The Most Ridiculous Reasons Books Have Been Banned

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Books have always been a key part of the American cultural and social landscape, and thus have often become flashpoints in various culture wars. In fact, throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, certain books - even some we love - have been declared off-limits by those who believe they pose a danger to a certain group (usually children). 

Many reasons exist for book bans, which typically render even stellar tomes into stories people can’t read. This is all the more unsettling given how often banned books have been turned into films, many of which are underrated. Read on to discover the absurd rationale some people have used in attempts to ban even seemingly innocuous books.

  • Talking animals is a recurring motif in a number of children’s books, ranging from Winnie-the-Pooh to Charlotte’s Web. The latter offers a touching, heroic story of a talking pig whose life is saved by a talking spider. While talking farm animals are certainly key to why the book - and its animated film adaptation - have proven so enduringly popular, they have also been the source of significant criticism. 

    Indeed, in 2006, a parents' group in Kansas raised an outcry and demanded the book be banned because of its inclusion of animals who could speak. The group claimed this particular form of anthropomorphism was blasphemous

    [H]umans are the highest level of God’s creation and are the only creatures that can communicate vocally. Showing lower life forms with human abilities is sacrilegious and disrespectful to God.

  • Lewis Carroll looms large in the field of children’s literature. His novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which focuses on the title character as she tumbles into a strange world, has been adapted into films numerous times, including by none other than Walt Disney. 

    Despite, or perhaps because of, its popularity and influence, the tale has endured its fair share of criticism and attempts to ban it. Many stemmed from its depiction of drug use by certain characters, but some bans have also come from a more unexpected source: the depiction of talking animals.

    Most notably, the novel was banned in China's Hunan Province in 1931. The governor of the province went on the record, stating: “Animals should not use human language… it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level.”

  • Winnie-the-Pooh is possibly the most famous bear in the history of fiction. First appearing in the series of novels by British author A.A. Milne, the stuffed bear and companion of Christopher Robin would go on to become a worldwide phenomenon, thanks in large part to Walt Disney’s adaptations of Milne’s stories. In addition to the original book series, Pooh has appeared in numerous films, TV series, and other media. 

    However, not everyone is as enamored of the bear with the little brain as audiences in the US and Europe. In fact, he's been banned in China. In this case, the ban seems to stem from the unfavorable comparisons many people - both within China and outside of it - have drawn between the portly bear and Chinese political leader Xi Jinping. 

    According to experts, the Chinese government views such comparisons as “a serious effort to undermine the dignity of the presidential office and Xi himself.” Any media involving the honey-loving bear, including the recent film Christopher Robin, are banned, as well as any websites that invoke the comparison (including HBO, after John Oliver compared Xi and Pooh). 

  • Many works of British author Roald Dahl have become part of the children’s literature canon, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Matilda. And, given the extent to which his books often engage with dark thematic material, it’s not surprising they have faced criticism and attempts to ban them. This includes James and the Giant Peach which, as the title suggests, focuses on a boy who goes on a fantastical journey aboard a giant peach with a group of insects and arachnids.

    Charming, and at times disturbing, these creepy-crawly characters have often become the source of disgruntlement. The spider, in particular, earned the ire of a small town in Wisconsin. Residents disapproved of the way Dahl described the spider licking her lips, arguing that the scene could be read in a sexual light and was thus inappropriate for children. 

  • Even before it was adapted into the beloved musical The Wizard of Oz - starring Judy Garland as the protagonist - the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum had achieved significant success, as well as antipathy. 

    At first glance, the story about a farm girl whisked to Oz by a tornado wouldn’t seem to have much objectionable material. For the public libraries of Chicago, however, it was dangerous for creating an ungodly influence by “depicting women in strong leadership roles.” 

    This wouldn't be the last time the novel faced backlash from educators and other public figures, particularly in the 1950s and ‘60s. In Florida, a teacher decried the book for its unwholesome impact on young readers. Challenges persisted until the 1980s, when a high-profile protest by a group of Christians denounced the story’s depiction of “good” witches. 

  • In many ways, Tarzan is the archetypal wild man. Trapped in the jungle and raised by apes, he would go on to star in the series of novels that bear his name, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Ape Man would also appear in a number of movies, including an animated version by Walt Disney and a live-action adventure movie starring Alexander Skarsgård. 

    As entertaining and popular as the character was, however, he did run afoul of censors in Downey, CA. Although the series can at times be violent, it wasn’t this aspect that aroused their ire. Instead, it was the relationship between Tarzan and his love interest, Jane. Because there is no textual evidence of Jane and Tarzan marrying before they started living together in the jungle, many people objected to this glamorous representation of illicit relations.