Lately, I’ve had several vivid dreams, though I only remember snatches when I wake. The other night I dreamed I was standing in the dark, looking at flames. I felt … odd. I woke at that point, but the dream stayed with me as I stepped into the bathroom. I realized what I felt was a mixture of things, a contradiction—power and fear? joy and despair? Not until the next morning did the location of this dream scene flash before me.
They say there are strangers who threaten us,
In our theaters and bookstore shelves,
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves.
from “Witch Hunt” — Lyric by Neil Peart
This was a scene from my past. A memory of the night I stood in the parking lot of Windsor Village Baptist Church and participated in a book burning. This was the mid-70s, the era of The Exorcist, and my church was in the midst of Satan-mania.
Whenever this memory surfaces, I try to remember what books I burned, though I’m sure I’ll never have the complete list. I had little money to buy books, and probably owned no more than twenty—mostly paperbacks and used library books. Ironically, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 was one of the books I burned.
Other fiction thrown on the pyre was Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and Jacqueline Suzanne’s Valley of the Dolls. But even non-fiction like Jess Stearns’ The Search for the Girl with the Blue Eyes or Marian L. Starkey’s The Devil in Massachusetts or—unbelievably—Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings did not escape my zeal. Nor did Khalil Gibran’s poetic The Prophet. I ruthlessly routed out their potential “demonic influence.”
I was a different person then. I was one of those the Rush song refers to, thinking I knew what was best, I became one of those strangers—to myself. The memory of that frightens me. The thought I might again be so easily influenced, frightens me even more.
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