Banned Books Week is Sept. 24–30. To celebrate your right to read the creepiest, darkest and most controversial books you can find, check out these books which have been banned or challenged at one time or another.
1. ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis
The story of Patrick Bateman and his grisly double life had a tough road to publication. The novel was so controversial that Simon & Schuster backed out before going to press with it, and it was eventually published by Vintage. “American Psycho” was outright banned in the Australian state of Queensland, and restricted to readers 18 and older in other Australian states as well as Germany and New Zealand.
The graphic violence earned Ellis hate mail, and even death threats. Of course, that didn’t stop it from being a major hit and spawning an iconic film adaptation with Christian Bale.
2. ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ Series by Alvin Schwartz
According to the American Library Association (ALA), this dark folklore series was the most banned book in the US during the ’90s, and remained at No. 7 from 2000–2009. Despite this, these gruesome tales have still been traumatizing children for a generation. I have to imagine that Stephen Gammell’s beautifully disturbing illustrations played a part in this.
3. ‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding
William Golding’s tale of schoolboys stranded on a desert island may not be a traditional horror story, but it’s dark and disturbing all the same. “Lord of the Flies” has been banned in many US states for its violence, language, sexuality, attacks on religion and more.
4. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood
Another story that might not be considered a traditional horror tale, this dystopian novel is still damn scary. It’s set in a future where people are facing an infertility epidemic and the US government has been replaced by an oppressive religious regime that makes sex slaves out of the remaining fertile women.
Naturally, it’s been challenged and banned since its publication. Time reported on one notable case in 2006, in which a Texas school superintendent removed it from the AP English curriculum for being offensive to Christians. However, that was overruled by the school board. Today, it’s more popular than ever thanks to the TV adaptation.
5. ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’ by Mary Shelley
When it was first published in 1818, the world wasn’t ready for Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. Shelley originally published it anonymously — partially because fiction writing wasn’t considered an appropriate profession for women at the time, and partially because it was such a grotesque, horrific story.
A book about a mad scientist stitching together body parts to create new life set a whole new bar for scary stories at the time. Like Frankenstein’s monster himself, the book was originally viewed as nothing but an abomination to many. Shelley’s name was added when it was republished in 1823.
The novel was banned during Apartheid in South Africa for having “indecent” and “obscene” material. It’s also been banned or challenged by Christian groups in the US. Today, “Frankenstein” is known as a gothic horror classic and a predecessor to science fiction.
6. ‘Goosebumps’ Series by R.L. Stine
R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series was wildly popular with young adults in the ’90s. It wasn’t so popular with parents and school boards in the US, which made it the fifteen-most banned book in that time period. PEN reports that parents feared stories such as “Night of the Living Dummy” and “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” were too scary for kids, and even Satanic. I’ll have you know that I ready plenty of Goosebumps books as a kid, and I never summoned any evil spirits because a kids book told me to. I did that because I just wanted to, damn it.
In addition to spawning a TV adaptation, the Goosebumps series also inspired a recent film starring Jack Black, with a sequel set for 2018.
7. ‘Bumps in the Night’ by Harry Allard
Allard’s short children’s book is about Dudley the Stork and his animal friends dealing with a haunted house. It was written for early readers so it’s much tamer than anything else on this list. However, it was still one of the 100 most banned books according to the ALA. Why was it banned? Banned Library reports it was for “occult and various supernatural issues, description of families in a derogatory manner and encouraging disrespectful language and disobedience to parents.”
No matter what bumps in the night, there’s nothing more terrifying than censorship. Enjoy Banned Books Week and celebrate your freedom to read whatever you want!