“A Study in Scarlet” banned because of… you know… stuff

A while back, I posted a link to this article on my social networks. Quote:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Sherlock Holmes’ first adventure has been removed from sixth-grade reading lists in a central Virginia county.

Brette Stevenson, a parent of a Henley Middle School student, had complained that "A Study in Scarlet" is derogatory toward Mormons.

The Daily Progess (http://bit.ly/oRCjig) reports that the Albemarle County School Board voted Thursday night to remove the book. A committee commissioned to study the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel said in a report that it’s not age-appropriate for sixth-graders.

The book includes a flashback to 1847 Utah that recounts the actions of a Mormon community when a non-Mormon man wants to marry the daughter of one of its members.

Stevenson said she’s pleased with the decision.

I’m still mad as hell about this.

Okay, let’s skip over the usual “banning books is bad” arguments for now. Further, let’s set aside whether a murder mystery is “age-appropriate for sixth-graders,” because it’s pretty clear that this book was banned because of it is perceived as “derogatory toward Mormons.” And I’ll even point out that I agree with the fact that Mormons are portrayed in a negative light. But that’s exactly why it needs to be read and studied, if that’s the case. As I mentioned in my essay on Scarlet:

But think about it – to Doyle, 1880s America was about as foreign to him as Victorian England is to us. He was going on what stories and news he had heard, which was all sensationalism and glorified lies.

If anything, Scarlet is a perfect example of what happens when people work from ignorance. Doyle’s later stories about America were much more respectful after he went on a tour of America (and certainly after American sales helped to increase his profits). Comparing and contrasting A Study in Scarlet with The Valley of Fear might be useful in showing the difference in American stereotyping (as well as showing what it’s like when media grossly stereotype a particular religious group without any real knowledge of their stereotyping, certainly a valid discussion for the modern day….)

But let’s also set aside that people would actually research the books they’re using to teach children, and assume that none of this is known. Let’s take the book on its own merits: a recounting of a fictional character talking about fictional and subjective events. Even if you have no idea of the history of the writing of the book, how can you miss that the entire second half of the book is a subjective and fictional account from one character’s perspective? This isn’t even on the level of Huckleberry Finn using the word “nigger” because it was common at the time – this is one specific community of Mormons in a fictional setting. Did this committee even read the fucking book with any amount of critical skill?

I don’t agree with banning books at all – I would much prefer encouraging contextual reading and understanding the environment in which a particular book is published. And other people don’t agree with me on that – whatever. But for fuck’s sake, pick a real reason at least when you’re banning a book instead of glancing at a few pages, seeing something you don’t like, and going “Yep, that’s offensive” and chucking it in the trash.

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