By: Holly Eberle
When I was a high school senior, a righteous English teacher handed me The Gunslinger and my life has not been the same since. I was a library page and had re-shelved my fair share of Stephen King books but had not yet read any of them. The dawning of The Dark Tower series is a good place for anyone to start: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” In fact, I would almost recommend starting there over any other book but I can’t tell you why [spoilers].
I am a gigantic music fan and appreciate Stephen King’s frequent pairing of writing with music. He draws from music so much that The Stand has a playlist written in the title verso page. Speaking of The Stand, filming for the television adaptation supposedly wrapped up right around the time the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the nation. 2020 is a special birthday year for the King of modern American horror! When fiction bleeds into reality…
I also appreciate his honesty about his substance use experience. Without spoiling any major fictional events, he bleeds reality with fiction regarding his past cocaine use in The Dark Tower. In the midst of not only a viral pandemic but also a national opioid epidemic, I believe this candid expression is vital. Much like the plague, substance abuse can impact anyone, even someone as successful as Stephen King. When I was a teenager I did not appreciate this honesty quite as much, but I do now that I am a harm reduction activist type of librarian. Stigma literally kills people.
Now the main reason that I am highlighting Stephen King on this blog are the 32 reported challenges and 26 reported removals of his books from libraries dating back to 1975. Each of these cases are further detailed in Robert P. Doyle’s Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read. Many of them seem to boil down to “age appropriateness,” which is a subjective parenting thing.
Censorship and horror tend to go hand in hand. The thing is, some people just like all things weird and creepy but that does not make them violent or dangerous. The removal of R.L Stine’s Goosebumps series from my elementary school library only made me read the entire thing starting at about age six. About a year ago, the authority tables were turned and a little boy who “hates reading” snidely said to me, “I only read books about dead bodies.” I gave him a stack of nonfiction books about dead bodies (think mummies, forensics, & hauntings) and he proceeded to go read all of them immediately. He sure hated reading…
Banned Books Week is just around the corner! Next week we celebrate the freedom to read whatever we want, whenever we want because censorship is a dead end. Stephen King’s books are quite long, so you could probably celebrate his birthday and Banned Books Week simultaneously.
Lastly, I want to thank America’s school teachers for their herculean efforts to provide a fun education to students despite living out the events of The Stand. It is important to recognize that many of the challenges to King’s work have occurred in high schools and their libraries. This blog post and my love of horror fiction was brought to you by an English Teacher who put life changing books in the hands of his students, fully aware that it could get him in trouble.
Holly Eberle is the Youth Technology Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in northern Illinois and a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. Her passion for the intellectual freedom rights of youth began in kindergarten when her elementary school library pulled the Goosebumps series off the shelves. She also is interested in the technological realm of intellectual freedom and privacy issues. Outside of the library she is a metalhead and you may follow her on Instagram @doom_metal_librarian.