6 Great Novels that Were Hated in Their Time

#3. The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Story You Know:

It's the magnum opus of the Baby Boomer Generation. The book about every kid who ever bitched and moaned his way through adolescence just so he could get drunk, molested and have his ass handed to him by a pimp.

It was a rite of passage.

How Poorly it Was Received:

About as warmly as that bottle of vodka in your grandmother's freezer box. The book was so controversial that even critics who liked it were afraid to show their names. The Catcher In The Rye was written in the "vulgar" tongue, which was common vernacular for the time. However, since the vulgar tongue does tend to involve lots of curse words and pussy jokes, the book kind of took a wrecking-ball to the social norms of Greatest Generation, and thus cemented the book's reputation as one of the most infamous works of the 20th century.

Alongside Porky's

Critics panned the book as "disappointing," a "near miss," "too long," "wholly repellent," "amateur," "monotonous and phony" and "predictable and boring." Since we assume most people probably know what it's like to get in a fight with an underage prostitute for charging extra for non-sex, we're going to have to agree with the critics on this one.

Oh, and then there's the whole controversy over the book inspiring high-profile murders because of the whole "catcher in the rye" analogy its main character Holden uses. However, since that argument makes about as much sense as the ending of Children of the Corn, it's probably safe to say that the dude who shot John Lennon was, in fact, a nutcase.

Not sane, and possibly an Elvis impersonator.

The public, as it is often wont to do, eventually ignored the critics and embraced the book to the tune of now 65 million copies sold since its first publication. That's more than any of the Twilight novels, kids.

#2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

The Story You Know:

It's like Jaws, only with an enormous, albino sperm whale and lots of metaphors instead of a shark and bad hats. Also, Richard Dreyfus is slightly more badass in this version: Instead of the single most annoying ichthyologist on the planet, he's a South Pacific cannibal named Queequeg.

How Poorly it Was Received:

Contemporary reviews for Moby-Dick were harsh. Very, very harsh. Think Son of the Mask meets Battlefield Earth.

If you liked this movie, then you probably don't exist.

Despite introducing the world to some of the most original characters in literary history, not the least of which were Captain Ahab, Queequeg or the God-like Moby-Dick, Melville's poetic prose completely went over everyone's head. Part of this was due to one publisher accidentally omitting the book's crucial epilogue, which kind of tied the book together not unlike a fine Persian carpet in a lazy man's apartment. The other reason for its bad press was that most critics just flat-out didn't like it.


One of the most esteemed literary magazines in England dismissed the book as a "catastrophe." One Methodist publication slammed the book as "unfit for general circulation." Some of the more dickish critics went so far as to attack Melville himself, along with what they took as "his rhetorical contortions, all his declamatory abuse of society, all his inflated sentiment and all his insinuating licentiousness."

All his unkempt facial hair.

In other words, the book was hated by the type of people who think "insinuating licentiousness" is a good way to insult something. Granted, readers will find it tough to read Moby-Dick these days without reaching for an online dictionary now and then, but you can't fault Melville for being smarter than most modern readers. After all, the book was dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorn; it's not like you can expect to find the word "pimpmobile" in every chapter.

Fortunately, Melville won the long, long, long war for literary appreciation, and is now considered one of the finest writers in American history. After all, the dude wrote Moby-Dick.

#1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Story You Know:

In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the many races of the weed-smoking lands of Middle-Earth put aside their mutually-shared racism to sit down and have a very serious discussion about jewelry. What follows is Tolkien's epic tale about the One Ring, the 19 Rings of Power, the Necklace of the Evanstar, the Ring of Barahir, the sweater-vest of Mithril, the Crown of Gondor, and other luxury items that Saruman "the Many Coloured" probably has stashed away in his closet.

The trilogy has gone on to sell over 200 million copies, spawn an entire generation of grown men who cry over "Grey Havens," get adapted to film a few times and usher an entire sub-culture of nerds the likes of which we may never see again.

Zeppelin never sang a song about Spock. Take that, lesser nerds!

How Poorly it Was Received:

According to the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, "No 'mainstream critic' appreciated The Lord of the Rings."

Apparently "mainstream critics" of the time were all Armond White.

The reasons for Tolkien's negative feedback were numerous, not the least of them being that he was a career linguist, not a professional writer. The New York Times described Tolkien's writing as "high-minded" and "death to literature itself."

The New Republic described the book and its characters as "anemic, and lacking in fiber" which was apparently a real burn back then in the pre-Cheerios days. Even heavyweights like Isaac Asimov weren't sold by the book's whole industry versud the environment message, retorting that modernity "or perhaps the modern world... wasn't all bad."

Hell, not even Tolkien's friends were all that big on it. Tolkien had to stop reading samples of the book to them on account of negative feedback/hurt feelings. One member of Tolkien's circle, Hugo Dyson (H.V.D. Dyson in geek) once famously moaned from a sofa during one reading: "Oh, fuck! Not another elf!"

H. V. D. Dyson.

Nevertheless, the book's popularity in the United States exploded in the 60s because of none other than the hippie movement. A healthy cocktail of the Vietnam War, environmentalism and an event horizon of substance abuse caused a renewed appreciation for what was described as "mellow freedom like that of the Shire."

Coupled with a totally unauthorized paperback printing of the book which beatniks purchased to "stick it to the man"--being Tolkien--"the man" had no choice but to re-release the book for America's drugged-out audiences.

Sure enough, the old man celebrated the only way he knew how.

So if you've read a fantasy novel or played a video game recently that has magical elves and dwarves in it, thank a hippie.

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Now check out some elves and hobbits that blew it, in 6 Lord of the Rings Characters Who Totally Dropped the Ball. Or learn about the naughty tales behind your favorite children's movies, in 7 Classic Disney Movies Based On R-Rated Stories.

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