Books that offend, what was banned

Seems that part of the innate nature of some people is that they get offended at the drop of a hat by art.

Which of course, is why art can be so vital in opening up people’s minds to the potential we all possess. Such is the story of humanity; be it cartoons, second-rate movies or even books, humankind has a terrible record of missing the point.

This is reflected by the suddenly-timely Banned Books Week, which reminds us all that when governments get paranoid, they get censor-y.

The week runs from Sunday, 30 September to Saturday, 6 October and is the (inter)national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the world draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. We believe Books & Books in Grand Cayman is planning something, for example.

Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, we’re told, which is scary in a Farenheit 451-type way.

Megan McCluskey, Weekender’s favourite and only literary expert, takes us through some of the books which have been banned by governments over the years.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Banned by: China, 1931

The fairy tale of a girl who falls down a rabbit hole and encounters a land of talking animals and other silliness. It was banned in 1931 in China due to fears that showing animals and humans on the same intellectual level would be confusing to children.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Banned by: China, 1965

A staple in every school library and child’s bookshelf, this book was banned in China 1965 for portraying “early Marxism,” the ban was lifted in 1991 when Dr Seuss died.

Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Banned by: United States, 1929

The familiar story of a boy raised by apes. The story of the King of the Jungle was told in countless movies, comic strips and books yet was banned in the United States in 1929. This was because although Tarzan managed to find a mate in the jungle, they did not find a priest and as such were found to be “living in sin.”

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Banned by: Various schools and libraries in the US, 2010.

This was due to violent content (vampires and werewolves are notoriously bloodthirsty) and religious content. Not anti-religious content, just religious content in general.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

Banned by: Lebanon, 2004

Later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks, this is a mystery novel that explores an alternate view of Christianity, including such ideas as the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, among other theories. It was banned in Lebanon in 2004 for blasphemy.

Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank

Banned by: Lebanon. 1947, Alabama (US), 1983

Her first-hand account of her family’s hiding from the Nazis – was banned in Lebanon soon after publication for its positive portrayal of Jews, Israel and Zionism. The Alabama Textbook (US) committee also banned it in 1983 for being, and I quote, “a real downer.”

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.

Banned by: Numerous, 1989

Perhaps the most famous book banning of all. A fantastic tale of good and evil told in dreams and implausible events, with a highly fictionalised depiction of the prophet Mohammed, it outraged many conservative Muslims who felt it was blasphemous. The Ayatollah Khomeini, Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling upon all good Muslims to kill Mr Rushdie as well as his publishers. Although Mr Rushdie was not harmed, several others associated with the book were – a translator in Japan was stabbed to death and an Italian translator was stabbed but survived (both in July 1991), the Norwegian publisher was shot in an attempted assassination attempt in 1993. Dozens of countries banned it, including India, Iran, Kenya, Kuwait, Liberia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Senegal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.

Although times may have changed, Mr Rushdie is still under the fatwa and it can never be rescinded as only the person issuing it can rescind it and the Ayatollah has since died.

Shocking stuff; anyone who truly believes in freedom of speech or freedom of thought surely knows what to do here; restrictions on art are enchainments of the soul.

You can find out more about Banned Books Week by searching online for their website.

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