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"That was but a prelude; where they have burned books, they will ultimately also burn people."
—Heinrich Heine, from the 1823 tragic play Almansor.
"...goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them!"
—Professor Henry Jones, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
How do you show that your totalitarian regime is monstrous and trying to stamp out all free thought? Or that your Moral Guardians have crossed the line into Culture Police? Have 'em hold a good old-fashioned book burning!
The Book-Burning is exactly what it sounds like: the incineration (preferably a big bonfire) of literature that threatens the government's authority or the Moral Guardians' values. It's Kill It with Fire used for censorship, or at the very least to make a statement. It doesn't have to be books -- movies, music and artwork may also go on the fire.
Writers usually have pretty strong feelings on this subject. (Bookstores often have different, somewhat conflicted, feelings. If someone's buying armloads of books from your store, their intent to burn may not concern you much.)
Compare Break-Up Bonfire, which carries a more personal meaning.
- In one episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, the homunculi burn down one section of the library to stop Edward from getting information on the Philosopher's Stone.
- The ROD the TV TV series had the British Library burning books that would not fit under their new "unified culture," though the immediate motive seems to have been getting the goat of the bibliophile heroines.
- Library War is all about Japan's libraries trying to save what books are left from the Media Betterment Committee and their bonfires.
- The Jack Chick tract "Dark Dungeons" famously ended with a bonfire scene that had people burning their Dungeons and Dragons materials (as well as other things considered religiously objectionable).
- In true Chick fashion, this is one of the few examples where the burning is presented as a good thing.
- In The Day After Tomorrow, the main characters, who are trapped in the New York Public Library, throw books into the fireplace in order to keep warm. During one scene, they are going through the library choosing which books to burn and which ones to save -- naturally, the tax books are among the first to go. One wonders why they didn't just burn all the wooden furniture in the library instead.
- In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, at one point Indy finds himself at Nazi rally where they are burning books. As an archeologist, he can't be happy about it, but he's trying to blend in so he doesn't do anything about it. He does get his father's Grail diary signed by Hitler though.
- In Agora, Christian fanatics destroy the library of the Alexandrian Serapeum, toppling statues and columns and burning scrolls of "pagan filth" in bonfires in the couryard.
- Equilibrium's dystopian society does this to pretty much any piece of art or literature considered inductive of emotion. They also like to kill dogs for much the same reason.
- Reverend Shaw Moore in Footloose has a My God, What Have I Done? moment when he sees people took his words to the extreme of burning books.
- Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is one of the iconic examples of this, set in a world where nearly all literature has been banned and burned.
- Early in Don Quixote, the priest and the housekeeper of the eponymous knight go through the chivalry books that have turned the man mad and, in an act of penance, burn most of them. The comments of the priest express the literary tastes of the author, though he offers some sharp criticisms of Cervantes' own works. He does, notably, save Tirant lo Blanc.
- However, notice that this example is an Unbuilt Trope: Spain at The Cavalier Years had just discovered the printing press, and books were considered New Media Are Evil. Don Quixote’s niece and Old Retainer asked the Moral Guardian’s permission to do the Book-Burning in a desperate attempt to cure him. The MoralGuardians are the most educated people in the village (a curate and a barber), they never wanted to impose their ideas and are doing this as a favor to the family, so they don’t care much for this Book-Burning. And a lot of those are really bad written books that destroyed Don Quixote’s mind, and the good books were stolen by the Moral Guardian.
- At the conclusion of the novel "Auto Da Fe" by Nobel-Prize winner Elias Canetti, the bibliophile protagonist immolates himself on a pile of his own library.
- The Japanese novel Toshokan Sensou is about the conflict between two military organizations after the Japanese government passed a law that allows the censorship of any media deemed to be potentially harmful to Japanese society, including book burning.
- The short story "Earth's Holocaust" from Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse is about a society that burns everything that it finds offensive, including its literature.
- In Anne of Green Gables, Anne watches in horror as her caretaker burns her book containing the Tennyson poem "The Lady of Shalott" as punishment for reading instead of doing her chores.
- The page quote above comes from Almansor, a tragic play written in 1823 by Jewish playwright Heinrich Heine, in reference to the burning of copies of the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, by the "Catholic monarchs," Ferdinand and Isabella, following the conquest of the Muslim country of Grenada, the final stage of the Reconquista of Spain. And indeed, the words proved prophetic as The Spanish Inquisition (started by those same monarchs around 1480, twelve years before the conquest) was going down at about this time, which had many people being burned at the stake for heresy, and would lead to serious persecution of Jews and Muslims.
- Following the end of the Second World War, the famous quote from Almansor was engraved on a memorial that was erected at the site of the infamous Nazi book-burnings of 1933 at Berlin's Opernplatz (which is now called Bebelplatz). Almansor was among the works by Jewish authors that was consigned to the flames -- and as we all know, the Nazis didn't stop with books.
- The first emperor of the Chi'n Dynasty in Ancient China did such an extreme case of this in Breaking the Wall that all the destroyed knowledge actually created a whole new world known as the Land Born of Smoke and Sacrifice.
- In the Elemental Logic quartet, the Library at Kisha was burned early on in the Sainnite invasion, which is considered a great tragedy. The loss of many books and the country's main center of higher education actually led to the Shaftali losing a significant part of their writing system- the meanings of many of their glyphs (ideographs, used along with an alphabet system or separately as part of a system of telling the future) were forgotten in a short period of time because they were slightly esoteric knowledge to begin with, and no lexicon listing the meanings of all the glyphs survived the burning. A large part of the plot of the third book deals with a time-displaced character stealing a lexicon and hiding it so that the "missing" glyphs can be rediscovered in her present.
- In a Mash episode, Frank Burns does this in preparation for a visit to the camp by General MacArthur, prompting Hawkeye to threaten to "give (him) a dancing lesson in the minefield" if he burns one more book.
- This is what's about to happen in combination with the witch-burning in Buffy the Vampire Slayer "Gingerbread", when a demon deludes the town's adults into a witch hunt and Buffy and Willow nearly get burned.
- Blanche relates a story about this in The Golden Girls, and it sounds like she's going to say her father stopped the burning, but all he did was say they should start the fire from the bottom.
- "Books Are Burning" by XTC.
- Assassin's Creed II had DLC based on Girolamo Savonarola's Bonfire of the Vanities, in which the "Mad Monk," in an effort to return Florence to a godlier, pre-Renaissance state, organizes massive burnings of the books and artworks that he felt were corrupting Italy.
- Book burning also went down in the original Assassin's Creed I. Jubair al-Hakim, Altair's eighth target, blamed written knowledge for pretty much all evils, including the current war between the Saracens and the Crusaders. In his Kick the Dog cutscene, he ends up pushing one of the scholars who protested this into the pile of burning books, telling him that if he loved his books so much, then he could join them.
- Postal 2 has a level in which the player has to fight their way through throngs of anti-book protesters, who burn down the town library with him in it.
- In Dragon Age, one of Wynne's gifts, The Search for the True Prophet, is mentioned as looking as if it had been rescued from a fire at some point. It is interesting to note that the book in question is actually an alternative view of Andraste which was probably quite heretical and blasphemous.
- In Tropico, you can order these once you have a cathedral built. It wins you favor with the religious crowd and cows the intellectuals into submission to your rule, at the cost of a nasty effect on education.
- In South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the kids' parents hold a massive bonfire of Canadian media.
- In one episode of The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson sees a bookmobile being driven by Reverend Lovejoy, who asks for book suggestions. Lisa had been depressed at how few people were reading, and excitedly lists some books and authors she loves... then the letters behind a tree reveal that it's a Book-Burning-Mobile.
- In the Family Guy episode "Not All Dogs Go to Heaven", Meg takes Brian to the church to burn books on science and evolution, citing them as "harmful to God". Among the burnt books are On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, and a fictional book entitled Logic for First Graders.
- This was the theme and the title of a She Ra Princess of Power episode.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Fire Nation (appropriately enough) broke into The Library of Babel to burn down an entire section, since it contained information that could harm them.
- Okay, we aren't suppose to list Real Life examples because the list would be huge so here's a list of book burning incidents and a list of libraries destroyed throughout history. See why they can't be listed?