From fairytales to literary classics, books have been accused of promoting extra-marital dalliances, Communism and even witchcraft. To celebrate Banned Books Week (24-30 September) we take a look at 10 of the most famous tomes they tried to remove from your bookshelf…
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D H Lawrence
Lawrence’s explicit tale of an adulterous affair led to one of the most famous court cases in history. Originally published in 1928, it was banned in the UK for over 30 years on the grounds of obscenity. It wasn’t until 1960 that Penguin published the original text in all its profanity-peppered glory. But not before they had proven that the book was of literary merit – in a trial where the prosecution asked jurors if this was a book they would want their wives or servants to read. Luckily for us, the answer was yes. And in the three months after the trial, the story of Lady Chatterley and her lusty game keeper went on to sell three million copies.
Harry Potter, J K Rowling
If you thought a shy, bespectacled, spell-loving schoolboy couldn’t possibly offend anyone, you’d be wrong. Despite having sold over 450 million copies of the Harry Potter series, and making a whole new generation of children (and many adults) fall in love with reading again, it seems that not everyone is a fan of J K Rowling. The first four Harry Potter titles are the most banned books in America, having been accused of promoting witchcraft and satanism. Silly muggles.
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer’s group of pilgrims are a raucous and blasphemous bunch; as they make their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket they swear richly, criticise the church with abandon, and delight in bawdy sexual innuendo. Written at the end of the 14th century, these medieval misadventures were censored heavily on publication and have been ever since. Under the 1873 Comstock Law, The Canterbury Tales was banned from being circulated in the US, and abridged versions are common even now.
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
It’s doubtful that when Salman Rushdie wrote his now notorious book he could ever have imagined the hate figure it would turn him into. Written in the author’s trademark magic realist style, The Satanic Verses was partly inspired by the life of the Prophet Mohammed and explored the alienation of the immigrant experience. It was, however, widely interpreted as mocking Islam. As well as being banned in many Muslim countries, it led to bookstore bombings, public book burnings, and a fatwa being issued on the author by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Witches, Roald Dahl
One of Dahl’s most popular children’s stories, The Witches won The Whitbread Award when it was published in 1983. But that didn’t stop it becoming one of the most consistently challenged books since – principally in the US. Top complaints against this deliciously dark tale of bloodthirsty REAL WITCHES (not the broomstick riding variety) include not teaching moral values and turning impressionable children towards the occult.
Animal Farm, George Orwell
George Orwell’s allegorical tale was initially rejected by a number of British and American publishers. Through the talking, four-legged occupants of Manor Farm, the staunch socialist satirised what he perceived to be an inhumane dictatorship. But in 1945, the UK’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union made any criticism of Stalin unpopular. The book was banned in Russia until the 1980s, and was temporarily forbidden in the UAE because it contained talking pigs. Despite global efforts to suppress it, Orwell’s novella eventually achieved great commercial success and featured on Time magazine’s 100 best English-language novels.
The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall
Despite its distinctly un-erotic tone, Hall’s groundbreaking lesbian romance ended up being the subject of obscenity trials in both the UK and US. The story of a well-to-do woman who falls in love with a female ambulance driver during the war, The Well of Loneliness outraged the establishment; after its publication in 1928, the editor of the Sunday Express organised a campaign against it. It wasn’t until 1949 that the book would be republished unchallenged, provoking widespread debates on homosexuality.
The Complete Fairy Tales, The Brothers Grimm
The strange and often frightening world created by the Brothers Grimm – where children are thrown into giant ovens, gobbled up, and seduced by wolves – makes for unlikely bedtime reading. But it was the supposed symbolism of these fairytales that led them to be banned in Germany after the defeat of the Nazis. The allies claimed the stories contained the roots of Hitler’s poisonous beliefs, with Nazis propaganda chiefs depicting Little Red Riding Hood as the story of the German people being saved from the Jewish wolf.
The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger
Salinger isn’t just famous for being a recluse and creating one of literature’s most popular anti-heros. He also wrote one of the most challenged books ever. A masterclass in teenage angst and alienation, The Catcher in the Rye follows Holden Caulfield across the US as he embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Whilst it was praised by critics for being a brilliant first novel when it was first published, it also attracted controversy for its “excess of vulgar language, sexual scenes, and things concerning moral issues”; in 1981 it was both the most censored, and the second most taught book, in US high schools.
Howl and Other Poems, Allen Ginsberg
In 1956, Allen Ginsberg dropped his literary bombshell on buttoned-up America. Howl and Other Poems was a rallying cry to a disaffected youth, and its anthem, Howl, a mystical, epic rail against consumerism and conformism. The collection sealed Ginsberg’s role as the voice of the Beat generation and helped kick-start the 60s counter-cultural revolution. Howl’s power terrified the authorities, and its sexually overt homosexual content offended them. The year after it was published, an obscenity trial was brought against its publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (of City Lights Books), but eventually Judge Clayton W. Horn ruled that the poem wasn’t offensive.