From Banned to the Big Screen: Banned Book Adaptations

By Peter SM Fri, September 29, 2017

We've spent the past week here on the blog celebrating Banned Books and the fREADom to read whatever you want—banned, challenged, or not.

If there's one thing possibly more controversial and/or overblown than the very notion of "banned books", it would be films adapted from banned books! Whether they are children's books, YA titles, or adult selections, the themes within those stories are usually tailor-made for the big screen. And with anything related to Hollywood, the more salacious and outrageous the story (or the story behind the story) is apt to feed rumor mills and propel the press into a frenzy, who either champion such films as artistic works or condemn them as atrocious affronts to all decent morality.

Here are a few film adaptations that fall more or less into the "cult" category, not only because of their subject matter, but also because of the film adaptations propelling the stories into a whole different realm of infamous pop culture.
 

Fight Club

Book
Film
Reasons for being Banned/Challenged:
Violence, Suicide, Sexually Explicit Acts, Psychiatric Disorders, Terrorist Acts, Anti-Consumerist

Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 book about an insomniac office drone-turned-unhinged revolutionary through an underground fighting group surprisingly didn't draw too much negative attention until it was turned into a movie by David Fincher in 1999. That's when certain people took notice of all of the antisocial tendencies of the unreliable narrator at the helm of the story and bans were put forth in Texas to remove it from a school district required reading list for its "violent, explicit nature" and in China because of its "descriptions for making explosives". The film itself was censored in the UK for its depictions of "extreme violence". The film's cult status and critical reception is about as split as the protagonist's personality.

 

Naked Lunch

Book
Film
Reasons for being Banned/Challenged:
Drug Use, Sexually Explicit Acts, Obscene Language

William S. Burroughs' breakthrough novel sent shockwaves through the literature world in 1959 when it was banned in the United States due to its explicit content being deemed as breaking obscenity laws. Its impact and influence are still being felt today, for its unique narrative style (the infamous "cut-up method") and for inspiring fellow authors (Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, and William Gibson) and musicians (Patti Smith and Kurt Cobain) throughout the years. The nonlinear story filtered through junkie hallucinations was the perfect complement to David Cronenberg's body horror filmmaking style when he adapted the story in 1991. The movie may have bombed on initial release, but quickly became a cult classic on home video for its outright midnight movie weirdness, like the "talking insectoid typewriter" and alien "Mugwump" who are the protagonist's handlers throughout the film.

 

Go Ask Alice

Book
Film
Reasons for being Banned/Challenged:
Drug Use, Promiscuous Sex, Offensive Language, Hippie Culture

This "anonymously written" novel is one of the most frequently challenged books over the years, according to the American Library Association's "Frequently Challenged Books of the 21st Century" list. Since its publication in 1971, the candid revelations of a teenage runaway and her life and experiences on the savage streets of San Francisco definitely freaked out the squares and suburban parents alike. What's even wilder is that it has been suspected (and now finally confirmed!) for years that the book was actual a fictional account and presented more as a cautionary tale by a misguided moral crusader. How do you expand on something that crazy already? Turn it into a made-for-TV movie and throw overactor extraordinaire William Shatner into the cast as the protagonist's father!

 

Bridge to Terabithia

Book
Film
Reasons for being Banned/Challenged:
Profanity, Witchcraft, Atheism, Disrespect for Adults, Detrimental Immersion into a Fantasy World

Katherine Paterson starting writing YA Fiction back in the early 1970s, confronting very realistic depictions of the trials and tribulations children and teens go through growing up, and wrapping those stories in the guise of fantasy worlds and otherworldly adventures. Her books were definitely not dumbed down, instead dealing with topics ranging from school anxiety, bullying, puberty, depression, and death. It was these "adult themes" that have been deemed inappropriate for a younger audience by some, and specifically Bridge to Terabithia which ranks as the 8th Most Frequently Challenged Book for the decade 1990–2000. The movie adaptation by Disney (who at times have had a history of producing dark kids movies themselves) is part bombastic CGI fantasy fest and part heartwarming and heartwrenching story of love and loss. "Close your eyes and keep your mind wide open..."
 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Book
Film
Reasons for being Banned/Challenged:
Poor Philosophy of Life, Gluttony, Consumerism, Racist Depictions

Roald Dahl and his books have shown up on many banned books lists, year after year, despite their equally worldwide acclaim from all ages of readers. The cynicism and dark humor present in Dahl's books have always seemed like a mashup of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Aesop's Fables to me: simplistic children's stories on the outside but with razor-sharp societal criticism on the inside, all wrapped up in just the right amount of humor. The description of the Oompa-Loompa's in the original text as "black pygmies" was deemed derogatory and changed in later editions. Recently, Penguin reissued the book with a creepy new cover that received substantially negative reactions. This book has the distinction of being adapted twice and for both films being cult classics for possibly disturbing and different reasons (uh, Johnny Depp's version of Willy Wonka is truly frightening!). Both versions though do present a Technicolor dreamscape that is both sweetly sickening and sickeningly sweet at different points of the narrative (Gene Wilder's acid trip boat ride freakout? Nightmare fuel!).

 

What are some of your favorite film or television adaptations of Banned Books? Leave them in the comments!

Here are a few film adaptations that fall more or less into the
Here are a few film adaptations that fall more or less into the "cult" category, not only because of their subject matter, but also because of the film adaptations propelling the stories into a whole different realm of infamous pop culture.

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