Tuesday, September 28, 2010

America's First Banned Book

Banned books are books to which free access is not permitted. The practice of banning books is a form of censorship, and often has political, religious or moral motivations.

Bans on books can be enacted at the national or subnational level, and can carry legal penalties for their infraction. Books may also be challenged at a local, community level. As a result, books can be removed from schools or libraries, although these bans do not extend outside of that area. Similarly, religions may issue lists of banned books – a historical example being the Roman Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum – which do not always carry legal force.

The FIRST book banned in America was New English Canaan by Thomas Morton -- the New England colonies' first "criminal exile" and America's First Poet in English. Morton was an educated Renaissance man who grew up in England's wild West Country under Queen Elizabeth and came to America in 1624 -- prospering in every way because he loved it here, as opposed to his Pilgrim neighbors 40 miles away who were starving in a "howling wilderness."

How did this vigorous Elizabethan, born to the "outdoors culture" of England's West Country, become America's most controversial early colonist? What classical and country traditions inspired Morton's notorious New English Canaan -- a perceptive, witty, and often slapstick portrait, in prose and poetry, of Native New England peoples, land, creatures, and colonists?

Canaan (1637) is three books: 10 chapters of closely observed Native American life (they made Morton's success possible); 10 chapters on the wonders of American nature; and the final third a satiric attack on the Pilgrims and Boston Puritans, warning that if their "martialist" approach to America were followed, the continent would become a Christian labor camp. He calls Myles Standish "Captain Shrimp" and won his lawsuit against "New Israel" for having burned him out of house and home.

No wonder Morton and his book were banned in Puritan America -- they were sympathetic toward Native Americans, admiring of nature, and contemptuous toward the self-sanctified!

(Source: excerpted from Wikipedia's "List of Books Banned by Governments")