Between the Lines is a series of posts focused on better understanding books, trends in writing, and the labels associated with these.
Banned Books Week is almost over. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to read banned and challenged books! I hope that you will continue to keep reading and talking about banned and challenged books through the rest of the year.
In this post, we will explore some of my favorite Classics which have been challenged or banned.
1 — The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
What is it? The Lord of the Rings is the fantasy series that completely changed how fantasy is written. J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguistic genius who spoke over 10 languages. He began inventing functional languages for fun, and then developed a world in which they were spoken, which required a series of legends to support it… which led us to the creation of High Fantasy. The pinnacle of High Fantasy Adventure stories, we follow Frodo Baggins on a complex journey to destroy the One Ring. It’s a work of genius.
Why is it challenged? The Lord of the Rings has been challenged for various reasons since its publication in 1954/1955. Reasons include for drug references (ah, that lovely pipe smoke) and for being satanic. I don’t make this up, people.
Why should I read it? If the fact that this series completely redefined a genre of literature doesn’t do it for you, I can keep listing reasons. This series teaches the importance of education, travel, cultural diversity, loyalty, friendship, and honesty. Tolkien’s characters are complex and well-developed; ever changing throughout the series. And, lastly, The Lord of the Rings is an incredible stimulator of the imagination. Just read it.
2 — Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
What is it? Part memoir, part war story, part historical fiction, part science fiction– Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s self-defined magnum opus. This complicated book addresses Vonneguts feelings on the fire-bombing of Dresden and how the war affected him and his writing.
Why is it challenged? Slaughterhouse-Five has been challenged for discriminating religious references, explicit language and profanity, and sexual references including illustrations involving naked breasts.
Why should I read it? Yes, it’s a short novel. Yes, at times it can be challenging to understand. But that’s what happens when you are the master of pop-fiction and smash multiple genres together to try and express the complexity of emotion you felt from the war. Just saying. Written in a unique style, this novel philosophizes about life and the human mind, about war and power, about aliens and humanity. It’s worth your time.
3 — The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
What is it? Salman Rushdie’s best known and most galvanizing book, The Satanic Verses is a dense and complex book that follows the lives of two Indian Muslim actors who just survived the explosion of an airplane. What follows is a brilliant tale following these two men as they piece their lives back together following this horrific accident.
Why is it challenged? The Satanic Verses are subject to some of the most publicized literature bannings in history. In the United States it has been challenged for blasphemy and criticism of Islam. But in 1989, the year after publication, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. The government-backed this fatwa for a decade. In 1998, the government stated it no longer supposed the killing of Rushdie, but the fatwa is still in place to this day.
Why should I read it? If that super intense controversy isn’t enough to pique your interest, the content of the book should be. This story addresses identity, alienation, brutality, compromise, conformity, identity, anonymity, and survival all at once. It’s a complicated exploration into the needs and experiences of migrants. Hailed as “Rushdie’s largest aesthetic achievement” (quote: Harold Bloom) The Satanic Verses has influenced many writers to this day.
Bonus: Interested in learning more about the fatwa and how Rushdie survived? Check out this fascinating article from The Guardian reflecting on the fatwa. It includes comments from Rushdie’s UK peers and fellow novelists.
4 — The Color Purple by Alice Walker
What is it? Winner of many awards, The Color Purple tells the life story of Celie, a poor black woman in 1930’s Georgia. An epistolary novel, we explore her life and experiences from age 14 through old age, including all the joy and pain that ties together with this.
Why is it challenged? The Color Purple is challenged due to explicit language, violence, explicit and troubling ideas about race relations, sexual references (one challenged called it “smut”), and for drug abuse. Strangely, nothing is written about this being challenged for being anti-family, like Saga, but I won’t question the challengers.
Why should I read it? This book is incredibly powerful, and the theme is something everyone needs to hear repeatedly, starting when they are young: You own your own life. The Color Purple encourages us to explore how we can create our own identities and define who we are and what we become. All the while we are exploring how we can develop ourselves, we also get to see what life was like for a poor, black woman in the 1930’s rural south. And let me just say, it’s not always pretty.
5 — The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
What is it? Holden Caulfield has been expelled from another school. Depressed and uncertain how to be true to himself, Holden wanders around Manhattan for three days having misadventures and really just attempting to find some way to push down his depression for a little while, even if it’s just by being drunk.
Why is it challenged? The Catcher in the Rye is called “a favorite of the censors” by the ALA. Why? It has been challenged almost every year since the ALA started collecting these statistics in 1963. The most frequent challenge reasons are for being blasphemous, sexually promiscuous, obscene, profane, and defamatory. However, I do love one challenge reason of being “centered around negative activity”. Lovely.
Why should I read it? Holden Caulfield is the confused kid who doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know where he belongs in life or what to do. He is caught in a whirlwind of mental duress and spends all his time complaining about everything around him. It sounds depressing, and there are certainly times I want to throttle Holden. But Holden is a game-changer. A teenager narrating his own story in the most flawed way possible. He lacks motivation, doesn’t fit in, doesn’t understand the world around him, and is running from his problems. All young people can relate on some level to what Holden is going through. It’s painful and tragic, but it’s real. Holden allows younger people the opportunity to finally connect the literature and understand that this is more than just words on paper. Literature helps us understand who we are and who we can become. Holden will get you there.
Need to understand more about banned and challenged books? Check out this post.
What do you think?
- Have you read any of these books before? If so, what do you think of the reasons they were challenged?
- Are you interested in reading any of these now? If so, why?
- Any additional suggestions for challenged Classic literature we should prioritize reading? What are your favorite banned/challenged classic books?