Literary Miscellany, Vol. 3: Fun Facts, Quotes, and Trivia

From Peter Pan to the Bible and Back Again

Captain Hook Duels Peter Pan. By F.D. Bedford [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fun Facts:

Many of us are familiar with the great Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator, who is especially famous for his work with children’s books. He has even illustrated classic works, such as Herman Melville’s Pierre; or, The Ambiguities. Of course, Sendak is best known for his beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are (1963). But did you know that the book, and its title, underwent changes because of Sendak’s self-professed artistic limitations?

Indeed, the book was originally titled, Where the Wild Horses Are; however, Sendak’s “wild horses” did not suit him, so he changed them to “wild things.”

The Harris Poll was first conducted in 1963. It covers a wide range of topics, not the least of which is about surveyors reading habits and favorite books. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first prize for “favorite book” almost always goes to the Christian Bible. Some of the other leading contenders, however, might be surprising. In 2014, the second-place finisher was Margaret Mitchell’s, Gone With the Wind (1936), which was the number one selling book in 1936 and 1937; who knew its popularity would maintain for nearly 80 years? The books rounding-out the “top 5” include Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Quotable First Lines:

Can you identify this famous first line? “All children, except one, grow up.” Did you attribute this one to J.M.

Barrie’s classic story, Peter Pan?  If so, great job! Barrie’s tale of boyhood adventure and fantasy remains one of the most beloved children’s tales, somehow growing in popularity since its initial appearance in Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird (1902) and, more particularly, since the popular play, Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was first staged in 1904.

Let’s try another. In which classic novel does the following first line appear: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” Give up? Why, it’s Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847), of course! The line might read like something out of Jane Austen, given Austen’s affinity for the use of walking as a narrative device; however, Bronte, too, explores the connection between physical and psychological freedoms and restraints.

Okay, those first two examples might have been a little easy. Why don’t we make this a bit more challenging? Give this one a try: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” Sounds a bit nonsensical, doesn’t it? Maybe this is something out of an Anthony Burgess novel, or Mark Twain? Could it be from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? No, indeed, we need to go to the godfather of modernism himself: James Joyce! This first line opens the novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). If you’re brave enough to tackle it, it’s a wonderful book, as is its sort-of-sequel, (1922).

Trivia:

Have you heard of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations?

It is the longest-running quotations reference guide still in publication, having been first printed in 1885. Bartlett’s is known for its wide distribution and is frequently cited, and its popularity and usefulness have only grown since its appearance online. Important to note, however, is that the first edition of this beloved guide cited only four women. More recently, that number has grown; and yet, the recent editions still reflect a great disparity between men and women. About 90% of the quotes found in Bartlett’s contemporary printings are from men, which means only about 10% come from women.    

Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of the most praised and studied pieces of classic literature. The three parts of the Comedy include Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso).

Many mistakenly believe that Dante’s guide through all three books is the poet Virgil, but this is inaccurate. While it is true that Virgil does lead Dante through the first two books, Dante meets another at the Garden of Eden. At the gates of Paradise, it is Beatrice, a long-lost love, who takes over as guide.

We have probably all felt the pressure of writing to a deadline, whether in school or at work. But can you imagine trying to write a novel in thirty-minute increments, for which you had to pay? Well, that’s just what Ray Bradbury faced when writing his most popular work, Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Bradbury did not have a typewriter of his own, so he visited the UCLA typing room and paid ten cents for each half hour spent using the machine. This gives new meaning to the phrase, “dime novel!”