Should Stories Be Censored?


Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

A lot of us know about Into the Woods. In the original, the first half is (mostly) a child-friendly musical all on its own, filled with fairy tales and happily-ever-after-endings. But then we get into the second act, and the musical does a complete 180. Characters are picked off one by one, a married prince seduces a married peasant, and the remaining characters have to deal with the idea that (gasp!) “Witches are right and giants are good.” It leads to the moral that the world is a dark place, so people have to grow stronger and help each other in order to survive.

And, of course, a lot of us also know about Disney’s upcoming take on this dark but poignant story. Not only have they taken out a controversy that tied in with the rest of the plot, but they’ve also omitted crucial death scenes. As we know it, this adaptation of Into the Woods will no longer teach about the reality of life, but of the lengths people will go to decontaminate other people’s works.

Which begs the question in the title: Should stories be censored?

And I’m just gonna say it upfront: it depends on the controversy you want to censor and why the original author put it there in the first place.

On one hand, there are cases where adding controversy goes horribly wrong. The Garbage Pail Kids movie, for example, is perhaps the worst movie to date. I can forgive a stupid film for being terribly written, directed, or acted. But this supposed “kid’s movie” featured disgusting little monsters threatening people with knives, racial slurs, and other abominations that I don’t even dare write about. Yeah. I have to censor Garbage Pail Kids on my own blog, it’s that bad. None of it served any purpose, it wasn’t suitable children’s material, and I don’t know of a single soul who lasted longer than forty minutes trying to watch it unscathed.

But on the other hand, there are cases when controversy is necessary. I still remember when JK Rowling’s adult book The Casual Vacancy came out. People flocked to bookstores as soon as it was released, but were then shocked at how dark it was compared to the Harry Potter stories Rowling had written before. It had drugs, major cursing, prostitution, child abuse, etc. Despite the complex characterization, smart narrative, and clever word choice, a lot of people I know who read the story were turned off by how dark it was. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by The Casual Vacancy when I started reading it.

But then again, it’s not the first time Rowling’s mind went into freaky dark imagery. Harry Potter gave us a man who cut off his own hand to revive his master, a collection of brains that would strangle you if you touched one, and a man who would do anything for immortality, from ripping his soul into several pieces to drinking unicorn blood. And apparently, the exact process of ripping the soul to pieces is so graphic that Rowling said in an interview that “it was too horrible to go into detail about.”

Putting that aside, The Casual Vacancy doesn’t bother me much because it truly is someone else’s perspective of reality. It’s a tragedy surrounding corrupted politics, the way we treat the poor, and the hypocrisy of society. This is an example of an author using controversy to show that the world isn’t all daisies and fairy tales and rainbows. Most of the time, it’s the exact opposite. And again, the same can be said for Into the Woods; it got darker so that it could show us how dark the world can be, and if we want to survive, we need to keep growing and learning no matter how old we get.

Most stories that we remember fondly are the ones that took chances in order to be more than just popular fads. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol isn’t all smiles and Christmas wreaths, and yet it’s one of the most beloved Christmas stories today. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables isn’t a happy story, and yet it’s become a popular musical with a touching message of hope. So if you want to censor a controversy, you need to start by understanding why the author took that risk in the first place.

Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”

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