Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale last week was a great reading experience. Obviously not because of the subject matter because it’s horrendous. But because of the writing. There are a lot of things about the novel that feels inhumane and awful. There are also plenty of things about it that feel all too familiar in this day and age. However, one of the most powerful aspects of the novel for the reader in me is the lack of literature in women’s lives. The idea that writing is so impactful that it can corrupt their tiny minds. Books have always been seen as powerful and groups have always sought to have them removed. But, as we all know, everyone should have the right to read what they want. Reading immoral words doesn’t make you immoral. Reading obscene things doesn’t make you an obscene person. People who seek control have to take people’s freedom away wherever they can and books are an easy target. Which is why Banned Books Week is such an important thing. The fact that we set aside time to celebrate the books so many have tried to remove from the world. Keeping the words alive so generations to come can experience them and make judgements on them for themselves. And, for my second Friday Favourites, I’m going to talk about some of my most loved banned or challenged books.
Now, you might be expecting certain obvious titles to appear on this list but, I’ll be upfront about it, I’ve not included either To Kill A Mockingbird or The Catcher in the Rye. Why I hear so many of you shout? Well, Catcher never really did it for me and, though I see the importance and brilliance of Mockingbird, I can’t claim it as one of my favourites. I was taught it by a really terrible teacher at school. It was one of those awful educational experiences that really taints a book. Plus, most people see this as one of their top books ever so I don’t think it’s really feeling the loss.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Banned Book History: Lolita was banned for being obscene in France (1956-1959), the UK (1955-59), Argentina (1959), and New Zealand (1960). The South African Directorate of Publications announced on November 27, 1982, that Lolita has been taken off the banned list, eight years after a request for permission to market the novel in paperback had been refused. It’s also been challenged in Florida as being “unsuitable for minors”.
It always makes me sad when I see people say they didn’t enjoy this book because of its subject matter. For one thing, it’s not as bad as its reputation would suggest. For another, it’s ignoring so many amazing things. The writing in this novel is beautiful. And it wasn’t even written in Nabokov’s native language. Reading this book and enjoying it doesn’t mean you’re suddenly sympathetic to paedophiles. It just means you love really fucking beautiful writing.
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Banned Book History: J.K. Rowling’s popular series of novels has done nothing but piss off religious people since they were first published. As recently as September this year, the Harry Potter books have been banned from a Catholic School for their portrayal of witchcraft and black magic. A Reverend from St Edward Catholic School in Nashville told parents that he consulted “exorcists in the US and at the Vatican” before removing the books.
Okay, I might believe that J.K. Rowling has gone a bit too far when it comes to her additions to these books but I don’t think it’s reached a stage where we should be banning her. The fact that we still have to deal with this confuses me so much. Some religious people will stop at nothing to prevent people from having a good time. I love the idea that the Nashville Reverend genuinely believes the spells in these books are real. I’ve been trying to get accio to work for years and I still have to get up to find something.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Banned Book History: William Golding’s book has been causing problems for years. It’s been challenged and banned all over the United States and Canada for various reasons. People have objected to its violent nature, use of profanity, racism, sexism, references to sex, its treatment of the disabled, and its views on God. Phew.
Having first read this book for my GCSEs, it’s weird to think of it being removed from schools. And for being too violent. I mean that’s the point of the story. That man, when left to his own devices, will stoop to his natural animal instincts. It’s hardly going to be a great love-in. Golding’s novel is such a wonderful representation of man’s hidden spirit and it does a remarkable job of portraying young boys. Far from inciting people to violence, this novel is a warning. All children should read it and be made to analyse it until they get the point.
- Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein
Banned Book History: J.R.R. Tolkein’s trilogy of fantasy books is beloved by so many. Except it seems the religious groups who decided it was satanic. The book has been banned in several places as well as being burned in New Mexico.
Satanic? The Lord of the Rings? I don’t know what book they were reading but it can’t be the same one. And Tolkien was a Christian who put loads of Christian themes in his books. Yes, he’s not as explicit as C.S. Lewis but it’s there. Maybe they just picked it as a burner because it’s so long? I mean with all the songs and Tom Bombadil moments, there are enough pages to keep a fire going for a pretty long time.
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
Banned Book History: You can really see why Animal Farm was banned in the Soviet Union when it was first published but they weren’t the only ones. The book was finished in 1943 but couldn’t find a publisher. The Allied Forces saw it as being too dangerous considering how important the USSR was to the war effort. Since its eventual publication, the book has continued to be censored and challenged around the world. In 2002, it was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates mostly because of the occurrence of anthropomorphic, talking pigs.
I’ll be honest, I much prefer Animal Farm to 1984. I think it just works better as a whole story and raises fewer questions. Which I guess is odd considering it’s about animals who learn to talk. I just think there’s something cleaner about this book. 1984 kind of feels like it’s all over the place at times. There’s too much going on. Too many ramblings. Animal Farm is to the point and tight. It’s perfect.
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Banned Book History: Ken Kesey’s trippy novel set in a mental asylum is an unforgettable read. And it’s obviously upset a lot of people. The book was challenged and banned by loads of schools in the US during the 70s and 80s for being pornographic, glorifying criminal activity, and promoting ‘secular humanism’. But, most horrifically, it was challenged for being “garbage”. Garbage? I think not, Sir.
This is the kind of book that can change the way you see literature. It’s a fantastic book that is so well written. The tale of McMurphy, Chief, and Nurse Ratched is full of awful images, obviously, but dangerous? The only thing you might say is that it promotes the use of drugs in the writing process.
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Banned Book History: In 1931, Alice in Wonderland was banned in the province of Hunan, China. Why you might ask? For its portrayal of anthropomorphised animals. It was believed that giving animals human attributes was an insult and it was believed that the novel would teach children that animals and humans are on the same level. Something they decided would be disastrous.
Alice in Wonderland has been a favourite story of mine since I was a child. I had pictures all over my childhood bedroom. Ones that depicted Alice talking to the White Rabbit. And look at me now. I’ve grown up into a disastrous adult who believes that animals can talk and shit. I don’t understand these people. Haven’t they ever heard of imagination? Children don’t need to be encouraged to see animals with human attributes. Hell, anyone that’s ever owned a pet is guilty of that. I feel sorry for the Chinese people in 1931. Imagine all of the things they were missing out on. Good job The Lion King came out so many years later.