While there are many reasons governments have banned books in the past — ranging from questions of censorship, morality, the corruptibility of children, politics, and others — there’s actually a ‘bannable’ topic that is rarely covered, yet surprisingly common: animal anthropomorphism.
Yup, a surprising number of books on the banned book list feature animals that can talk, walk, and reason like human beings. For some reason, this really pisses people right off.
Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and Animal Farm have seemingly very little in common, but all three novels feature these human-esque animals and all of them have gotten banned from various countries for that specific reason.
Winnie-the-Pooh, for starters, is a seemingly harmless children’s novel. The first Winnie-the-Pooh book was published in 1926 by A. A. Milne and has been a cherished childhood staple ever since. The titular Pooh Bear being a honey-obsessed, clumsy, stuffed bear who goes on little adventures with other anthropomorphic characters like Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger.Giphy/Disney
The charm of Winnie-the-Pooh exploded when Disney acquired ownership in 1961. Now, many years later, Pooh can be found in countless movies, spin off books, and TV shows in multiple languages. There are even streets named after Pooh Bear in Warsaw and Budapest. In Hollywood, he has his own star.
It’s hard to see how this innocent childhood classic could land itself on the banned book list. However, Winnie-the-Pooh has been challenged since it’s original publication date for featuring animals that are just as articulate as the human character, Christopher Robin.
In Britain, there was worry that children’s stories featuring talking pigs — we’re looking at you, Piglet — might be offensive toward Muslim and Jewish children. The Muslim Council of Britain came out against the ban and called it “well-intentioned but misguided.”
Now British children can enjoy Winnie-the-Pooh, Charlotte’s Web, and The Three Little Pigs as children should.
Even as recently as this summer, Winnie-the-Pooh was stirring up trouble and was banned in China because bloggers started using images of Winnie-the-Pooh to mock President Xi Jinping. Due to China’s censorship policies, children are being denied a literary classic.
Similarly to Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice In Wonderland is a children’s book, was acquired by Disney, and features anthropomorphic creatures. However, unlike our favorite stuffed bear, Alice has a more risqué reputation.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865 and is commonly acknowledged as Lewis Carroll’s drug-addled, pedophilia-fueled wet dream. Though such claims have been disputed, they’re quite hard to shake with pop culture being pop culture.
Either way, Alice is most often challenged for promoting drug usage. The caterpillar smokes a hookah. Alice eats magical mushrooms. They chase a white rabbit. You don’t have to stretch yourself too far with these connections. The way that Carroll plays with logic in the novel only adds to the disorienting feel, mimicking drug usage.Giphy/Disney
However, that’s not what a lot of people take issue with. Instead, it’s the anthropomorphic animals. (Even more than the sexualization of a young girl if that tells you where our priorities are.) Again, the religious right in America decreed the talking animals as an abomination in the eyes of God, but surprisingly a Chinese Governor was offended by the same thing.
In 1931, the Governor of Hunan Province claimed that “animals should not use human language, and that it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level”
Perhaps the disastrous consequence he was worried about was veganism?
Then we have George Orwell’s famous Animal Farm, which is packed to the brim with political satire.
In fact, it’s so thinly veiled that Stalin realized right away that Orwell was poking fun at the Soviet Union. It’s easy to see how Animal Farm got banned for ideological reasons. Its attack isn’t even USSR specific; Orwell heavily criticizes totalitarian communist ideology in general.
In fact, Orwell had a hell of a time even getting it published. On the flip side, the US was so happy about Animal Farm that, in the 1950s, the CIA funded an animated film version to be distributed worldwide.
It didn’t slip past anyone that the farm features a talking pig, though. The pigs start walking on hind legs, wearing trousers, and become nearly indistinguishable from human politicians. Again, Orwell’s masterpiece isn’t subtle. In 2002, Animal Farm was banned in UAE for being offensive toward Islamic values by featuring images such as drinking alcohol and talking pigs.
While banning Winnie-the-Pooh seems laughable, the banning and censorship of Animal Farm illustrates the threat that books and words can have to whole ideologies.
Any one who has read Animal Farm can tell you it’s not a hard read, or a particularly long one. It’s often assigned to lazy highschoolers who are able to finish it in a single sitting. In a way, that’s the power of Animal Farm; the text is easily understood. It’s amazing that such a small book is, to this day, considered a threat to powerful political regimes.
Animal Farm is still banned in North Korea, Cuba, and Kenya, and is censored in China and Vietnam.
In the end, books get banned for a variety of reasons, but the people who petition and fight to ban them are the ones who show how weak their own ideologies are. If Piglet, the cowardly stuffed pig, threatens you, then your own convictions must be pretty weak.
Banned Book Week is an annual even celebrating the freedom to read. Whether you love or hate the talking piggies on this list, get out there and read something that ‘Big Brother’ doesn’t want you to. There’s a lot to choose from.