The Occult in “Andromeda Klein”

Frank Portman, author of Andromeda Klein (which I reviewed here) in an interview at Gothamist:

I just found out today that one of my school visits here (in Portland) was canceled because of parental worries about the occult elements in Andromeda Klein. It’s the first time I’ve ever been banned, and they’re worried about the occult.

I knew as I read Andromeda Klein that the centrality of the occult tradition to the book and its importance to the main character would be a problem for a lot of parents. Andromeda reads tarot cards, studies mysticism, tattoos herself with symbols, and performs rituals for privacy and other things. Andromeda’s interest and knowledge of the occult are thorough, and the depiction is presented realistically; some of the rituals produce results, and Andromeda has conversations in her head and in her dreams that are too relevant to be random. I’m not surprised this has ruffled some parental feathers. On the surface, at least, it comes across as pretty subversive.

I’d argue otherwise, though. Andromeda is an outsider–a skinny, clumsy girl with bad hair and worse hearing. It’s natural she’d gravitate to something off the beaten track, and something she could immerse herself in the study and practice of while on her own. While there are mentions of demons and Satan in the book, these are details of the historical tradition. Andromeda doesn’t worship or pursue demons or Satan. Instead, she uses the occult tradition to try to figure out and make sense of the world, especially because her outcast status means it’s senseless and cruel a lot of the time: she’s trying to come to terms with a friend’s death and an ex-boyfriend, while trying to deal with a crazy friend, a boy who admires her occult acumen, a clueless depressed dad and an intrusive insensitive mom. For Andromeda, the occult is a tradition of knowledge and ritual. She studies and practices to learn and grow. Other kids do the same with more mainstream things, like religion, sports, or academia. If Andromeda were interested in one of those, I doubt the book would set off any alarms.

I’m likely preaching to the converted and singing to the choir, here, but just in case: Andromeda’s interest in the occult might put off some readers, but I’d encourage them to actually READ the book, and consider how the occult tradition, as it’s practiced and studied by Andromeda, compares and contrasts to other traditions. Andromeda tattoos herself? I saw more than one teen swim teacher at the pool this summer sporting a Christian tattoo. Andromeda burns incense and asks questions, then “hears” advice in her head or in her dreams. Religious practitioners call this prayer and meditation. Andromeda reads a variety of books, many of which she disagrees with and all of which she tries to learn from. All traditions have some sort of sanctioned and recommended reading, as well as heretical texts that can help one “know thine enemy.”

Andromeda Klein is an interesting, thoughtful book with a wonderful, complex main character. It would be a shame if it were banned and people missed it based on prejudice. Tolerance of difference is a theme of the book, but it can also be applied TO the book.

One Response to “The Occult in “Andromeda Klein””

  1. Jodi Says:

    Just in time for Banned Book week.

    I’m really looking forward to reading this book. Dr. Frank is great!