Banned books almost seem like a strange concept in a day and age when we supposedly have freedom of speech and therefore one would also assume that we also have the freedom to write what we choose.
Apparently however, freedom of expression is a human right according to article 19 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights unless it relates to:
“… libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labeling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury.”
Thanks to this guidance, since Banned Book Week was introduced back in 1982, over 11,000 books have been challenged either because they were considered too violent, too sexually explicit, challenged a political or religious party or contained language that was deemed to offensive.
Ok, so not all of these have gone on to become banned in one or more countries but it does tend to highlight that whilst we think we are more liberal nowadays we can still be easily distressed by the words on a page. Which is strange considering that many of us happily sit down to watch an episode of The Walking Dead where they brutally kill off those that have turned into a ‘walker’, or perhaps you prefer tuning in to watch the latest installment of Game of Thrones where incest, adultery and homosexuality seem to be an everyday occurrence.
So why is it then, that we are still so prudish when it comes to the written word?
Amazingly, some of the titles that appear on the banned books register, regardless of when they were written, seem damn right ridiculous and whilst many of them today are widely read, it seems bizarre to me that they would ever appear on such a list.
Of course I am not talking about the likes of Mein Kampf written by Adolf Hitler; a book that still evokes mixed feelings among many, including the Germany population. I am instead referring to those classics that potentially you read as a child or the ones that have for many years now appear on school and university syllabuses.
9 Banned Books That People Love To Read
#1 Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
Originally banned in China because people objected to animals having the ability to talk, it was later cited as containing expletive language, sexual content and derogatory characterisations that were too excessive for children whilst more recently it has been challenged for its drug related references.
Realistically however, most people that read about Alice’s adventures simply love the fact that the girl finds herself in a magical land where she can talk to the animals, have a tea party with a mad hatter without feeling vulnerable and defeat a wicked woman.
#2 Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)
Most children, at some point, fantasize about the ability to cast a magic spell; perhaps they have a desire to turn someone into a toad or wish that they could fly. In reality however, the majority of people know that they will never be able to cast a spell let alone do anything vicious with this non-existent ability. However, there are those out there that still believe the fantasy world of Harry Potter should be banned purely because it promotes a world focussing on paganism and occultism.
Perhaps being born a muggle really is a unfortunate thing after all.
#3 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
Even now when I think of Charlie and the Chocolate factory I have an image come to mind of little men with bright orange faces wandering around a glorious, sugary world hidden to prying eyes singing and I know that I am not alone.
So why is it rather than letting us indulge in this different world are there people out there that see these little Oompa Loompas in a racist light. Ok, so in the original text, Roald Dahl did depict these little men in a very different way – as dark skinned pygmy people – and in a way I can kind of see why people took offence but even in recent times people seem to challenge this well-known classic.
Unfortunately for Roald Dahl Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was not his only novel to be challenged with critics arguing that James and the Giant Peach has been censored many times since its publication in 1961 for being too scary for the targeted age groups, for containing elements of mysticism as well as including sexual inferences, profanity, racism, references to tobacco and alcohol, which in turn apparently promotes disobedience, drug taking and communism.
Whilst The Witches, written back in 1983, has been banned for numerous reasons including perceived misogyny because they are all depicted as females and the fact that he is helping to desensitise children to violence and witchcraft.
Seriously!!! Why can’t we just enjoy a book at face value?
#4 Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
When I read this as a child all I saw was a friendship between a talking pig and a spider. There was nothing sinister there; it was just a simple story where Charlotte (the spider) fights for her friend Wilbur’s (the pig) survival. So why is it that there are people out there who see this novel as unnatural and blasphemous because animals, heaven-forbid, can talk.
#5 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (L. Frank Baum)
One to surely frustrate and enrage all feminists out there, this book was originally banned for depicting females in strong leadership roles. Other reasons for this particular ban include the inclusion of magic and of the godless supernaturalism and the fact that witches should not be depicted in a positive light and should only ever be considered evil. Finally it really should not be surprising by now, but it was also considered wrong because once again animals have been given human characteristics.
As a child however I never thought about any of this. For me, this was a novel that sent my imagination into overdrive. As a young girl all I ever really wanted was my very own pair of sparkly red shoes so that I too could click my heels together and be whisked away to a faraway magical world.
#6 Winnie The Pooh (A.A. Milne)
Whilst other titles here may have been banned decades ago, Winnie the Pooh is a surprisingly new addition to the banned books list.
China has decided to ban Winnie the Pooh because the loveable bear who eats far too much honey is being compared to President Xi by savvy bloggers who have taken to social media to mock their leader.
China’s limited freedom of expression has always been strict but never before has it resulted in such a loveable book character being banned.
#7 The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins)
With such a long list of reasons why these books should be banned it astounds me that anyone has ever been able to read them. Arguments for the banned of these fantastic fantasy novels include the high level of violence included along with the anti-ethical idea that people have to kill one another to survive. Add to this the idea that children have become desensitised to a world where killing is the norm, the offensive language and the fact that some believe there are hidden undertones pointing towards a satanic world, I believe that it is quite an accomplishment for Suzanne Collins to not only still be selling books but that her words have been turned into a series of films.
#8 Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank)
The irony here is that this particular book was not banned because of the in-depth descriptions of a 13 year old girl who’s whole race were being persecuted so horrendously by the Nazis. Oh no. The reason this book has caused so much controversy in recent years is because narrow-minded people feel that it is wrong to publish a true-life account of someone because they mention how their body is changed as a young adult.
It seems that death, oppression and victimisation are all ok as long as nobody mentions their female parts.
#9 The Twilight Saga (Stephanie Meyer)
Stephanie Meyer must have known that her portrayal of beautiful, blood-sucking vampires would cause people to challenge her work. The fact that she has been able to glorify immortality in this way was always going to lead to haters. Strangely enough though, it is not the fact that these vampires need to go out feeding sprees that has caused people to rally behind a banning, it is the fact that this idea of vampires goes against religious viewpoints. It is also believed that this series is too grown up and sexual for its intended audience.
Looking back on my childhood, and young adult life, I don’t think I ever took any of these books to be more than what they were. I simply read them because I am a bookworm who enjoys multiple genres. I am someone who loves the creativity of others and it frustrates me that we are able to so quickly crush the imagination of these wonderful authors because we have read too much into their storyline or because we feel it is too advanced for its readership.
Of course, I am not saying that books should not be categorised into age groupings. I don’t believe for one moment that a young reader for example should be able to pick up a brutal murder mystery but I do believe that we all read for a purpose. We either read to because we want to lose ourselves to a fictional world for a few hours or we read to develop our knowledge – either way, like it or not some of these titles are both great for withdrawing from modern-day life for a while and educating us on some of the more pressing issues of our time and I for one intend to continue reading novels that I believe I would enjoy. I don’t intend to look for hidden messages, or to proclaim that a storyline is too raunchy, too violent or too anti-religious to be read.
In my honest opinion, anyone that has slaved over a laptop to create either a fictional or non-fictional work deserves for it to be read by others.
“Some people become so expert at reading between the lines they don’t read the lines.”
Do you agree that these books should appear on the banned books list? What banned books have you read?