This week, as we celebrate banned books, let’s imagine a world where great works of fiction have a weirder and more complex history than we ever imagined. What if some of the books you know and love had been banned the first time they were released? I decided to have a little fun and put together a list of famous “banned” books that were later published with new names…and to much greater acclaim. Enjoy, and happy cackling.
1. War and Peace and Boobs. Tolstoy’s classic, now known as War and Peace, was banned when originally published under this shocking title. The four-volume text, detailing in unparalleled prose the French invasion of Russia and the subsequent effects on Tsarist society, previously contained a fifth volume inexplicably and anachronistically titled Boobs, which was not so much fiction as a chronicle of which women in Russian society maintained their décolletage in the most pleasing manner. Women rioted upon its publication, and the book was quickly pulled from shelves and revised.
2. Moby’s Dick. A failure during Herman Melville’s lifetime, Moby Dick was originally banned not because of its content, but because of an error at the printing house. The title’s errant ‘s scandalized a nation already predisposed to not care much for a saga about whales and obsession.
3. Little Women Who Commit Crimes. The conditions that led Louisa May Alcott to pen this first draft of her famous novel have gone unrecorded. Rather than telling the charming tale of the four March sisters and their various trials and triumphs, this first incarnation of Little Women chronicles the March sisters’ criminal exploits as they wreak havoc upon a small New England town, robbing it blind and brutally beating several old men for perceived slights against their looks. It was banned immediately, but was later cited as the inspiration for seminal classic A Clockwork Orange.
4. The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Sexy Journey. Just like Tolkien’s original book, only Bilbo wears fishnet hose and a brassiere throughout. Now considered a collector’s item by die-hard Tolkien fans, valued at over $1 million a copy.
5. Ender’s Game of Seduction. Sci-fi staple Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, was almost unrecognizable in its earliest form as a romantic drama. Young Ender falls in love with his next-door neighbor, a much older salsa instructor. When he begins to take Saturday-morning lessons from her, he learns a whole lot more than the tango.
6. My Antonia, Damn Girl. This touching novel by Willa Cather is beloved by many under its eventual name, My Antonia, but the first draft was swiftly banned. Chronicling the exploits of a city girl who moves to the country, it’s narrated by the country boy who tries to cop city ‘tude in a bid to win her affections. She is not fooled by his posturing, and so he drowns his sorrows in FFA competitions.
7. Jacob Have I Loved THAT Way. This touching YA favorite started off as something else entirely. Rather than telling the story of one woman’s struggle to assert her own identity in a family where she feels second best, the earliest version of Jacob Have I Loved tells the story of a goat farmer on the run from the law after he’s caught in a compromising position with one of his flock.
8. Purrrrsuasion. Not banned for its content so much as for its quality, this early draft of the Jane Austen classic Persuasion was simply a series of mediocre drawings of cats. Though banned then, some would argue that it was simply far, far ahead of its time.
What other classics would you like to imagine had a secretly banned past?