A lot of the books I’ve been talking about during Banned Books Week are the “big” ones; no one is surprised when I say that authors like Maya Angelou, Ayn Rand, and J.D. Salinger have been removed from classrooms and library shelves.
But what about those authors whose works you’d never expect to be particularly controversial?
Okay, you’ve got me on this one.
As a woman who broke every Comstock law of the early 20th century, it’s probably not terribly surprising that birth control activist Margaret Sanger’s works were banned left and right.
She was jailed multiple times for giving women solid information on such scandalous topics as family planning, contraceptive devices, and puberty/menstruation in girls and women.
True, she wasn’t an angel — the whole supporting eugenics and euthanasia thing caused a bit of a kerfluffle.
But women have a lot for which to thank Margaret Sanger. She was arrested at least eight times for speaking publicly in favor of birth control when it was a federal crime to do so. She promoted education, both for married women and young girls/teens.
And despite accusations of racism and the desire to create a “pure” form of humanity through eugenics, Sanger is often credited as the leader of the modern birth control movement.
Education and choice — that’s definitely something I can get behind, banned or not.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (William Steig)
A rather strange tale about a donkey named Sylvester who is hurrying home to show his parents the wishing stone of which he has taken possession. When a lion startles him, Sylvester makes the mistake of wishing that he were a rock. Eventually of course he is reunited with his family, but it’s still not the most cheerful of children’s tales.
But the story’s gloominess is not the reason Steig’s story has been challenged.
In 1977, the Illinois Police Association urged librarians to remove the book from the shelves because it presents its characters as animals, and presents the police as pigs. There were similar complaints in eleven other states at around the same time.
Never mind that the main character spends a year trapped as a large rock, and that his parents believe he’s DEAD. That’s all okay — but heaven help the author who creates animal characters and draws policemen as pigs.
Either way, I read the book often as a child, and I recall noticing more the colors of the wishing rock than I did the fact that the cops were pigs.
Forever (Judy Blume)
Many of Blume’s books have come under fire because they deal with teen issues revolving around becoming a sexual being.
Forever, for example, chronicles the emotional aspects and consequences of Katherine’s first sexual experiences.
Although the book was first written in the 1970s, it’s still raising hackles across the country. Blume’s books have that effect on people.
Five of her novels are on the lists of most challenged books of 1990-1999 and 2000-2009:
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
- Tiger Eyes
I’ve never read any Judy Blume, but something tells me I will be soon.
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Although Alcott’s novel has never been officially challenged (that I’m aware of), there IS a rumor that some “radical feminists” have tried to ban the book.
I suppose that some might view the marriage of Jo to Professor Bhaer–an old(er) German professor–as a sort of “punishment” for her feminist leanings. And I guess I could see that.
But I’m of the opinion that Jo and Bhaer compliment each other — each is made a more complete and happy person by the presence of the other.
Even though it’s difficult to ascertain exactly why it’s been challenged, the mere fact that Little Women is on any list of controversial books is ludicrous.
Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Challenged and banned in several places because it was considered “Satanic.”
Which I find strange, considering that Tolkien was a committed Christian and friend/evangelizer and converter of C.S. Lewis.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of most of Tolkien’s works (The Silmarillion and other pieces of his epic poetry are the only work of his I’ve enjoyed).
The Satanic Bible is Satanic. Lord of the Rings…not so much.
Did any of these challenged titles surprise you? Anyone out there read much Judy Blume? What would you wish for if you had a wishing rock like Sylvester’s?