Writers have always had to strike a balance between what they want to write, and what they will be allowed to write and whether it is through censorship, public sensibilities, or commercial pressure, there have been many famous books that nearly never saw the light of day. The recent rise of self-publishing has opened the world of writing and publishing a book to many more people and, like most other things available on the internet, removed many of the barriers to freedom of expression. It hasn’t always been so easy to get a book published, though, and here are eight books that, for one reason or another, we nearly never got to read.
The bespectacled little wizard nearly fell off his broomstick at the first Quidditch hurdle! The tales of JK Rowling’s rise to fame are probably quite well known, but apparently, she couldn’t even afford to make photocopies of her original manuscript to send to publishers so you re-typed them. To add insult to injury, most of her early manuscripts were rejected by the publishers because they thought that the book was too long or a children’s book. I bet she’s glad she persevered, now!
Even though George Orwell had established himself as a writer by the time he wrote Animal Farm, he struggled to get this work published. Even TS Eliot, who at the time was working for the publisher Faber and Fabre, didn’t like the book, just because it was too critical of Stalin. American publishers took a rather less political view of the book and some rejected it because they couldn't see a market in the US for stories about animals.
Now frequently read in American High Schools and colleges as a part of literature classes, John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ received a far from unanimous vote of approval when it was first released. The story of an Oklahoma family, driven from their home by drought, hardship and the Great Depression shocked many of the American public and the book was publicly banned and burned by the general population, even though the critics loved it. The book's description of the lives of the poor has been just too much for most people to stomach, even though Steinbeck had toned down the book from his original ideas. Despite this initial reaction, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ went on to become the bestselling book of 1939, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the literary classic that is today.
The very fact that ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ survived the harrowing events of the Second World War is a miracle in itself, but even when the book was discovered, it was nearly never made it to the bookshops. Originally entitled; ‘Het Achterhuis. Dagboekbrieven 14 June 1942 – 1 Augustus 1944’ (The Annex: Diary Notes 14 June 1942 – 1 August 1944), The book contains the diary kept by Anne Frank that she wrote while in hiding from the Nazis during the German occupation of the Netherlands. Anne Frank and her family, hid from the Nazis in an attic for two years until they were apprehended in 1944 and Anne Frank herself died of Typhus while being detained in the Belsen-Bergen concentration camp. The book is now considered an important work of the Second World War and it has now been published in over 60 different languages.
The diary contains a passage where Anne Frank, who was a teenager at the time, describes her own exploration of her genitalia. This single passage initially caused this very important archive of life and hardship in the Second World War to be banned as being sexually offensive and pornographic. Even more amazingly, as recently as 2013, a Michigan mother of a child aged thirteen called for the book to banned from her daughter's school because of the passage.
What would a childhood be without ‘The Cat in the Hat’, ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ and ‘Green Eggs and Ham’? The very first children’s book written by Dr. Seuss, real name Theodor Geisel, was ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street’. It was the tale of a young boy and his fantasy parade of imaginary people that he sees as he walks along a road.
The book was initially rejected by over twenty different publishers with the main reason cited for rejection being that the book was too different and too silly. It reached the stage that Dr. Seuss had made up his mind to burn the book himself and forget about until a friend, Marshall McClintock, at Vanguard Press agreed to publish it in 1937. A children’s book that is silly? Perish the thought.
Hard to believe, but some people claim that Hundred Acre Wood is a hotbed of extremism. AA Milne’s’ Winnie the Pooh has, in its time, been banned for being anti-Islam, anti-Christian, anti-God and pro Nazism! Who’d have thought that a talking bear in a red Jersey could cause such controversy?
Poor old Pooh has been banned in some US schools because talking animals are anti-Christian and banned in some British schools because the character of Piglet is offensive to Muslims. In Russia, the book has been banned because it is Pro-Nazi. Apparently the Russian authorities uncovered this dastardly plot by Pooh, when they discovered a picture of Pooh in the hands of a known Nazi sympathiser with swastikas drawn on the image. Thank the Lord for the vigilance of the Russian secret service that saved us from a fourth Reich!
I nearly didn’t include ‘The Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie for fear of offending somebody, but then I came to my senses and realised that to omit from this list would be to cave in to the very censorship that I am ridiculing in my comments on some other books that have been banned in this list.
Most people will know about the controversy that ‘The Satanic Verses’ caused when it was published, but in case you don’t, the backlash against this book was far more serious than a few schools banning it from their libraries.
‘The Satanic Verses’ is a novel which, at face value, is about a contemporary Indian expat living in Great Britain who survives a plane crash. But, in the novel, Rushdie takes a lot of inspiration from Islam and even the title is a reference to some allegedly withdrawn versus of the Qur'an. The book also contains other references that were considered to be blasphemous and offensive to Muslims.
The book received worldwide condemnation from Muslims and a Fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death was issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran causing Rushdie to retreat into hiding. The mounting pressure and the threat of violence lead to two major US bookstores withdrawing the book from sale. All around the world, the book was banned and in some countries, a hefty prison sentence would be handed down to anyone found reading the book.
Personally, I would not deliberately write something that mocked another person’s religion or beliefs, but hey, if I read something that mocks my own beliefs then guess what? I would stop reading it, it’s that simple.
Stephen King’s first published novel, ‘Carrie’ suffered the double whammy of first being thrown out with the trash by the author himself and then being banned by a number of US schools and colleges.
King was all set to give up on ‘Carrie’ and he found it a difficult book to write as it was based upon two real life girls that he knew in high school, both of whom had since died, one of them by committing suicide. Eventually, he through the manuscript away convinced that no one would want to read a book about a girl with menstrual problems. His wife Tabitha though, spotted the book in buried in the rubbish, rescued it and convinced King to finish the story.
The book went on to become Kings first bestseller and was adapted into a feature film, a television movie, a Broadway musical and, now, a movie remake in 2013. Yet the book is still banned in some US schools on the grounds of its controversial treatment of religion and its depiction of teenage sex and violence.
Published and be damned
These are just eight of the books that were banned, rejected or thrown away and there are many other examples of books that nearly didn't make it to the bookshops. What is really surprising though is the number of books that have banned. It seems that censorship is still alive and well, even in the so called free world. But then censorship is a tricky subject. While we all cry out for the right to free speech, should, for example, a book that denies the Holocaust be made publicly available, or a book that incites racial hatred? What’s more, who makes the decision on what should and should not be published?
For my part, I will just stick to trying to avoid causing offence and leave the pushing of boundaries and taboos to others.
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