Controversy about books arises for many reasons, including political affiliation, religious bias, social taboos, psychological barriers and reservations about the book’s educative and moral values. The effects of such causes appear in the form of the imposition of a ban, or at times even a burning of the books termed as biblioclasm or libricide.
History is full of events, during which books have been subjected to mass destruction. For example, the destruction of the library of Baghdad under Qin Dynasty. Hate is not the exclusive cause of biblioclasm as it is sometimes conducted contrarily on account of love and extreme respect. For example, damaged copies of ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ are cremated like a deceased Sikh, purely out of respect. The ceremony is known as ‘Agan Bhet’. Similarly in many other religions , the worn, torn, and overused old books are respectfully drowned in water for biodegradation.
1. Arabian Nights
Alif Lailah wa laila-Thousand and one nights , better known as Arabian Nghts; translated by Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton was banned under the Comstock Law. According to the Comstock Law, it is a crime to sell or distribute materials that could be used for contraception or abortion. Books which contain scenes of graphic obscenity are also strictly prohibited. The book has also been banned in some Arab countries on account of distorted and fictitious presentation of some religious practices. Persian, Arabic and Indian versions of the book were available as early as in the ninth century and Burton (1821-1890) was the first to introduce it to the English readers. Burton’s collection of sixteen volumes of this book is both infamous and important because it contains early examples of satire, parody, mystery, horror, sexual humor and even science fiction.
2. Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath wrote only one semi-biographical novel, the ‘Bell Jar’ published in 1963 under the pseudonym ‘Victoria Lucas’ and under Plath’s real name in 1967. She committed suicide after its first UK publication. Plath suffered from clinical depression and when given electrotherapy that she considered that this treatment was like being electrocuted. Plath’s writing reflected her suicidal trends. Therefore, for fear of its possible influence over readers (particularly students) The Bell Jar was banned. Plath felt at times as if she was going to be hanged. When writing chapter 18 the noted that, ‘The bell jar hung, suspended, a few feet above my head. I was open to the circulating air’.
3. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
The Diary of a Young Girl was written by Anne Frank and published by Contact Publishing in 1947.She wrote it while she, along with other family members, were hiding in the Nazi occupied Netherlands. After two years of hiding they were apprehended and sent to a concentration camp where Anne died of typhoid. Only one of the rest survived. A Dutch historian; Dr.John Romein remarked, ‘ This apparently inconsequential diary by a child, this ‘ de profundis stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence of Nuremberg put together’. The 50th Anniversary Edition of the book was banned by Culpeper County, Virginia School Systems due to its sexual content. The American Library Association recorded six bans and, ‘most of the concerns were about sexually explicit material’.
4. The Bluest Eye
American writer Toni Morrison wrote The Bluest Eye as her first novel in 1970.She wrote it when she was teaching at Howard University. The story is about a black girl; Pecola in Lorain, Ohio. It is stated in the backdrop of America’s Midwest after the Great Depression. It is narrated from a child’s point of view. The book was banned on account of its content relating to racism, incest and child molestation.
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was published in 1884. It is perhaps one of the most read and the most famous books in US Public Library Sytem. Officials banned the book in 1885 considering it, ‘trash suitable only for slums’. A multitude of schools across the nation , including even ‘Mark Twain Intermediate School, Fairfax ,Virginia, banned it mainly on account of its looking down upon the African Americans. A class teacher noted that the word nigger was used 200 times in it, and remarked that on each repetition, the white students felt ashamed and they didn’t want to read ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finns. However, another school of thought teaches that ‘you don’t ban mark Twain. You explain Mark Twain. To study an idea is not necessarily to endorse the idea’. Yet another school of thought is of the opinion that reading is like eating and and the effects are beyond ones control.
6. Brave New World
Aldous Huxley wrote the novel Brave New World in 1931 and published it in 1932.The title of the novel was taken from Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest Act V, scene 1:
How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world!’.
The novel centers on reproductive technology and sleep learning. It was banned in Ireland on its very first appearance in 1932. It was removed from classrooms in 1980 for portraying sex as fun. The book has been banned in many schools and libraries throughout the US on account of the language used and on account of being centered around negative activity. Brave New World
The short Novel Candide, written by the philosopher Voltaire was published in 1759.The book was however banned soon after its publication on account of its content particularly religiously blasphemy, and political controversy.Candide was simultaneously a great success and a failure in satisfying the need of academic circles. It contains religious blasphemy wrapped in satire. Religious circles particularly the Catholic Church were quite annoyed by its publication and Bishop Etienne Antoine wrote; ‘We prohibit, under canonical law, the printing or sale of these books’¦’.Candide
8. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland commonly known as Alice in Wonderland was written by English Author Charles Lutwidge Dogson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. In the beginning its reception was cold but warming up steadily it is over a hundred editions now that have been published in more than 96 languages. Its readers include not only the kids but people like ‘Queen Victoria’ and young ‘Oscar Wild’. ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is about the girl Alice who falls down a rabbit hole where she comes across the animals speaking and behaving like human beings; the phenomenon known as anthromorphism.Chinese Governor of ‘Hunan’ district of China banned the book and opined, ‘Animals should not use human language, and that it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level’. Woodsville High School in Haverhill, New Hampshire banned the book on account of containing explicit references to masturbation, sexual fantasies, distorting a teacher’s image and that of religious ceremonies.
9. Bridge to Terbithia
Katherine Paterson wrote the story book about two lonely children who created a magical forest kingdom. It was published by Harper Collins in 1978 and won the Newbery Medal. Paterson was inspired by a real event when a friend’s son was struck by the lightening and killed. The book was banned on account of the content allegedly showing disrespect for elders. It was considered to combine confusing material regarding profanity, fantasy and reality.
10. Harry Potter Series
There are no two opinions about that Harry Potter books written by J.K.Rowling are among the most popular and most famous books of all-time. In spite of their fame and popularity, Harry Potter books have been quite often challenged and sometimes banned. The major cause for banning is stated to be its use of witchcraft, which might confuse children who may mix reality and fantasy.
There is no single opinion about any book. However, a book is considered controversial only when its cons notably exceed its pros. It is not only the number of negative events, but also the intensity of the negatives that counts. One sentence of blasphemy may taint a whole the book, while quite a few of slangs are tolerated by parents and educators. Blasphemy, obscenity, explicit sex, distortion of realities, unlawful text, marked deviation from social norms and confusing mixture of fantasy and reality, are mostly the causes that render many books controversial.