Another year remembering the books that are mad, bad, and dangerous to know (we say this with a grin, of course) is coming to a close. Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to read, while drawing attention to literature that has been challenged or banned. The number of books that have struggled against censorship is staggering, but there are also books about books that are considered a menace to society. Here are several of them. Leave us your picks, below.
The Necronomicon in numerous H. P. Lovecraft novellas
Originally a handy grimoire for summoning the Old Ones that contained the forbidden secrets of Lovecraft’s dark universe, the Necronomicon has become a catch-all term for every fictional book of evil in pop culture. Despite Lovecraft’s insistence that his tome was an invention, various hoax publications and pranks throughout the years have blurred the lines between reality and fantasy.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle
The meta-book in Philip K. Dick’s revisionist history of World War II, which states that the Axis Powers triumphed, posits that the Reich didn’t win World War II, making it a subversive text. Hawthorne Abendsen’s The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, reveals that the Nazis, including Hitler, are eventually tried for war crimes, and that tensions between the US and UK surface, leading to a new war. Just another Dickean construct about false realities that seems eerily real.
Don Quixote’s library in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote
The knight-errant’s books are burned in an attempt to force him to abandon his “mad” chivalric quest, but Don Quixote continues tilting at windmills.
All books in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
Bradbury’s reaction to the Nazi book burnings, Stalin’s mass execution of writers in the Great Purge, and the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten influenced the book burning plot in the author’s dystopian novel. Bradbury channeled McCarthy-era paranoia for his totalitarian tale about firemen who destroy outlawed books. “I wrote this book at a time when I was worried about the way things were going in this country,” Bradbury said of the work. “At the time I wanted to do some sort of story where I could comment on what would happen to a country if we let ourselves go too far in this direction, where then all thinking stops, and the dragon swallows his tail, and we sort of vanish into a limbo and we destroy ourselves by this sort of action.” Ironically, Fahrenheit 451 has faced censorship issues since its publication in 1953.
All books and other reading materials in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Revising articles and burning books to hide the truth and control the minds of a population is hard work, but the “memory hole” in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is tasked with taking care of the job. The incinerator aids the Ministry of Truth in the disposal of any written documents that could lead to an uprising.
The living Book of Blood in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood
The book in Clive Barker’s short story collection wrote itself. The prologue reveals that ghosts attacked a phony spiritualist, and the spirits carved a series of stories into his flesh. Several volumes of disturbing tales follow, the eponymous Books of Blood. A few of the shorts were later adapted for the big screen (Candyman, Lord of Illusions, and more).
The Navidson Record in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves
There are infinite fictional documents in Danielewski’s labyrinthine tale — references to books and other stories in the footnotes that don’t exist (confusingly, however, several are real). The book at the center of the story is the Navidson Record — a manuscript about a documentary film of the same name, created by a photojournalist named Will Navidson. It details the strange spatial displacement of his house in rural Virginia. The deeper you venture into the house, and Danielewski’s intricate web, the further you sink into an abyss of doors that lead to nowhere and never-ending staircases.
Books all over the world in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Earth’s Holocaust” in Mosses From An Old Manse
Nathaniel Hawthorne imagines a future in which the world considers books a burden in his parable, “Earth’s Holocaust.” The works are burned in “a flame of such marvelous splendor that men shaded their eyes as against the sun’s meridian glory” in order for mankind to break free from the “worn-out trumpery” of the past. But a stranger questions these methods, reminding the book burners that the human heart is the key and can never be cleansed in a fire. Hawthorne concludes:
“The heart, the heart, there was the little yet boundless sphere wherein existed the original wrong of which the crime and misery of this outward world were merely types. Purify that inward sphere, and the many shapes of evil that haunt the outward, and which now seem almost our only realities, will turn to shadowy phantoms and vanish of their own accord; but if we go no deeper than the intellect, and strive, with merely that feeble instrument, to discern and rectify what is wrong, our whole accomplishment will be a dream, so unsubstantial that it matters little whether the bonfire, which I have so faithfully described, were what we choose to call a real event and a flame that would scorch the finger, or only a phosphoric radiance and a parable of my own brain.”
The arcane manuscript in Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
On the list of books that have the power to drive someone mad is Jan Potocki’s cryptic frame tale, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. A French officer discovers the manuscript in a sealed casket, written decades earlier, after the siege of Saragossa in 1809. The story is narrated by gypsy chief Avadoro and leads the reader on a journey (through multiple viewpoints) with demons, ghosts, madmen, and other colorful characters. In the end, the interconnecting stories leave the officer wondering what is real and what is pure fantasy.