Even in a world that loves to read, and in an art form where creativity and imagination are given the highest regard, some stories can become simply too much for the real world. Due to reasons ranging from the delicate to the ridiculous, some authors have found a very painful nightmare come true – their work published but inaccessible to vast populations due to the bans imposed on them. Here are some such provoking books–
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The book, partly inspired by the life of Prophet Muhammad, became one of the bloodiest books of the contemporary era as soon as its publication began. Muslims around the world took great offence at the alleged blasphemy and mockery of their religion – copies were burnt in Britain, a fatwa was issues against Rushdie, and the book was banned in India as hate speech targeting a particular religion. So bitter was the anger provoked by this book that the Japanese translator of the book was murdered in 1991. The book continues to be one of the major symbols for the freedom of speech and writing.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The subject matter of the book is controversial even today, when the book is regarded as a fine piece of literature and a classic. Back when Nabokov finished writing his book about an unreliable narrator and his sexual obsession with a 12 year old girl in 1953, several publishers refused to print the book, with many even warning off the author. After publication in France in 1955, it was swiftly banned there and in several other countries, though all were lifted within a few years. Many commenters today have emphasized that praising the book as a literary work should not come in the way of tackling the contents of the book in a sensitive and critical manner.
- All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
A haunting telling of the the German soldiers’ experience of World War I, the book talks of the psychological trauma that the field of Psychology was yet to name. This anti-war tale, however, had no place in the Nazi Germany where commitment to the fatherland was everything. The book was amongst the first to go into the bonfires of knowledge that marked the Third Reich. Even patriotic non-Nazis remained unimpressed by the sentiment of the book, while more contemporary commentators have even dismissed the book as mediocre. But nobody can deny that the book was amongst the first to open the places of the mind the commands of states were too happy to let remain closed.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol
Alice’s tale was banned in China for the strangest of reasons in Hunam, a province of China, in 1931. General Ho believed that talking animals who had the same kind of complexity as human beings would teach children to look at animals and humans as having the same value, which would have had disastrous consequences, apparently. Thankfully today, children all across the world can enjoy the highly imaginative tales of a writer who captured young and adult hearts alike, including that of Oscar Wilde. Also, god (or law at least) forbid we learn to treat animals as equals!
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The only novella by the writer, Dorian Gray was censored even before it was published – editor J.M. Stoddard made several changes to remove allusions to homosexuality from the book. Initial publications was met with such harsh criticism that Wilde himself changed a lot of the content of the book. Its censorship and changes were especially cruel considering the fact that Wilde was himself prosecuted and subsequently incarcerated for homosexuality, which was illegal in Britain during that time. In 2011, Harvard released an uncensored and unedited print of the book, finally releasing his words into a world that is at least somewhat open to the diversity in sexuality.
Books can be offensive for a number of reasons, and sometimes these reasons can be understandable or justifiable. But banning books has never been the solution, because while people still manage to read the books, they do not get to engage in dialogues about it – which can lead to misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and further complications. Literature has allowed humanity the freedom to explore all that there is, and a similar freedom has to be allowed in speech and expression to make the former truly fruitful.