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Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works

From Shakespeare to Harry Potter and beyond, trace the history of book banning and censorship in the English-speaking world and see why it continues today.
Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 30.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely Thought Provoking This outstanding examination of book banning and even burning caused me to do some real soul searching for my own position since this is such a focus of the current culture wars. The course is one of the most interesting I have ever taken. I am an Independent Progressive politically, but don't buy into all the ideas that Progressives espouse. I think it's very problematic to lump a bunch of different issues together and call it a platform. Many of the issues will be unrelated and need individual scrutiny and consideration. I agree with other reviewers that not enough distinction was drawn between literature available to the general public vs. that found in school libraries vs. required reading in classrooms. I regard teachers as sharing some traits with Peace Officers. They are both entrusted with critical support functions. Both need some checks and balances to make sure the power is not abused. Some general conclusions this course helped me to reach: - There are some lower limits to age, probably in the 12-13 y.o. range, where we don't need to be further introducing these kids to all kinds of social ideas and lifestyles, which they already are exposed to in the media, as part of their earliest formal education. The focus then should be on Academics, Athletics, Humanities, communication and teamwork skills. Then - It does not seem unreasonable to me that teachers provide reading lists at the beginning of the academic year for review by students, parents, other faculty and school officials. There should never be a situation where a small group of people can oust an item. Exact details need to be worked out. - The presence of controversial literature in High School libraries is very important, but including these works as mandatory reading IMO is causing more problems than it's solving. - There should be absolutely no restrictions on any literature for college students and the general population. Of course, bookstore owners may do as they see fit, but libraries should strive to maintain an extensive cross-section of views and experiences (e.g., like the Internet).
Date published: 2023-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb; Guaranteed to Involve Intellect & Emotion Of the countless courses I’ve viewed from The Teaching Company since 2007, not one has drawn me into such a regular and ongoing dialogue – with the lecturer and with myself – than this one. As I began this excellent 24-lecture course I did so in my comfortable skin as a life-long love of books, as a socially inclusive and liberally inclined liberal who had been both a college teacher and an elected and appointed state officer for much of my life. Banning books! Even worse, burning them! Never!!! And for the first couple of lectures this familiar image of myself was little shaken as Professor Corrigan discussed the historical controversies surrounding many contested books, including those of Shakespeare as well as the nefarious efforts by the Inquisition to suppress allegedly heretical works. But then, as she moved into more modern works of the past two centuries I found myself confronting… the censor who is ME. Easily, at first, in considering the banning of books such as Mein Kompf in Germany’s efforts to protect itself from ever allowing fascists to rise again, and then with growing unease when considering how Mark Twain’s masterpiece Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’s frequent use of the n-word could affect young Black people today. I cannot give sufficient praise to Professor Corrigan for the masterful way she presents works that have been – and continue to be – challenged and then respectfully presents those who expressed heartfelt reasons for their positions, thus allowing us to “hear” as well as “ponder” the soundness of their arguments. Two over-all observations: First, as might be suspected, the reasons most often given for objecting to certain works included words alluding to sex, gratuitous violence, obscene or provocative language, and those that attempted to tackle the troublesome and nebulous world of homosexuality and/or gender identification. The central argument: These are not works to which children or young adults of a certain age should be exposed. Second, especially in the last 50 years objections to works have come as often from the left as from the right! For the right – which tends to treat tradition, authority, and gender roles as very touchy fields not fit for questioning or challenging by the young – it is not surprising that their objections have centered on sex, non-traditional sexual identities, and the presentation of events and subjects that, in their minds, tend to demean or undervalue the better parts of our heritage. In the South in particularly this has included Black identity and the portrayal of the kinds of people slavers of the past actually were. But for many in the left, sexual and language issues are also a focus of concern. The use of the n-word in Twain’s works, for example, or the graphic depiction of sexual violence many girls and women still encounter. From their perspective, this can harm the still developing self-image of young people who ought to be permitted to experience their younger years without such graphic evidence of trauma and evil. Many who champion these contested works retort that “Your kids are already aware of these things!” Most adults, despite their political disposition, are not concerned about, nor do they take effort to deny access to, books that adults choose to read. Their focus, rather, is overwhelmingly on elementary and secondary education. To be honest, I found many of the reported grievances by parents to resonate with me, too! What I endorse are sincere efforts by school boards and teachers to thoughtfully, respectfully, and with sufficient time to communicate with parents about their children’s education, including the books they are asked – or permitted – to read. If done sincerely, this will likely lead to a consensus about which contested books should, perhaps, be: Available to students who request them but not be part of required syllabi; Marked as “not suitable” for young adults unless a parent gives permission for their children to read them; Excluded from access by children younger than a specified year of age. Of course, there are also less reasonable steps being taken across the country to which I personally object, including having books objected to by only one parent removed from access by all students. This course, I promise, will engage you in some surprising and worthwhile ways. Not only is there something of a “censor” in each of us, I suspect, but perhaps there ought to be.
Date published: 2023-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Excellent course! Thoroughly enjoyed every lecture.
Date published: 2023-08-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lolita The review of Lolita seemed to support the novel based on its' artistic value. In my opinion very little was given (if anything for me) to substantiate its' artistic value. I've never read the novel and probably won't, based on the lecture. The other lectures so far have been good.
Date published: 2023-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Treatment of the Subject It's a bit distressing that this subject is so topical. In my youth, many of the books she discusses were, in fact, required reading in high school and college: The Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, etc. And Ulysses is probably the greatest novel of the 20th Century. I think most of us thought that book burning and book banning was the sort of thing only done by evil groups like the Nazis. Not something anyone in our democracy would ever advocate. Yet here we are. She does a great job of providing history and background on how we got here and demonstrates that it isn't really as new a phenomenon in the USA as some of us might have thought.
Date published: 2023-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous My husband and I loved this course. So much interesting history of the books and the culture surrounding them - like the effort to get Lady Chatterley's Lover published that was just to clear the way for Tropic of Cancer. Very astute. Very entertaining. It's a rather static presentation, but that only bothered me for the first lecture. We bought her book on Gatsby, So We Read On, and are enjoying it as well. And I have a message for Ms. Corrigan - she couldn't find the source for the quote about traveling west only to find yourself conned again. It's Jack Burden's trip to California in All The King's Men - one of the few books I reread as often as Gatsby. Another book on the Great American Novels list.
Date published: 2023-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content and so very timely I've listened to the first nine lectures in this series and have found the subject matter engrossing, well presented, and so very, very well timed given the distressing efforts in our nation to ban books...and, in some cases, even burn them. Maureen Corrigan clearly knows this topic forward and backward and offers up her opinions with authority and with humor where appropriate. Listening to each lecture is not just informative; it is a sheer delight.
Date published: 2023-06-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Timely, Most Excellent “But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me.” ~~ Mark Twain in a letter to Mrs. F. G. Whitmore, 7 February 1907 I recently finished watching this truly excellent and very timely course taught by Maureen Corrigan, Ph.D. Ms. Corrigan is a professor at Georgetown University, a book critic for NPR, a contributor to several of the most prominent newspapers of the country, has served as a juror for the Pulitzer Prize in Literature, an author in her own right, and on and on. She is unquestionably an expert in literature, and if I were to judge from her Wondrium course, a very good teacher. The following quote from her, given on her Wondrium bio page, sums up the point of view of the course nicely, and our current obnoxiousness with the banning of books across the country. “The impulse to protect impressionable readers runs up against some of our most cherished democratic principles—not just free speech, but also our commitment to the open exchange of ideas.” The principle aim of this posting is to encourage you to watch this class if you have access to Wondrium. Given the wave of book banning sweeping through Republican controlled districts, this is a very timely offering. There is much to ponder – and learn – as you watch the 24 episodes. I found it very much worth my while, entertaining and educational. What struck me as I watched the course was how many of the books discussed I had read. The books may or may not be banned now, but have been in the past, at least at various locales. It was not that I set out to read all these so called controversial books, but that around the beginning of this century I set a task before myself. Being an indifferent student (usually bored out of my mind) in high school, having pursued a science degree in college, I felt that the literature / philosophical / humanities portion of my education was sorely lacking. I set out to make a small dent in that intellectual vacuum. If you use the Internet you can find many different lists of books, such as The Greatest Books of All Time, The 100 greatest novels of all time, 100 Books to Read before You Die: Creating the Ultimate List, and many, many more lists are out there. Using these lists as a guide and starting point, I have read a large number of books deemed of sufficient merit to be on one or more of those lists. Not infrequently, my muse will take me down different paths if I discover an author that I really enjoy. It has been an extraordinarily rewarding journey. If I had a magic wand, I would make Corrigan’s course required watching in Congress, state legislatures, and many other places. I would also make George Orwell’s "1984", and Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451" required reading in all those same places. But that does bring to mind the old country saying: “you can bring a horse- ahem – to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Just as an ironic aside, both of these books have been banned, in various places, at different times. Book banning, book burning are the very definition of a slippery slope. What one person sees as troubling, another person may see as extraordinary literature. I included Mark Twain’s quote at the beginning of this blog posting because if I still had that alleged magic wand, and was so inclined, the Bible, along with many other religious texts, would be on my list of banned books. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, should be given an X rating due to violence and sexual content. Given the astonishing amount of damage, strife, outright malevolence committed in the name of religion, I often think the world would be a much better place without our religious texts. I would ban all of Ayn Rand’s work. Her big dog eat little dog philosophy has been taken up by many politicians and policy makers, such as Paul Ryan, Alan Greenspan and Clarence Thomas. In my world view that is simply horrifying. And the policies pursued by those folks influenced by Ayn Rand are just as equally terrifying. I could go on with books that I would ban, but I am not being genuine as I do not believe in the banning of books. About as far as I would go would be limiting access of some books to children or minors. I remember when I was in 7th or 8th grade we were passing around a copy of "Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure" by John Cleland. Published in 1749, it is widely considered the first erotic novel. My mother discovered the book, took it from me, and I imagine burned it – or at least put it in the trash. A few years ago, just from curiosity, I read the book I had barely started when I was 13. I would have to agree that at least in 1965 (who knows with today’s kids) it was not appropriate reading for a person of my then tender years. But I would never ban the book. It is actually a reasonably well written novel that keeps your interests, and, of course, Fanny Hill turns out to be another one of those prostitutes with a heart of gold. But then again, you will not find it on any of the lists above. I am not going to go through all the books she covers in her 24 lectures, but I will mention a few here. There are many contenders for the great American novel, but four regular entries are "The Great Gatsby", "Moby Dick", "Invisible Man" (Ralph Ellison), and "The Grapes of Wrath". All have been targets of book bannings in the past. How much poorer would be our literately life be if they were not available? And then there is the Harry Potter’s series that have raised the ire of various religious groups for promoting witchcraft as well as promoting children to defy authority. Having read as much science fiction and fantasy as I have, I could just not see their point. Of course, this current “woke” generation would like to cancel J.K. Rowling and her books over her transgender comments. That is a whole other issue. There have been some real scoundrels that have produced beautiful books. Where do you draw the line separating an author from their works? I could ramble on, but there is one thought that keeps popping into my mind. How can you ban books and not ban assault weapons and not regulate gun ownership? How? Why “gun rights” has become one of the key boards of the Republican platform perplexes and angers me. The other thought that keeps popping up is that Freedom to Read is part of Freedom of Speech, one of our supposedly must cherished rights… number one on the Bill of Rights hit parade. I would not have thought we would have needed a specific amendment for Freedom to Read. Banning books is about attempting to control people’s values, ideas, and pushing whatever vision of how the world should be, according to the book banners point of view. Much of what is being banned boils down to Christianity’s long struggle against sex, in any guise. Diversity can make you uncomfortable, especially if the added weight of prudish morality is stacked on top. And so it should not be going.
Date published: 2023-05-02
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With Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works, author and book critic Professor Maureen Corrigan will take you on a tour of some of the most challenged and controversial works of literature, from the plays of Shakespeare to 21st-century best-sellers—even including the dictionary and classic fairy tales. You will explore the common reasons books have been and continue to be banned, including profanity, heresy, illicit or sexual content, racism, violence, and more. And you’ll consider the shifting trends in why books are challenged.


Maureen Corrigan

The impulse to protect impressionable readers runs up against some of our most cherished democratic principles—not just free speech, but also our commitment to the open exchange of ideas.


Georgetown University

Maureen Corrigan is the Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University. She received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the book critic for the NPR program Fresh Air and has received multiple awards for her literary criticism. She also regularly writes for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and is the author of the literary memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading and So We Read On: How “The Great Gatsby” Came to Be and Why It Endures.

By This Professor

Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works
Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works


Bowdlerizing the Bard

01: Bowdlerizing the Bard

Begin the course with an introduction to the concept of literary censorship and examine why even authors as influential and esteemed as Shakespeare can fall prey to it. Meet some of the writers and editors who attempted to sanitize the bawdier parts of the Bard’s plays and discover where we get the term “bowdlerism.”

32 min
Ulysses on Trial

02: Ulysses on Trial

James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered the novel that ushered modernism into mainstream literature, yet its introduction to the world was ruthlessly contested. Get a brief overview of Joyce’s life and work, then dive into the story of how his modernist masterpiece was challenged and consider how the legal battles over his work shaped later censorship battles.

36 min
The Defense for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

03: The Defense for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

At the time of his death in 1930, British author D. H. Lawrence was widely viewed as one of the greatest writers of the English language. Yet, as you will see here, this popularity did not prevent some readers from taking offense to his frank depictions of sexuality, resulting in a censorship and an obscenity trial over his final novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

34 min
Censors from the Inquisition to the Puritans

04: Censors from the Inquisition to the Puritans

Step back in time to get the broader historical context for censorship and see how the cases of the 20th and 21st centuries fit into a much larger pattern of religious and moral pressure from the 12th century onward. Here, you will look at the influence of the Catholic Church and the colonial Puritans on the control of printed materials they found troubling or even heretical.

34 min
Anthony Comstock’s Moral Crusade

05: Anthony Comstock’s Moral Crusade

Meet Anthony Comstock, the relentless late-19th-century enforcer of Victorian codes of sexual propriety. His decades-long crusade for moral purity gave us a new term for censorship and his influence shaped the history of censorship in the United States—including the arrests, suicides, and destruction he proudly claimed as part of his legacy.

32 min
Books on Fire: The Reformation to Rushdie

06: Books on Fire: The Reformation to Rushdie

Here, look at the most extreme form of print censorship: the physical destruction of books deemed heretical, dangerous, or subversive. From the Protestant Reformation to Nazi Germany and beyond, you will see how the desire to stop the dissemination of various works has resulted in book burnings, violence, and even murder.

30 min
Allen Ginsberg’s Alarming “Howl”

07: Allen Ginsberg’s Alarming “Howl”

In the 1950s, the Beat Movement in literature and pop culture was well underway. As a movement that set out to rebel from the status quo, it is no surprise that one of its most famous works, Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl,” came under fire for its alleged obscenity and radical politics. See how the poem became a generational touchpoint and how the controversy it caused made Ginsburg a literary celebrity.

33 min
Holden Caulfield’s Subversive Voice

08: Holden Caulfield’s Subversive Voice

J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye had an outsized effect on the real world, given that the novel is associated with the death of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of Ronald Regan. Contemplate the power of reading (and misreading) literature as you examine the subversive narrative voice of Salinger’s most famous work.

33 min
Artistry, Morality, and Nabokov’s Lolita

09: Artistry, Morality, and Nabokov’s Lolita

Though many critics and scholars consider Nabokov’s Lolita as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, it is a novel that elicits extreme reactions in both its fans and detractors. Revisit the creation of this controversial classic, examine its initial reception, and consider why it continues to be one of the most challenged and banned books to this day.

37 min
Authors Who Censor Themselves

10: Authors Who Censor Themselves

Consider the curious history of authors who’ve decided to burn, ban, or censor their own works. While some texts managed to escape the destructive impulses of their creators, there are many other manuscripts that have been lost forever. What drives a writer to bury, burn, shred, or otherwise lay waste to their own work?

33 min
The Hidden Dangers of Fairy Tales

11: The Hidden Dangers of Fairy Tales

Perhaps no other body of literature is so tenaciously scrutinized and policed than books aimed at preschool and grade school readers. Here, you will begin a three-part exploration into the realm of children’s literature with a look at the banning and censorship of fairy tales. As you will see, even the most recognizable tales can fall under the scrutiny of angry parents and school officials.

32 min
Contested Classics of Children’s Literature

12: Contested Classics of Children’s Literature

In this second lecture on children’s stories, move into 20th- and 21st-century controversies over classic children’s books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Story of Ferdinand, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the works of Roald Dahl. As you examine reactions to these works, you will see the full range of complaints brought against these stories—including some rather absurd accusations.

32 min
New Kids’ Books, Old Objections

13: New Kids’ Books, Old Objections

Begin this look at contemporary children’s books with a consideration of complaints lodged against Dr. Seuss and see how these objections carry over to later works like SkippyJon Jones and Captain Underpants. From potty humor and violence to racial stereotypes and moral panics, discover the many ways children’s literature can spark extreme adult reactions.

33 min
Canceled Authors

14: Canceled Authors

Where do we draw the line between an author’s work and their private life? Examine some striking instances in which authors’ behavior—alleged or confirmed—has resulted in the challenging or banning of their works and see how social justice movements and the internet have changed the nature of censorship, book banning, and free speech in the 21st century.

33 min
Huckleberry Finn and Race in America

15: Huckleberry Finn and Race in America

Examine the creation and legacy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the most consistently challenged or banned of the great American novels. Why does Huckleberry Finn occupy this dubious pride of place? As you will see, its steady presence on high school reading lists and foregrounding of race collide to create an ideal trigger for censorship.

32 min
To Kill a Mockingbird, Then and Now

16: To Kill a Mockingbird, Then and Now

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most read, most assigned, and most beloved novels in the American canon. It’s also, without a doubt, one of the most challenged and banned books in American libraries and schools. Look back on the creation of Harper Lee’s singular masterpiece and consider why it is both so esteemed and so often challenged.

31 min
Young Adult Fiction and Its Discontents

17: Young Adult Fiction and Its Discontents

Explore the relatively new category of young adult (YA) fiction, one of the most profitable genres in publishing—and also the genre that produces some of the most challenged and banned titles. Define the vast category that is YA and look at some of the notable titles that have been challenged over the years, including works by S. E. Hinton and Judy Blume.

30 min
Attempts to Suppress #MeToo Books

18: Attempts to Suppress #MeToo Books

The online social movement against sexual assault, known as the #MeToo movement, began to gather steam in 2006 and has grown in reach ever since. Here, consider some of the books that have been embraced by or emerged out of the movement and look at how they’ve been challenged, mostly by school boards.

30 min
The Battle over Critical Race Theory

19: The Battle over Critical Race Theory

First, explore some of the ways the Black Lives Matter social movement has influenced the publication and reception of some recent books. Then, look at the ways the movement has triggered fears regarding critical race theory in books and what these fears tell us about the concept of freedom in relation to books and literacy.

31 min
Alice Walker and Toni Morrison under Attack

20: Alice Walker and Toni Morrison under Attack

Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are two of the most prominent Black women writers to enter the literary mainstream in the wake of the civil rights movement. Delve into Walker’s and Morrison’s most celebrated novels and consider the multitudinous ways readers, educators, librarians, and literary gatekeepers have objected to them.

34 min
The Textbook Wars

21: The Textbook Wars

A consistent category of challenges and book bans within school systems are those involving textbooks, especially history textbooks. Begin by thinking about the larger issues at stake in these controversies. Then, investigate some of the specific cases of censorship that have affected education in the United States from the 1970s to more recent controversies.

35 min
The Backlash against Harry Potter

22: The Backlash against Harry Potter

Despite their beloved status and massive financial success, the Harry Potter books have been accused by assorted parents, school district administrators, and librarians of being excessively violent, glamorizing witchcraft and the occult, and being dismissive of traditional family values. See how Rowling’s series widened the focus of censorship to include fantasy narratives.

26 min
Fun Home: An All-Too-Graphic Memoir

23: Fun Home: An All-Too-Graphic Memoir

The growth of the graphic novel genre coincided with—and explicitly mirrored—the social transformations of the 1970s, in regard to race, gender, politics, and sexual identity. See why graphic novels regularly appear on banned book lists, with a look at a particularly contentious tile: the postmodern memoir Fun Home.

31 min
Contesting the Great American Novel

24: Contesting the Great American Novel

Bring the course to a close with a discussion of some of the formal objections to novels commonly nominated as “The Great American Novel.” Look at four works that are perennial contenders for the mantle—The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Invisible Man, and The Grapes of Wrath—and consider why they are challenged almost as much as they are revered.

37 min