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Book Burning

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"Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes, then burn the ashes."
"That was but a prelude; where they have burned books, they will ultimately also burn people."German original
Heinrich Heine, from the 1823 tragic play Almansornote 

How do you show that your Police State 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 be put to the blaze. It doesn't necessarily have to be burning, either — dumping the books into a wood chipper or into the sea sends the same message.

Objectively speaking, book burning is far from the worst thing a totalitarian government or party could do. It is, after all, just ink and paper. However it's still considered especially heinous because it's considered an attack on knowledge itself, and symbolic of the crushing of intellectual freedom and of anyone who even thinks of disagreeing with their ideology.

Since Most Writers Are Writers, they usually have pretty strong feelings on this subject. Booksellers 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; at the same time, a totalitarian state that would resort to the destruction of books probably won't take kindly to the ones distributing them to the public. It's worth noting that, while the symbolic and emotional impact of burning books hasn't changed with the digital age, the physical impact of trying to destroy books is largely mitigated by mass printing and e-format books.

Very much Truth in Television, but if you're looking for real-life examples, here's a list of book-burning incidents and a list of libraries destroyed throughout history. See why they can't be listed?note 

Often goes hand in hand with Persecuted Intellectuals and You Cannot Kill An Idea. Ties in to Fanatical Fire. Compare Break-Up Bonfire, which carries a more personal meaning. Not to be confused with the Burn Book. Related to the real-life event, Bonfire of the Vanities, but not to be confused with The Bonfire of the Vanities.

Alternatively, the trope can be used in a non-political manner; a group of survivors from an incident may have to burn books just to keep themselves warm. Also, students sometimes celebrate finishing a particularly hard or painful class by burning their textbooks and notes.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • Invoked near the end of Girls' Last Tour when the books that Chito (who is ironically against her books being burnt) have collected, and her own diary, were burnt by her in order to keep themselves warm before their perilous ascent to the top level of the Mega City.
  • In Kirby: Right Back at Ya!, King Dedede burnt all the Pappy Potter and the Fool's Stone copies in Pupu village and made it illegal because he's illiterate and cannot read the novels at all. It should be noted that this scene did not make it to the English dub.
  • Library War is all about Japan's libraries trying to save what books are left from the Media Betterment Committee and their bonfires.
  • Majokko Tickle: The final episode, in which Tickle exposes herself as a witch when she uses her magic to stop her mother from being impaled by a knife. This means Tickle must return to the magic realm, but Hina, upset that she can't come with Tickle, angrily tosses the book that was to have been Tickle's only way home into a bonfire. Despite being warned that she'll lose her powers if she lets the book burn out, Tickle refuses to leave her human family and lets the book burn, accepting the loss of her magic as a consequence.
  • In One Piece, this figures into Nico Robin's backstory with the Marines raiding the Ohara Library prior to unleashing the Buster Call that would eradicate Ohara. The primary motive is more practical than usual—they were trying to destroy any blueprints of a Weapon of Mass Destruction—but they were also furthering an unknown period of time (known as the "Void Century") the World Government wants to keep buried. However, the scholars were able to preserve much of the history by hurling most of the books into a lake, saving them from the flames, even knowing this meant none of them would have time to escape the flames themselves.
  • The ROD 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.

    Comic Books 
  • The Jack Chick tract "Dark Dungeons" famously ended with a bonfire scene that had people burning their Dungeons & 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.
  • Fables: One of the Big Bads of "Jack of Fables" is named Bookburner. It is a Meaningful Name.
  • Once Darkseid takes control of most of the Earth in Final Crisis, his Justifiers hunt down and burn Earth's literature, claiming that "What disagrees with Darkseid is heresy; What agrees with Darkseid is superfluous." One part of the story (Submit #1) shows Black Lightning (a teacher in his civilian identity) rescuing the Tattooed Man's family, and berating them for burning books to keep warm; the last pages show an Anti-Life converted Black Lightning throwing a book he rescued earlier onto the flames himself.
  • A variation in Irredeemable. After Plutonian is defeated, there's a rally where the populace are encouraged to throw their Plutonian merchandise on a bonfire. There's a Mass "Oh, Crap!" when superhero Survivor turns up, but he gladly uses his powers to incinerate what's left. It's clearly meant to imply this trope, given the concern among his colleagues that Survivor will end up no better than Plutonian.
  • Scott Adams, on the other hand, gleefully takes the bookstores' more positive point of view in one of his books, offering to chip in a few bucks for markers and protest signs for anyone who finds him offensive, as protests and burnings will encourage bigger sales for his books.
  • In Secret Empire, once HYDRA has taken control of America, they destroy the history books to be replaced with those more aligned with HYDRA (specifically Steve Rogers' point of view). An issue of Deadpool has HYDRA soldiers busting into a comic book shop and destroying issues of Captain America's first appearance, the one that has him punching Hitler in the face.
  • The Gray Smurfs in The Smurfs comic book story "The Smurf Menace" burn all of Papa Smurf's spell books in order to keep him from finding the spell to make the Gray Smurfs vanish.
  • Superman:
    • In The Unknown Supergirl, Kara travels to the distant future and finds out Earth has been taken over by a tyrant called "The All-Seeing Eye" who has ordered that all books be burned so no one even remembers that men used to be free.
    • The Leper from Krypton: Lexor was a planet where Lex Luthor was considered a hero because he used his scientific genius to help their inhabitants to build an advanced civilization; and they were so grateful that they even renamed the planet after their benefactor. However, when they find out he engineered a biological weapon in order to murder Superman, the Lexorians are so enraged about having idolized a murder that they burn the Luthor Library -full of his scientific books, treatises and manuals- because they want nothing of his.

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • The Mega Man (Ruby-Spears)/The Twilight Zone (1959) crossover Be Careful What You Wish For has one of the robots in the last chapter mention that Dr. Wily's book-burning campaign is nearly complete as part of his plan to stamp out things like music and fun to crush morale and possible resistance.
  • The Celestia Code has Twilight doing this in order to ensure Sombra's plan to kill Celestia doesn't happen.
  • Code Geass: The Prepared Rebellion: On top of the typical reasons for this trope, Britannia also had common books burned just because they were written in the original languages of the people of an Area. This policy forces the "Numbers" to learn the language of their conquerors if they want to read anything at all, slowly but surely pushing their native languages into obsolescence. This is especially true for younger generations who attend schools following Britannian educational policies.
  • Contraptionology!: A clear sign that Twilight is losing it is when she has the entire contents of the library burnt by Spike — to make more room, and because she thinks they disagree with her findings.
  • A Diplomatic Visit: A variant is discussed at one point, when Twilight's friends are telling her about the PVE (or Pony Vegan Environmentalists) and the kinds of racist beliefs they advocate. Rainbow Dash admits to saving their pamphlets, which are little more than hate speech so that she can use them as chimney starters when she needs to prime the charcoal for her grill. She mentions this again in chapter 23, which earns her some amused and approving reactions from the wolves. Later, during the Gathering, Swift-Pad's report on his time in Equestria is read, including a mention of her doing this, which prompts even more roars of laughter from the various attendees. Including the Alpha.
  • One of the more ridiculous aspects of the Ron the Death Eater treatment given to Princess Celestia in Frigid Winds and Burning Hearts is the mention, in a casual, offhand manner, that she - a ruler who, canonically, maintains a giant library with a wing named after one of the great scholars of antiquity - has a bureau devoted to burning books she finds objectionable.
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: A rare positive example (at least, it starts that way) in the sequel Picking Up the Pieces, as the former Hatchery griffons, upon being freed from what was essentially slavery and getting their personal information, start a massive bonfire of their Ledgers (the books that kept track of how much they owed the Hatchery), which they no longer need. Unfortunately, it starts getting out of hand, which prompts Wind Breaker and Night Blade to leave the scene as quickly as possible.
  • The Real Us has Hermione - Hermione - suggest a mass burning of Gilderoy Lockheart's books.
  • Rocketship Voyager. Among the antique paper books displayed in Voyager's wardroom is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, "one of the few copies to survive the pyres of the House Committee for the Protection of Youth". During the melding-of-minds it's revealed that Captain Janeway's father was a fireman whose job was to burn 'fantastic' books and vids, but he secretly saved some of them to read to his daughter at night. There's also a mention of Martians who have converted to Earth religions burning libraries.
  • In A Spark of Ice and Fire, Tyrion pauses for a second to fervently curse Baelor the Blessed for his canon act of burning countless priceless books, including Septon Barth's original blueprints for King's Landing's sewers.
  • The Stalking Zuko Series has Firelord Sozin, who kept many original documents and scrolls that he raided from invaded areas and burned everyone else's copies. Also, Zhao's burning of the Fire Nation section of the Wa Shi Tong's library is seen while practical is very unusual.
  • Played for laughs in This Time Round, where Dodo is attempting to burn every copy of Who Killed Kennedy (the book in which she's killed off) on the principle that when they're all gone, her death will be reversed. Funnily enough, a later edition of the book added an epilogue where she is saved and gets her happy ending.
  • In the A Song of Ice and Fire story Wearing Robert's Crown the High Septon argues in favour of this for a scandalous new book hot off the presses. Jon Arryn notes that Robert Baratheon isn't inclined to ban books. It's later indicated Robert wrote the book himself.
  • your move, instigator (draw your weapon and hold your tongue) has Danzo use his influence to have several books banned from Konohagakure's shelves, gathering them all up to be burned. This includes everything Jiraiya has written; while this is implicitly 'justified' as a campaign to purge his erotica, Danzo's actual goal is eliminating the Ideal Heroes depicted in Jiraiya's books, especially since they question the shinobi system.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 courtyard.
  • In Eric Idle's Beatles parody, All You Need Is Cash, Deep South Christians are seen buying Rutles albums, so as to have more Rutles Trash to burn on purifying bonfires. This parodies John Lennon's unfortunate remark about The Beatles being "Bigger Than Jesus", and the consequent burning-frenzy of "Beatles trash" by outraged fundamentalists.
  • In a key scene of the film Der alte und der junge König (The Old and the Young King), a German Historical film made under Nazi rule in 1935, King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia is shown throwing into an open fire the beloved French-language books of his son, Crown Prince Friedrich (the future Friedrich II), as well as the Prince's flute. The film - banned after the fall of the Nazis as a piece of propaganda making manipulative use of history - presents this book burning as a positive and necessary act, which was needed in order to "educate" and "toughen up" the young prince, so as to "prepare him for becoming a great ruler".
  • In The Bride, Baron Frankenstein and Eva have an argument over the authorship of Prometheus Unbound, with Frankenstein saying it was Keats and Eva Shelley. After Frankenstein angrily dismisses her, Eva leaves, comes back with a copy of the book that she tosses down next to him, and then leaves again. When Frankenstein looks at the book and sees that Eva was right, he angrily tosses the book into the fire, muttering "Whose Prometheus is it now?"
  • Non-political variant in The Day After Tomorrow: a few survivors battling the cold hunker down in a massive library. They resort to burning books, but the head librarian refuses to let a Bible be thrown in the mix, not because he's religious but said Bible was the first book ever printed. He also gets into an argument over whether to burn a book by Nietzsche; the argument ends when someone else points out they've got a whole row of books on tax law they can burn instead.
  • Equilibrium: The 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.
  • Fahrenheit 451 centers on Firemen in a future dystopian US, whose duty now is to burn all books (as they're illegal) with flamethrowers.
  • Fahrenheit 451 (2018). Due to the Setting Update, as well as burning books the Firemen also delete books uploaded onto "the 9", the successor of the Internet.
  • 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.
  • Fahrenheit 451 (2018): This is the Firemen's work. It's also been updated to include them deleting books uploaded onto "the 9", the successor of the Internet.
  • A rather atypical example in The Grand Illusion. The Russian prisoners-of-war are so pissed when their care package from the Tsarina turns out to be books, and textbooks no less, that they promptly burn said books.
  • In the Goosebumps (2015) movie, Slappy burns the manuscripts of R. L. Stine's Goosebumps novels after releasing the monsters within, as those are the only way that the protagonists can trap them again, and then uses the burning books to start fires all over town for good measure. It doubles as a middle finger to Stine, who trapped the monsters in his books to start with. Stine later traps them all again by writing a new book.
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
    • At one point Indy finds himself at a 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. Elsa is in tears at the destruction, but Indy points out she still followed the Nazis willingly.
    • And this comeback from Jones Sr.:
      "... goose-stepping morons like you should try reading books instead of burning them!"
    • It's actually an Anachronism Stew. The film is set in 1938-the bulk of book burnings happened in 1933, right after the Nazis came to power.
  • In The Life of Émile Zola, Zola's books are burned after he intercedes on behalf of the wrongfully accused Alfred Dreyfus.
  • The Mortal Storm: Viktor is a Jewish professor still in Germany at the time of the Nazi takeover. The true terror of his situation is brought home to him when he sees a gang of Nazi goons burning books in the courtyard outside his classroom.
  • None Shall Escape (a 1944 film about a trial against a Nazi officer following the end of the then-ongoing second world war, told via flashbacks from the points of view of the witnesses at the trial): As a "reward", Wilhelm orders the students to burn their Polish schoolbooks, to be replaced by German ones shortly.
  • The second Once Upon a Time in China film has a book burning as a major setpiece in the second movie, when families who have indoctrinated themselves into the White Lotus Cult must cleanse themselves of Westernized Media, including books.
  • Pleasantville has a scene where an angry mob led by the mayor burns books in reaction to the unwelcome changes in the town.
  • Professor Marston and the Wonder Women: The film opens on William seeing children burn Wonder Woman comics, and it turns out this is because they were denounced as morally corrupting for minors.
  • Smoke has a non-political example when Paul is telling Rashid about an author who smoked his book:
    Paul: It's 1942, right. He's caught in Leningrad during the siege. I'm talking about one of the worst moments in human history. 500,000 people died in that one place. And there's Bakhtin, holed up in an apartment, expecting to be killed any day. He has plenty of tobacco, but no paper to roll it in. So he takes the pages of a manuscript he's been working on for ten years, and tears them up, so he can roll his cigarettes.
    Rashid: His only copy?
    Paul: His only copy. (Beat) I mean, if you think you're gonna die, what's more important, a good book or a good smoke?
  • Implied in the Stargate backstory. Ra banned literacy on Abydos to prevent its inhabitants from rebelling as their Tau'ri brethren had. The Abydonians manage to keep secret knowledge of hieroglyphics, however.
  • In Twenty-Four Eyes, one book is burned. Ms. Oishi, the Cool Teacher, has been reading a book to her kids in a Japanese fishing village in The '30s, but the book is deemed to be subversive. After another teacher gets thrown in jail for a while, Ms. Oishi's principal confiscates her book and burns it.
  • The Uncanny: In "Quebec province, 1975", Joan burns Lucy's books on witchcraft. This is a particularly cruel and heartless thing to do, as the books are one of the few things Lucy has left to remember her mother by.
  • The Young Poisoner's Handbook: After discovering a Porn Stash hidden in Winnie's room, Molly aggressively bathes Graham to wash the 'filth' off him and makes him stand in the backyard — wet, shivering and naked save for a blanket — and watch as she burns all of the magazines. She then tops it off by throwing his beloved chemistry set on the bonfire as well. All the time, Graham denies that the stash is his (and internal evidence indicates that it may well have belonged to his father).
  • Mark from Wild America likes to torment Marshall by reading gruesome stories from his book of animal attacks. Marshall finally persuades Mark to give him the book so he can burn it in a campfire.

  • In German author Hans Hellmut Kirst's black comedy stories about life in Nazi Germany, a bookseller is given an ultimatum from the Brownshirts to surrender all prohibited books for a public burning. He has twenty-four hours to comply. He thinks about this, and realises his stock of Karl Marx's Das Kapital is exactly the same size and thickness as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. He duly switches over the dustcovers. The following day, he derives consolation from watching the stormtroopers triumphantly burning Hitler's masterwork.
  • 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 Arts of Dark and Light: When the Witchkings ruled in Selenoth, they did their best to burn all the histories and works of earlier times and create a Year Zero, and were successful enough that the present day realms of men now inhabit a sort of Future Imperfect. Only the elves have managed to preserve substantial records from the purges.
  • The Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte, who was a war correspondent for twenty years before devoting himself to literature, once wrote an article entitled "Assassins of books", where he tells how tragic it is to see how a library is burned, erasing the cultural effort of many generations, and as such thing has been very common in wars around the world.
    Seeing killing a man, hearing the cries of a raped woman or seeing a library burned are three dubiously recommended experiences. Of all of them I have the dubious honor of having been a witness.
  • 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 Book of Eve: A fundamentalist priest is determined to destroy all heretical books, or even just books with pagan authors. He is particularly obsessed with the titular book. He plans to make a demonstration out of it by burning the banned material on a giant bonfire. He succeeds in burning the book and several others.
  • Seeing as The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany, this comes up a few times and is one of the ways Liesel feeds her reading habit.
  • Breakfast At Twilight by Philip K. Dick is about an American family who accidentally time-travel to World War III. The Political Officer attached to a unit of American troops helps himself to some of their books because he has nothing to read as many works of fiction were burned in 1977. He makes sure to only take older works (like William Shakespeare or John Milton) which are more likely to be politically safe, but he advises them to dispose of The Brothers Karamazov, apparently just because it's written by a Russian.
  • 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 Christian Nation, the protagonist's job in the current theocratic American society is to sort through and destroy books that are deemed subversive to the ideals of the ruling society
  • Discworld:
    • In Small Gods, the theocratic Omnian Church burns books (and people), much to the horror of the Great God Om when he finds out. Deacon Vorbis also orders the burning of the Great Library of Ephebe. It does get burnt down, but not before Brutha stores all the scrolls in his photographic memory. And the person who set it on fire was an Ephebian.
    • Carpe Jugulum has an Omnian priest that has trouble with his faith because he can't help but notice all the little discrepancies in their canon, though he looks to his holy book for guidance. Later he's stuck with a possibly-vampirized Granny Weatherwax in a dark forest, looks to his book for help, and... makes a great light, marking the point in the story where he no longer needs the book for guidance.
    • The Red Star People in The Light Fantastic make huge bonfires of books, Cohen the Barbarian is horrified; he's got nothing against burning books if you need heat or light, but you don't waste your potential fuel like that.
    • Wintersmith has a cart of travelling librarians stuck in deep snow and deeper cold. When the Nac Mac Feegle rescuing them point out that there were plenty of books in the cart, the librarians concur, followed by the silence of two people who can't understand each other's point of view.
  • 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 Moral Guardians are the most educated people in the village (a curate and a barber) and 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 badly written books that destroyed Don Quixote's mind, and the good books were stolen by the Moral Guardian.
      • It very much should be noted that this attitude towards books was not widespread in Europe at the time. Indeed, herein lies a Deconstruction of this mentality: Spain went from being Europe's powerhouse in Cervantes's lifetime to being considered a backwards weakling just 100 years after his death. This attitude towards books and learning went a long way to make that happen....
  • 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 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.
  • Ray Bradbury
    • Fahrenheit 451 is one of the iconic examples of this, set in a world where nearly all literature has been banned and burned. The protagonist is a "fireman", one whose job it is to burn books.
    • In The Martian Chronicles, the story Usher II alludes to events on Earth where the government sponsored a "Great Burning" of books and made them illegal, which leads to the formation of an underground society of book owners. Those found to possess books had them seized and burned by fire crews. Mars apparently emerged as a refuge from the fascist censorship laws of Earth, until the arrival of a government organization referred to only as "Moral Climates" and their enforcement divisions, the "Dismantlers" and "Burning Crew".
  • Free Flight by Douglas Termen is set in a Soviet-occupied North America. One character is surprised at the protagonist (who has been hiding out in the mountains) having a collection of 'unstamped' books. Turns out during the winter the Peace Division went around exchanging food coupons for spare blankets, firearms and books—given that people were starving they had no problem handing over the latter. Some of the books were stamped as approved and returned, but the remainder were pulped for the government-controlled newspapers. Everyone knows this is so history can be Written by the Winners without any dissenting voices.
  • Green Angel: The Horde burn any books they can find as one part of their Luddite agenda.
  • The Green-Eyed Lama: When the Communist goon squads set out to eradicate Buddhism in 1937 Mongolia, one of the things they do, besides burning the monasteries themselves, is to burn all the ancient religious texts contained within them.
  • Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria: In the 4th century, a group unofficially dubbed "the Anarchists" wanted power, with one of achieving this being controlling what people read. They used propaganda to make people into anti-intellectuals who think books are dangerous, especially towards the youth. This led to mass book burnings throughout Alexandria. The titular "lost books" are the only ones who escaped the Library of Alexandria.
  • A positive example is mentioned in Storm Warning. Solaris opens her reign as Son of the Sun by ordering every book teaching demon-summoning to be burnt.
  • Industrial Society and Its Future: One of the measures Kaczynski suggests for a revolution against industrial society is burning all “technical books” so the system can't be reestablished.
  • The Left Behind book series has Bible burning, at least with the furnace inside the giant Nicolae Carpathia statue in New Babylon using onionskin paper found in Bibles. Otherwise, the Antichrist doesn't seem to be doing much to prevent people from reading the Word Of God.
    • In the film Left Behind: World At War, Nicolae Carpathia actually wants people to read God's Word...with shipments of Bibles tainted with anthrax!!!
  • In Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The Library of Babel," the eponymous library contains every possible permutation of letters, all written and bound in books. The implications of this are vast, but one such is that books exist which contain accurate predictions of the future. A fanatical cult views this as heresy and begins burning large sections of the library. Given that infinite near-identical books exist, whose only difference may be a single comma, their efforts are completely fruitless.
  • An unusual example in the Nightfall (Series). Myra burns her own book so that the vampires wouldn't get what they need. She hates doing it because she loves books and considers this the greatest story she has ever written. Prince Vladimir lampshades this and asks her if she knows what kind of people historically burned books.
  • Only the Dead Are Cold-Blooded: Played with. The protagonist is an avid reader of banned books—and burns them after reading in order to avoid being caught.
  • In The Ring of Solomon, a prequel book to The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Bartimaeus destroys a set of cunieform tablets owned by his evil master, Khaba, in a fit of rage over the fact that another Khaba's servants is about to seal him in a bottle. He then mentions in a footnote that he normally doesn't approve of burning books, "this being a favored pastime of all the worst rulers in history," but the texts of magicians are a special case because they contain the names of spirits by the thousand and thus to destroy them is to limit the opportunities of all magicians to summon other spirits.
  • In the back story of the Rover trilogy, the greatest dark wizard in history burned virtually every book he could find, which is why the forces that fought against him ended up loading a fleet with as many books as they could save and using them to found the library that is the home of the main characters on an obscure, distant island. In the later books, it was revealed that said wizard was doing this not to destroy knowledge, but because he was looking for one specific magical book that could grant him mastery of the world - the only thing he knew about said book that could help identify it was the fact that it wasn't flammable.
  • In La Saga de los Confines, by Liliana Bodoc, when the Sideresians invade Beleram, the capital city of the Zitzahays, they find it completely empty because its inhabitants fled to the jungle. Furious, the Sideresians loot everything they can find and Drimus the Doctrinator, their leader, orders them to create a huge bonfire in the main square where they burn, among other things, all the codices and scrolls of parchment that the Zitzahay use as books, not only to destroy their culture, but because a splinter of that fire is necessary as an ingredient to create a powerful spell.
  • In Elizabeth Enright's book, The Saturdays, Miss Pearl the hairdresser tells Mona that her stepmother threw her book in the stove when she was reading instead of doing her chores.
  • The Scream: The "Big Blaze for Jesus," wherein the Moral Guardians encourage teens to bring their records to a bonfire.
  • Septimus Heap has Silas Heap and Alther try to save their book collection from the Custodians, which are rounding up Magyk books in order to burn them.
  • Spellster: Dylan sets the tower's library on fire to start a pyre for those murdered inside at the end of In Pain and Blood. He regrets it due to the books destroyed, but this works the best as it's very flammable. A few books are saved, but he's well aware they can't take them all.
  • The Stormlight Archive: One of the reasons that history is fuzzy (besides the Vorin Hierocracy rewriting books to match their dogma) is because Odium and his Unmade spent much of their time destroying historical documents. In one of Dalinar's visions it's mentioned that Yelig-nar broke into Nohadon's chancery and slaughtered his wordsmen, Re-Shephir is found in a destroyed library, and Odium himself blasts Dalinar's copy of The Way of Kings just because Dalinar found comfort in the book. It's to the point that the old Knights Radiant invented a way of encoding information into specially-carved gems in an effort to save as much as they could.
  • 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.
  • Voices, the second book in Annals of the Western Shore, has the Alds destroy as many books in Ansul as they can. In fact, they invaded specifically to pull down its library and destroy the works therein, although they are strictly speaking "drowning" books (and their owners) in the ocean since they consider fire too holy for the job.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The The Borgias episode "The Siege of Forli" features the Bonfire of the Vanities, along with a scene of Savonarola's followers, mostly young boys, going from door to door collecting things to burn and vandalizing houses that don't comply.
    Machiavelli: I see God is reduced to breaking windows.
  • 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 at the stake with the books (including Giles Tome of Eldritch Lore) as the pyre.
  • The 1933 Nazi book burnings in Berlin are featured in the second episode of The Cherry Queen.
  • Danger 5: Even while undercover on a school campus, Hitler can't resist a bit of book burning.
  • Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman decides to open Colorado Springs' first library with the books her mother sends her. Unfortunately, the Reverend becomes so bent out of shape about the contents of the books that he actually goes so far as to go to their homes in the middle of the night and take them away. Things get so bad that some of the townspeople actually dump the books into the street and set fire to them and although the Reverend doesn't explicitly encourage it, he doesn't stop it either.
  • Fellow Travelers: Senator Smith is disturbed that librarians across Western Europe are burning books about communism (or at least ones that contain communist leanings) only seven years after the end of World War II.
    Smith: McCarthy is sending Cohn and his sidekick to Europe to expose commie influence in our overseas libraries. In anticipation of their visit, librarians have started burning books. Now, that remind you of anything?
  • Foundation (2021):
    • The first trailer shows Seldon's books being burned at 1:47 as people take violent action against him.
    • The Seers on Synnax don't actually burn books on science, but (since the planet is covered in water) ceremonially sinks them in the ocean, along with the "heretics" reading them. Gaal participates in the ceremony where her old teacher is executed, but then covertly retrieves some of his books.
  • 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.
  • The Goodies Rule — OK?. Great Britain falls under the rule of the humorless Standing Organisation. Cue of montage of their Mirth Inspectors beating up anyone who's enjoying themselves in public and burning all forms of entertainment.
  • In The Handmaid's Tale, some workmen are seen burning books and paintings in the city after Offred and Moira escape.
  • In a M*A*S*H 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. The books Frank is burning include Plato's Republic and The Life of Red Grange.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Quest," a platoon of Ori soldiers burns the entire contents of the town library, calling them trappings of an unholy past.
  • In the Chilean sitcom Sucupira, a small fishing village is revolutionized by the visit of a woman who is a writer of erotic novels. The Moral Guardians of the place (three middle-aged women who are absolute hypocrites for sharing the same lover) are scandalized and decide to organize a burning of "sinful" books. Not only burn the erotic novels of the writer, but also a text on geology "as a precaution", because they do not know what the word "geology" means.

  • "Books Are Burning" by XTC.
  • "Bulls on Parade" by Rage Against the Machine averts this - they don't gotta burn the books, they just remove 'em for similar ends.
  • The cover of the Utopia album Swing to the Right depicts a group of smiling young people burning records, with one kid holding up a copy of that very album prior to tossing it on the fire. (The cover is actually a doctored photo of a real-life Beatles record-burning event held in the wake of Lennon's infamous "We're more popular than Jesus now" remark.
  • The opening mini-movie to Styx's Rock Opera 'Kilroy Was Here' featured this, but with records and guitars.
  • "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M. features a reference to burning books in its rapid-fire verses. The end of "Exhuming McCarthy", on the same album, includes the line "Meet me at the book burning."
  • "Freedom of Speech" by Ice-T warns about the future of free speech in wake of rising censorhip of music
    Freedom of Speech, let 'em take it from me
    Next they'll take it from you, then what you gonna do?
    Let 'em censor books, let 'em censor art
    PMRC, this is where the witch hunt starts
    You'll censor what we see, we read, we hear, we learn
    The books will burn

  • That Mitchell and Webb Sound: One sketch states this is what Tesco does with all the books it doesn't convince kids to buy. One employee points out, at length, how mean, overcomplicated, and pointless the whole affair is, but his co-worker just shrugs him off, and goes back to shoveling several thousand Very Hungry Caterpillars into the furnace.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Yes, there is some precedent for this being considered a good thing in The Bible in one specific passage. Note, however, that this is contingent on this being your own profane property you're destroying. Also, it's intended as a show of personal repentance and a wish to keep yourself and others safe from the dangers of a Tome of Eldritch Lore, not wrath at the sins of others, however offensive they may be.
    • In prior centuries, books condemned by the Catholic Church (plus Protestant denominations) were also burned at times. Thankfully it has gone out of fashion in most cases.
    • In the apocryphal book of 1st Maccabees, scrolls that contained the Law of Moses were forcibly burned, and anyone who was found having them were put to death.
    • In the Book of Jeremiah, when Jeremiah's scroll calling for the people to Judah to repent was read before King Jehoiakim, he would cut three or four columns out with a pen knife before burning the entire scroll in his hearth, as a sign of what he thought of Jeremiah and his words.
  • The Book of Mormon: After rejecting Alma and Amulek's preaching, the people of Ammonihah burn all the scriptures they can find. It's only mentioned in passing, though, because they also burn the owners of those scriptures — and make the prophets watch — which the text is much more concerned about.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the disclaimer at the front of the modern horror RPG Beyond the Supernatural, Erick Wujcik states that "[i]f anything in this book offends you, please feel free to buy and burn as many copies as you wish. Bulk discounts are available."
  • Pathfinder has the Order of the Rack, an order of Hellknights charged with destroying "dangerous" culture. Living in Cheliax, a country colonized by devils and ruled by a highly oppressive diabolical government, this takes many forms, from rounding up and imprisoning writers and artists, to collecting previous editions of history texts from throughout the country and burning them in "clarity pyres" as the country's history is rewritten to suit the current political climate every three months.
  • Mage: The Awakening:
    • There's a Legacy known as the Logophages, whose thing is not so much book-burning as it is book-eating. They shape their souls so that they can consume arcane secrets, consigning this knowledge to be forgotten. On the one hand, this means they are one of the most hated Legacies among mages, given that most of mage society is about enshrining and furthering Supernal knowledge to make up for the fact that it was denied to the masses. On the other hand, given how there are things humanity really, really shouldn't know about the broken nature of the cosmos and some of the memetic poisons that lurk within it, there's a reason this Legacy keeps its mission going.
    • Banishers (crazed mages whose Awakening went wrong, causing them to see magic as an insidious evil) are known to burn grimoires and other magical texts they get their hands on... after studying them for their secrets, since Banishers don't usually create their own. This is one of many reasons why mages utterly despise Banishers (aside from the attempted-genocide business) - there are few things quite so selfish as reading a book and then burning it.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, one of a few positive examples of this trope is at the Feast of the Emperor's Ascension, where books are burned as sacrifices to the God-Emperor, representing knowledge being offered to him.

  • The page quote above comes from Almansor, a tragic play written in 1823 by German 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 Granada, the final stage of the Reconquista of Spain. The words would prove prophetic, as The Spanish Inquisition, which was started by those same monarchs following the Reconquista, would lead to many people being burned at the stake for heresy. Following the end of World War II, 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 many works by Jewish authors that were consigned to the flames — and as we all know, the Nazis didn't stop with just books.

    Video Games 
  • In Assassins Creed, Jubair al-Hakim, Altair's eighth target, blames 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.
  • Assassin's Creed II has 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.
  • Darkest Dungeon: When inspecting the pile of books curio, you can use a torch to burn the books. Do not do it, as it will fill your entire stress meter, ensuring a resolve check that might ruin the expedition.
  • Darkest Dungeon 2 has the Fanatics, an Apocalypse Cult that is destroying cities and burning libraries and sanctuaries in their path.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, 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 The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, the Alessian Order was a rabidly anti-Elven religious sect which established a Theocracy that wielded nearly as much power as the Emperor at its height. They destroyed any Elven writings or cultural items (especially those of the Ayleids who had previously enslaved mankind) that they could get their hands on. Their success in this regard eventually made it so that only the Imperial account of events surrounding the Alessian Revolt survived. The Order then suffered this as well at the end of the War of Righteousness, which saw their headquarters (along with the libraries and records) destroyed.
  • Fable: It's mentioned that the Heroes' Guild had most copies of "The Guild of Zeroes", a highly uncomplimentary parody play, burned... along with the author. The local schoolteacher is a bit nervous to accept a copy of the book as a gift from the Player Character, who's a member of the Guild.
  • In Fate/Grand Order, Shi Huang Di appears as the Lostbelt King of SIN in Cosmos in the Lostbelt. Given that one of his most (in)famous actions in life was to burn books and scrolls opposed to his legalist outlook, it naturally became one of his skills, "All Books Must Be Burned".
  • A sidequest near the end of Final Fantasy XVI introduces us to the Executors, a shadowy organization that collects, confiscates, and covers up knowledge considered forbidden or dangerous to the public. Unlike most examples they aren't doing this to back up any particular regime or directly suppress free thought itself. Rather they're more akin to Well Intentioned Extremists, with their representative explaining that they work to protect the general populace from things they aren’t ready to know or that could cause dangerous social upheaval. The book they were trying to take from Clive? It contains information on how Bearers and Dominants used to have high positions in society before they were removed from power and reduced to slaves, something that could upend the current social order.
  • Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich has a mission where the eponymous heroes go back in time to prevent certain books from being burned by the Nazis.
  • A House of Many Doors: Naturally, you find book burnings in the City of Angelsnote . Each time you visit, you have a chance to save a single book from the pile. Some are just harmless smut, some are rebel-inciting propaganda, and some were slated for burning with good reason.
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe: One of the post-apocalyptic epilogue events, titled "The Cursed Book" has farmers of a sleepy hamlet uncover a "Book of Danger, one tied to the great horror of the Fire itself", filled with "magicks and demonic utterances". The scribes take it into the village square reserved for the execution of murders, and burn the book in a pyre. As the flames lick the book, part of the cover comes free and rises in the air like a sigil, revealing the title: "Mein Kampf".
    "Ancient evil must be handled with extreme prejudice."
  • The Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye DLC has a variant. The aliens who built the Stranger never developed film, instead they used circular slide reels placed around a lantern to project images on a screen. By the time you explore the place, even the most intact slide reels have had images deliberately burned out of them, while if you poke around some hidden areas, you can find entire heaps of ruined reels next to discarded flamethrowers. It seems something happened that the aliens didn't want to remember... In a subversion, the aliens scanned all the reels to make digital copies for their Artificial Afterlife before destroying the real-world items, though said copies are sealed away in forbidden archives that the aliens may well have forgotten about after hundreds of thousands of years.
  • 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 Tears to Tiara 2, burning of all non-essential and religious books is ordered by the Knight Templar of the The Holy Church. To make the people stupid and prepare them for the Millenarius plan.
  • 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 Tyranny, Kyros the Overlord's Law includes a ban on any knowledge Kyros deems dangerous. The Sages flouted that Law by hoarding forbidden knowledge in the Vellum Citadel. When Kyros' armies failed to dislodge the Sages through conventional means, Kyros got fed up and responded with a rather extreme example of this trope: they unleashed the Edict of Fire on the Citadel, which reduced the entire region into a blasted hellscape that would continue to burn as long as forbidden knowledge remained within the Citadel's walls. As the Sages managed to make some of that forbidden knowledge fireproof before the Edict started, the whole region is still burning months later when the game begins.
  • In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the Church of the Eternal Fire passes ordinances making the use or possession of magic paraphernalia punishable by death. They organize public burnings of books and anyone caught using them. This burning of mages and magick eventually devolves to anyone who doesn't look like a normal human, including dwarves, elves, and other harmless non-humans, being burned alive at the stake.

  • Parodied by xkcd, where some people try this with a Kindle.
  • Bug Martini postulates on how this would work with e-books.
  • The curators of Immortal Library from Girl Genius consider book destruction and mind control the antithesis of everything their odd but powerful little country stands for.
  • In one Penny Arcade strip, Gabe is reading a The Berenstain Bears to his son in which Papa Bear restricts internet access to an hour a day. Gabe, who makes a living off the net and grew up on net culture, is horrified and claims to immediately understand why people would burn books after that.
  • unOrdinary: All copies of the titular book were ordered destroyed, and those known to have read it "re-educated", by the Authorities. They claim it's just because the book encouraged vigilantism which is a deadly hobby because the Authorities have superheroes murdered, but it's also because it makes people question the Might Makes Right hierarchy and has caused people to try to help and pay attention to the lower tier districts making it more difficult for them to get away with their regular neglect and deadly abuses there.

     Web Video 
  • In the video Burning Fifty Shades of Grey by MrRepzion, Mr. Repzion burns Fifty Shades of Grey, after reading a small portion of it and being disgusted by it.
  • "Welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn." Usually Linkara only figuratively burns comic books, but he has done it literally a few times to comics that were especially bad. He's noted the implications more than once but personally defied them: he's not censoring them or infringing on the author's right to publish them, but what he does to his personal copies is his own business.
  • 1 For All: "Wizard vs Sorcerer" sees Pyromaniac Nixie in a wizard library, where she's gleeful at the idea of burning books. This horrifies a wizard reading there, with them getting into a Wizards Duel. By the end, she manages to cause most of the nearby books to get burned.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode, 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.
    • Played for Laughs in another episode, where Bart's method of making a fire holy is to feed it pages of a sacred text.
    • In "Krusty Gets Busted", Reverend Lovejoy holds a public burning of Krusty the Klown merchandise following Krusty's arrest.
    • After the kids rebel in "Skinner's Sense of Snow", one of the last things they do before getting freed is burning the books of Springfield Elementary's library as payback for Skinner locking them inside the school.
    • "Sweets and Sour Marge" does this with chocolate and other candy after the sugar ban goes into effect. Except the Butterfingers, of course.
    Chief Wiggum: Not even the fire wants them.
  • 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 Great Big Library of Everything to burn down an entire section since it contained information that could harm them.
  • Highlander: The Animated Series had an episode where one of the local Mooks, the green-armored soldiers known as Hunters, decides to quit working for the Big Bad and strike out on his own. He decides the best way to keep the subjects of his new empire in line is to restrict their access to knowledge and develops an obsession with book burning. Ramirez, who had tried and failed to stop the original Library of Alexandria from being destroyed, makes bringing him down a personal crusade. His name, of course, is Hunter 451.
  • The Angry Beavers: In "Beaver Fever", Norb and Dag become disco stars. After announcing their latest album is "bigger than sliced bread", angry bread lovers stage public burnings of their albums. After the beavers clarify that they actually said that their latest album is "bigger than a slice of bread" (Holding up a slice of bread for comparison), sheepish fans are shown trying to retrieve their albums from the bonfire.
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Blame", Felicity learns that books can be as dangerous as she thought video games were, and her conclusion is to burn all books.
  • Kaeloo:
    • In the fourth episode, Bad Kaeloo tosses a bunch of dirty magazines and comic books onto a pile and burns all of them.
    • When the main four go camping in the episode "Let's Play Treasure Hunt", Mr. Cat, who is too lazy to find actual firewood to start a campfire, burns Stumpy's comic books instead.
  • In Moral Orel the town librarian, Miss Censordoll, regularly burns books she deems to be "dangerous." These include Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, and the entire Old Testament (or as she calls it, "the Jewish parts").
  • Alluded to in the season 1 finale of The Owl House, which opens with King reading from a book titled The Unauthorized History of the Boiling Isles that's covered in burn marks, implying that it nearly suffered this fate.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Nabakov Cocktail


Bigger Than Sliced Bread

Norb and Dag's manager tells them that they're more popular than sliced bread. When Daggett says this to a press conference however, angry bread lovers proceed to burn their albums. He has to clarify a little so they could change their minds on them.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / BiggerThanJesus

Media sources: