Friday, May 25, 2007

Banned Books--How many did YOU read?

This Friday, in keeping with a literary theme, I've linked you to a Forbidden Library. This library boils overful with an oozing cornucopia of 'demoralizing', 'blasphemous', 'racial', 'offensive', 'obscene', 'anti-Communist', 'Satanic', and 'anarchistic' literature. Ah, yes, you say! How subversive. Check it out! Its librarian, Janet Yanosko, has indexed books by author and title with explanation of why the book was banned along with her own amusing rather pithy remarks. You'll find books that people found offensive like:
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: a book on censorship gets censored!

  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: promotes drugs and disobedience

  • Where's Waldo by Martin Handford: for nudity

  • 1984 by George Orwell: for being pro-communist

  • The Lorax by Doctor Seuss: because it criminalizes the logging industry

  • Zen Buddhism: selected writings by D.T. Suzuki: because it portrays Buddhism as appealing

  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut: for its foul language
Books have been banned (and burned) on many occasions by many societies over humankind's history of existence for various reasons. Books considered critical of governments or societies with power were a common target. So were books that dealt with criminal matter or promoted views counter with popular worldviews, or were considered distasteful or disturbing.

The Bible, the Qur'an and other religious works were banned (and burned) over the years. In Medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church dealt with dissenting printed opinion through a program called the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (index of prohibited books). Okay, here's a partial list I got off Wikipedia with reasons for banning. I've bolded the ones I've read. How many did YOU read?
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: for portraying animals and humans on the same level
  • The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine: banned in UK for blasphemy in 18th C
  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remaraque: banned in Nazi Germany for demoralizing and insulting the Wehrmacht
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: banned for anti-Stalin theme
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: banned in some U.S. schools for use of racial slurs
  • Bible: banned by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in Catholic Church
  • Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: banned in South Africa for using the word 'black'
  • Brave New World byAldous Huxley: banned for centering around negative activity
  • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: banned for sexual content
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: banned in some U.S. schools and libraries for sexual situations, immorality and other themes of impropriety and anti-Christian sentiments
  • Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau: banned in U.S. during McCarthyism
  • Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel: banned because of hardcore graphic sexual content
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: banned in anti-Communist countries during the Red scare
  • Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak: banned in USSR for criticism of the Bolshevik Party
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: for issues on censorship
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway: banned in Spain during Francisco Franco's rule for its pro-Republican views
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: banned in part of U.S. because of the use of the word 'nigger'
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: banned in some U.S. schools for use of the name God and Jesus in a vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift: banned in Ireland as wicked and obscene
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare: banned in Ethiopia
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling: banned in some U.S. school libraries for use of witchcraft and supposedly Satanic views
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare: banned in UK out of respect to King George III's aleged insanity
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence: banned in U.S. and UK for obsenity
  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: challenged in part of U.S. for depicting graphic violence, mysticism and gore
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: banned in parts of U.S. for being an allegorical political commentary
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury: challenged in U.S. for profanity
  • Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler: reproduction and sale is forbidden outside Germany, Austria and Netherlands for promoting Nazism
  • Le Morte D'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory: challenged in UK as 'junk'
  • 1984 by George Orwell: banned in USSR for political reasons; banned in U.S. for being pro-communist and for explicit sexual matter
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: banned in some U.S. schools and libraries for promoting 'euthanasia' and for profanity
  • The Odyssey by Homer: Plato suggested expurgating it for immature readers and Caligula tried to suppress it for expressing Greek ideals of freedom
  • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: banned in various places for promoting the evolutionary theory
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton: listed on the Indx Librorum Prohibitorum in Rome
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: challenged due to racial themes
  • Ulysses by James Joyce: banned in U.S. for its sexual content
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: banned in southern States and Czarist Russia for racist portrayal of African Americans and use of word 'nigger'.
Okay, so I read a lot of them. Does that make me a subversive? How about you? I find it interesting to note that books published as recently as "Harry Potter" are banned as wicked or even evil.
This all begs the question of what art truly is and should be. Susan Sontag suggested that "real art makes us nervous." The genius of art skirts the edge of propriety and comfort to ask the questions that help us define our own humanity. Oscar Wilde remarked, "an idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being an idea at all." Benjamin Franklin suggested that, "if all printers were determined not to print anthing till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."
Henry Steel Commager eloquently stated that, "censorship...creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion." John F. Kennedy further added that, "...a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
Lillian Hellman, who was subpoenaed to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Commitee in 1952, exclaimed, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions."
Live and write from the heart.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


jjrahn said...

On the flip side, sometimes banning can increase readership. Take for example, The Satanic Verses. I don't think anyone would have paid any attention to it otherwise. (Not that I bothered to read it -- sounded boring.)

Kai said...

Wow! That's kinda cool! That's a lot of books! Some I wouldn't even have thought would be banned.

sfgirl said...

Yeah, I'd agree that banning a book sometimes raises its profile and as the marketers say, 'any publicity is GOOD publicity'... What strikes me is what a particular book ban says about the censoring society. Like you said, Kai... you wouldn't have thought some of these would be banned... but that depends on the mindset, the 'zeitgeist' of the group that did the banning, and it's very different from mine and yours obviously in some cases. There's a logic and sensibility that we can't understand sometimes, one that's inexorably linked to cultural prejudices. It's mind boggling and a little disturbing for me. Like, why ban Fahrenheit 451 (which is about book banning!)???

Steven said...

Very interesting post. Thanks.

sfgirl said...

Thanks, Steven. I enjoyed reading your posts on Timeline Journey as well. I was recently in Thailand (after the Tsunami)and I was so impressed by these people. I found them childlike, utterly full of inner joy, gentleness, and good humor. They are a beautiful people and Thailand is a beautiful country, a land of contrasts.

josh said...

Here is Saudi Arabia, any remotely religious book, the foremost of these being the Bible of course, is banned. The customs will sometimes turn a blind eye to 'one personal copy'...

I can understand, although not condone, their reasons for doing this.

However, I cannot understand: "Bible: banned by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum in Catholic Church"

sfgirl said...

I agree with you, Josh. Various translations of the Bible were banned. For instance, in 1525, the scholar, William Tyndale, had his English translation of the New Testament banned and burned by the authorities. He was convinced that the way to God was through His word and sought to make the scriptures available to the common people using the vernacular language of English; but the clergy vehemently disagreed and considered such an act blasphemous. Tyndale published on the sly, though; and his translations were condemned and burned. Ironically, much of his work eventually found its way into the King James Version (Authorized Version) of the Bible in 1611. It's all about timing...and who you know, I guess...

Janet Yanosko Elkins said...

I am the creator of the Forbidden Library; I'm glad you enjoyed it.

It never ceases to amaze me how strong the desire is among those in authority to protect us from anything that might cause dissonance in our minds, make us question, amuse us, or titillate.

Forbidding us anything just makes us want it more. I never noticed a topless lady in Where's Waldo, but I sure wanted to look for her after I heard about it!


sfgirl said...

Cool, Janet! Thanks for commenting and let me take the opportunity to thank you for creating your site and enlightening us on this topic. Ignorance is our enemy... it often harbours fear, which can lead to atrocity.

Heidi said...

How the hell can 1984 be interpreted to be pro-communism?!

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Emmanuel Gonot said...

This is an old post, but the topic is as relevant as ever, and I just discovered your blog, so I'm venturing a comment.

I'm not sure if there's anything to banning or censorship increasing a book's appeal, but this list represents the finest in world literature, in my opinion.

I'll be proud to be associated with anyone who've read even a quarter of these books - that individual will have a keen, questioning, rich mind.

I'm glad I've read many of the books in this list, and I'd recommend each of these to my own kids. Maybe, the litmus test of a book's excellence is if it made to a reactionary body's list of banned books.

SF Girl said...

Thanks for commenting, Emanuel.

I enjoyed your comment: "Maybe, the litmus test of a book's excellence is if it made to a reactionary body's list of banned books."

Yes... the subversive literature of today may easily become the classic of tomorrow. Is this not what good art is and ultimately the role of the artist? Something that questions who we are and where we are going?

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