Welcome to this month’s Banned Books feature where this month Beth and I read Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.
Antonio Marez is six years old when Ultima comes to stay with his family in New Mexico. She is a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic. Under her wise wing, Tony will probe the family ties that bind and rend him, and he will discover himself in the magical secrets of the pagan past-a mythic legacy as palpable as the Catholicism of Latin America. And at each life turn there is Ultima, who delivered Tony into the world…and will nurture the birth of his soul.
First published: 1972
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2013 (source)
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?
BETH: Bless Me, Ultima is one of our older releases on our banned books list this year and, as a result, I can see why certain things in the book may be challenged due to the change in attitudes compared to more modern times (this is not to say I necessarily agree with the challenges of course!). This book has a lot of references to witchcraft – the “black witch” kind that involves the devil not the nice, nature-loving “white witch” kind and I know there are a lot of people out there who do not want their children exposed to that kind of thing. If we compare it to nowadays, this is the same kind of people that don’t want books like Roald Dahl’s “The Witches,” or J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” available in schools. I don’t agree with their viewpoints as I think curiosity in children should be encouraged but I understand their right to a difference in opinion.
CHRISSI: Hm. I can understand why parents wouldn’t want their children to read this book as it does heavily deal with witchcraft and when published there would be quite an uproar about the subject matter of this book. I can understand why there would be uproar over it, especially with certain religions. So yes, I understand why it was challenged but I wouldn’t say that I necessarily agree with it.
How about now?
BETH: Nowadays, I think it’s even more important for children to have access to a wide variety of information about different practices and opinions to their own or their parents, even if it is difficult or somewhat controversial – within reason, of course depending on the age of the child. In the time of the internet where EVERYTHING is available, I think if children are curious enough, banning or refusing access to the book isn’t going to help. If they are determined enough, they are going to get their hands on it anyway and sometimes I believe refusing something might actually encourage children to be more rebellious and seek it out more!
CHRISSI: I honestly don’t think that this book would be as problematic now as it was when it was first released. This is mainly due to the amount of ‘popular’ wizardry/witchy books out there right now. It seems much more acceptable subject to be featured in literature. I know some parents still have problems with witchcraft books (I wasn’t allowed to read The Witches by Roald Dahl to my class of 6-7 year olds last year, as one child’s parent was a devout Christian) but I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it used to be. I think putting a banned label on something can make children more curious to seek it out themselves.
What did you think of this book?:
BETH: Unfortunately, I really didn’t get on with this book. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have any problem with the content and I normally love a good bit of magical realism but something just didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t get into the plot, the characters or the writing flow and it all seemed a bit too airy-fairy. Antonio and Ultima were decent enough characters and the things that Antonio has to witness and go through are much harder than your general coming of age story but I just found myself a bit bored and disappointed throughout, despite the difference in culture which I would normally love.
CHRISSI: I really didn’t like this book. Despite it having a lot going on from witchcraft, murder and revenge, I found myself to be incredibly bored throughout and I ended up skim-reading quite a bit which is a shame. This book just did not grab me like I wanted it to. I also don’t think the story is very relevant to today’s readers. Hmm. A real disappointment.
Would you recommend it?:
BETH: Probably not.
CHRISSI: It’s not for me!