Imagine a world where Harry Potter does not go to Hogwarts, where Wally is never found, and where there is not one shade of grey, let alone fifty. These are just a handful of the fictive imaginings which have been banned somewhere in the world, at some time. Banned Books Week is upon us, and with it comes a reminder of the endless list of literary works which have fallen victim to the censor — be it government, school, or broadcaster.
If you go into an Australian bookshop, you’ll still find American Psycho shrink-wrapped, due to its extreme (and vomit-inducing) violence. If you haven’t read it and intend to, I suggest you also invest in a sturdy bucket. That isn’t to say I don’t think it’s a good book — I’m a huge Bret Easton Ellis fan, it just really tested the limits of my stomach.
Most of us who claim to be bibliophiles are at least aware of famous book bannings. We know about Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses resulting in a ‘mob with flaming torches’ style persecution, due to a perceived insult on Islam (I have to admit I haven’t read it, so I can’t wade in on the debate). We’re all aware of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleburry Finn being banned in classrooms due to its repeated use of the N-word. And it’s no secret that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was considered obscene for the early part of the last century; the saucy story could once only be obtained illegally — or apparently you could pick one up in Florence.
Aside from those famous bannings, there are a number of attempts to stifle literary freedom (I use the term ‘literary’ loosely in some cases) which might come as a surprise. In a celebration of all things outrageous and barbaric, here’s just a small selection of the books that got banned.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Carroll’s wacky novel was banned in China during the 1930s. Why? Talking animals. Never mind the crack-smoking caterpillar. The censors decreed that animals being given the same standing as humans was a dangerous idea.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
You heard right muggles, not everyone loves our favourite wizard. Schools in both the US and the UK have banned the book from classrooms for promoting witchcraft and ‘setting a bad example.’
Where’s Waldo by Martin Handford
Avert your eyes! An over-zealous parent in the US spotted a bare breast in this children’s puzzle book. But just before you write-off the stripy-shirted fiend, be safe in the knowledge that the offending lady has since regained her modesty with a properly placed bikini.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Due to the ‘portrayal of early Marxism,’ Green Eggs and Ham was banned in The People’s Republic of China between 1965 and 1991. Go figure.
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
Full of racism, sexism and rude names, The Famous Five hasn’t quite stood the test of time. But none of these were the reasons for Blyton’s work being banned by the BBC. They refused to air any of her work, because they thought it was “lacking literary value.” Try telling that to seven-year-old me, as I construct a full-on screenplay about the adventures of George and Timmy on Kirrin Island, thank you very much.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
As we’ve had only children’s books so far, here’s a very adult book to balance things out. It’s fairly self-explanatory why this book might have been banned in lots of countries world-wide (no, not the same reason as Enid Blyton, you naughty book snobs). But it is certainly not this reason, which I stumbled across on a change.com petition in Sydney, Australia:
“It is necessary to ban the novel “Fifty Shades of Grey”, as we feel that WITHIN the book, men are portrayed in a way that gives women unrealistic expectations of us when it comes to intimate relations.”
On behalf of women, could I please just retort with: every Hollywood film ever.
There seems to be an endless list of ridiculous reasons for banning books, and perhaps some are well meaning. Perhaps you think some of these aren’t worth the bother. But when it comes to our freedom to read, and our freedom to write, I say it’s worth the fight.