Not every book is for everyone, but it’s rare to have such an extreme reaction to a book that you would advocate for its removal from sale, challenge its publication, or set fire to it. Yet many books that are now considered classics were once banned, somewhere in the world.
Often, books that are now readily available on the shelves of your local bookstore, were considered to have sexual content that wasn’t appropriate for readers. D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in Australia in 1959 for this reason, along with numerous other countries including Japan, Ireland, India and Canada. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov was banned as obscene in France, England and New Zealand. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence created such an uproar in Oklahoma that a group called Mothers United for Decency campaigned against it.
Some places take the banning of books to an extreme, with the Nazi’s making book bonfires in 1933. Ernest Hemingway seemed to really rile the Nazis, with a number of his books hitting the flames. The Nazis weren’t the only burners of books. In 1918 Ulysses was burned in serial form by the US Post Office because it was deemed obscene. Many years later, Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie was not only banned in numerous countries including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, and India because of its criticism of Islam, but a fatwa was issued against Rushdie for writing it. Public opinion against this book turned tragic when its Japanese translator was stabbed to death, and its Italian translator and Norwegian publisher were both seriously injured.
Generally, though, outrage towards a book and its author passes with time. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien was originally banned in various US states because it was considered Satanic, but now that reaction would be rare. However, even today, books continue to be banned or challenged. The most challenged and often banned series of books in the first decade of the new millennium was the Harry Potter series. Harry along with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series were also on the top 20 list of most banned or challenged books between 2000-2009, and continue to make appearances on current lists.
Australia was once considered one of the harshest censors in the Western world. Customs officials had the power to veto what books were coming into Australia. In fact, Professor Nicole Moore, a literary historian has uncovered thousands of banned books buried seven storeys underground in the National Archives of Australia building in Sydney. Things began to change in the 60s and 70s, especially under the Whitlam government, when the literary ban was reduced to zero books. So now, we the readers get to decide on the literary merit of a book, which is exactly how it should be.
What are your favourite books that were once banned? Any you think should still be banned?