderful things. They speak truth. They proclaim ideas.

“But ideas are useless unless they are acted upon!” you might complain. I tell you that books, stories in particular, plant ideas and morals in the very hearts of individuals. The idea may remain dormant for a time. It rests. It grows, like a seed planted by a knowledgeable farmer, until one day the idea comes shooting up from the ground.

I think the problem is that we think ideas are stationary. They aren’t. They move and shift and twitch and dance.

Take Alan Moore’s “V for Vendetta”, for example. V. is a man who sees oppression, rises against it, and ultimately crushes an oppressive regime. Near the end, though, V. is tracked down and shot multiple times. He approaches his attacker and delivers a great line: “Did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof.”


The point is that ideas are not so easily taken out as the Tuesday morning trash. Ideas remain with us, often dwelling deep in our subconscious, waiting to escape. So should we censor books because they are dangerous? How do we determine what is and isn’t dangerous? Alternatively, should we accept the fact that books are dangerous, and allow them to be read, allow the danger (whether it be good danger or bad) to thrive?

What do you think, Internet?

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