A graphic novel that depicts the sexual encounters of fairytale heroines has made history as the first book pulled from the Auckland Libraries catalogue for being too explicit.
The book has never been classified by the censor and the decision of the library to self-censor has angered those who say libraries should be champions of literary freedom.
It has now become a cause celebre for fans wanting to have the book returned to the shelves and the library has indicated it may yet put it back.
Lost Girls, by English graphic novel writer Alan Moore and his wife, artist Melinda Gebbie, was originally purchased in 2008 for the library's collection at the request of a member.
It was removed from the catalogue after questions were raised over its content.
The three-volume book has Wendy, from Peter Pan, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Alice from Alice in Wonderland meeting by chance as adults on the eve of World War I.
They talk through their sexual experiences, and also violence and drug use.
Louise LaHatte, regional collections manager for Auckland City Libraries, said the book had never gone to the Office of Film and Literature Classification but the library was worried if the book was referred to the censor it would be found objectionable - meaning the library had broken the law.
The library purchases more than 500,000 books each year and never sends them to the censor; unlike films, books get classified only if someone thinks they are offensive and demands they be checked.
The library did not want to send Lost Girls to the censor itself for fear it could be perceived as an attempt to ban the book.
Frustrated local comic fans say the library has missed the artistic and literary significance of Lost Girls.
"I don't know if they were aware of its significance in the graphic novel world. They [author and artist] are two very significant creators doing a very personal work that they took very seriously as a personal and creative and political statement," said Auckland cartoonist Dylan Horrocks.
The library should be a champion of freedom of information, he said.
"It is a challenging work. But part of the role of libraries is to make work that is challenging available to people that wouldn't otherwise be able to access."
Horrocks has ignited social media debate over the issue and the library is now discussing whether to put the book back into the collection. It is seeking advice from the Department of Internal Affairs.
"We are trying to do the right thing as libraries," LaHatte said.
"We are trying to get an idea how likely would it be, particularly if we are applying restrictions on it ourselves to make sure children did not get hold of it, would they really want to prosecute us."
*This article was amended to remove a reference to the National Library of New Zealand. The National Library has never had a copy of Lost Girls in its catalogue.
- Sunday Star Times