NUMBER 410: circa March, 1992

Banned Books

The weirdest news of the week has been an Associated Press news item that ran in the Portland Oregonian on March 16th. Headlined "Review Committees, School Officials Order 7 Books Removed From Libraries," it details the steps taken to purge the State of Oregon from unwanted sex, violence, satanism, and racism.

Among the books removed was Tapping the Vein #2 Eclipse's best-selling adaptation of Clive Barker's Books of Blood. The reason cited was that it contained "graphic descriptions of sexual acts." We don't yet know if the original prose edition of this work was removed from the library system too, or if it had ever been in the Oregon State Library system in the first place.

I tell you, i would have been outraged as all get-out over this if i hadn't noticed some of the other books banned by the Oregonian watchdogs.

In addition to pulling off Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic, a kids' poetry book that seems to be a perennial target of state and local censors, the arbiters of civilization deemed it necessary to forbid the preservation and circulation of a 1921 novel by Gene Stratton Porter titled Her Father's Daughter.

Gene Stratton Porter (her first name was Geneva) was an Edwardian-era romance novelist whose work emphasized a love of nature and featured mildly feminist young women overcoming masculine prejudice. Her novels, published between 1904 and her death in the mid-1920s, are all out of print now, as far as i know, but both her fiction and her natural history non-fiction is still avidly collected and is generally seen to represent wholesome, Christian, all-American values.

I used to own all of Porter's novels, though now i am somehow missing The Girl of the Limberlost. I reread them about every five years. One of them, The Harvester, i reread once a year.

The Harvester is the story of a shy, outdoorsy-yet-virginal young man who collects wild ginseng in rural Indiana until he receives a spiritual vision of a beautiful woman and builds a house for her and sets out to find her. When he does find her, she is poor and sick -- and has promised her virginity to a Chicago doctor who cared for her dear, dying mother! The Harvester marries her anyway (to save her from her uncle, who is keeping her as a virtual slave) even though he knows she won't ever love him or even go to bed with him, but then she falls ill from the accumulated poisons in her blood and he tries to save her with a golden elixir he brews from forest herbs, but he also sends for his rival, the Chicago doctor ...and i won't tell you how it ends.

Her Father's Daughter, the Porter novel Oregonians can no longer get at their libraries, is about two women. One is based on Porter herself (the title character; she becomes a nature writer) and the other is loosely modelled on Julia Morgan (the architect who designed William Randolph Hearst's San Simeon castle). The architect enters a competition and her plans are stolen, and so forth and so on.

The book was banned for "alleged anti-Japanese bias." As far as i can tell, the allegation arises because one of the book's two major villains is Japanese, and twice others speak ill of him while referring to his race and to Japan.

Considering that in Porter's 1925 novel The Keeper of the Bees, the heroine is a young teacher who educates immigrant children from many nations, the charge of racism seems farfetched to me.

Porter probably got some of her ideas about Japan from a then-current book called The Valor of Ignorance, by military strategist Homer Lea, in which the author predicted the Japanese would attack Hawaii and force a war with the U.S. over control of the Pacific.

Lea was right, of course; i wonder if he was banned in Oregon. too.

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