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Power of 50


The Auto­bi­ography of Benjamin Franklin, 1791

Censure: Frequently censored from 1789 to the early 20th century, the essays were often “sanitized” by publishers so that schools would buy copies.

Benjamin Franklin: His memoirs, written after he turned 65, include the essay “Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress,” in which Franklin lists the myriad ways that older women make superior lovers.

The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

Censure: Conservative clergy have condemned the novel since 1850 for its adultery theme; the most recent school challenge was in 1999.

Roger Chillingworth: He develops from a kind scholar into an obsessed fiend. Chillingworth arrives in Boston to find his wife the mother of another man’s child. Fixated on punishing Hester’s seducer, he symbolizes Satan’s ability to prevent forgiveness.

Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya, 1972

Censure: Challenged or banned in four states.

Ultima: The old healer Ultima combines herbs, prayer and tough love to practice her mysteriously potent branch of medicine. Is it witchcraft? The townsfolk—and some conservative Christian readers—suspect it is.

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury, 1953

Censure: Ballantine published sanitized editions for schools from 1967 to 1973 and sold only the sanitized edition from 1973 to 1979—without asking or telling the author.

Faber: In a dystopian society that burns books to snuff original thought, Faber belongs to a group of academics who memorize literature to preserve it for future generations.

The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck, 1939

Censure: Burned in California, New York and Illinois; challenged or banned in 10 states.

Granma and Grampa Joad: The Joads are damn proud of their cussin’ brood—that kind of language helped get Steinbeck’s masterpiece blacklisted across the country, including in Kern County, Calif., where much of the novel is set.

A Thousand Acres
by Jane Smiley, 1991

Censure: Banned at Lynden High School, Washington, 1994.

Larry Cook: Cook announces plans to divide his lands among his three adult daughters. The generous-patriarch image shatters when we learn that this wealthy Iowa farmer, based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, is a pedophile who abused his girls decades earlier.

Harry Potter
series by J.K. Rowling, 1997–2007

Censure: Burned in New Mexico; challenged in 19 states.

Albus Dumbledore: A modern-day Merlin, the Hogwarts headmaster personifies the allegedly demonic attributes of this series—witchcraft, sorcery and rebellion against authority. Rowling added fuel to the bonfire with her 2007 assertion that Dumbledore is gay.

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