Out of the Way

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Point Nemo, the point in the ocean farthest from land, lies in the southern Pacific Ocean at 48°52.6’S 123°23.6’W.

R’lyeh, the fictional city that imprisons the entity called Cthulhu in H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction, lies at 47°9’S 123°43’W. (August Derleth, a correspondent of Lovecraft, placed it at 49°51’S 128°34’W.)

Lovecraft’s story was written 66 years before Point Nemo was discovered.

Blood Brothers


In 1900, three years after Bram Stoker published Dracula, a variant of the story was serialized in the Reykjavík newspaper Fjallkonan. When Makt Myrkranna (Powers of Darkness) was published in book form in 1901, the volume credited Valdimar Ásmundsson, the newspaper’s editor, as its translator.

The origins of the Icelandic version of Stoker’s tale remained a puzzle for more than a century. In 2017 it came to light that it had been adapted from an earlier newspaper serialization in Swedish, titled Mörkrets makter.

In fact it appears there were two Swedish variants, one of which seems to have served as the basis for the Icelandic version. All three of these differ significantly from Stoker’s familiar novel, though they include all the main characters.

How all this came about is still the subject of intense research. But despite their mystery, in some eyes the Nordic variants are superior to Stoker’s original. Dutch literary researcher Hans Corneel de Roos wrote, “Although Dracula received positive reviews in most newspapers of the day … the original novel can be tedious and meandering … Powers of Darkness, by contrast, is written in a concise, punchy style; each scene adds to the progress of the plot.”



“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” — Richard Feynman

“A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.” — Samuel Johnson

“Read what interests you. If Scott does not interest you and Dickens does, drop Scott and read Dickens. You need not be any one’s enemy; but you need not be a friend with everybody. This is as true of books as of persons. For friendship some agreement in temperament is quite essential.” — Lyman Abbott

The Fortsas Hoax


In 1840, librarians and booksellers throughout Europe received a catalog describing a unique collection of books to be auctioned: Jean Nepomucene Auguste Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas, had collected 52 unique books, books of which only a single copy was known to exist. The count had died the preceding September, the message said, and as his heirs had no interest in books, the collection would be auctioned off.

Bibliophiles converged on Binche, Belgium, that August for the event, only to discover that the appointed address did not exist. Notices declared that the town’s library had acquired the books — but Binche had no library. In time it became clear that the Comte de Fortsas himself had never existed.

The whole thing had been an elaborate hoax put on by an antiquarian and retired military officer named Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon. Ironically, the catalog of nonexistent books itself in time became a collectors’ item.

What will happen if someone now writes those books?

Above It All


When you are flying, everything is all right or it is not all right. If it is all right there is no need to worry. If it is not all right one of two things will happen. Either you will crash or you will not crash. If you do not crash there is no need to worry. If you do crash one of two things is certain. Either you will be injured or you will not be injured. If you are not injured there is no need to worry. If you are injured one of two things is certain. Either you will recover or you will not recover. If you recover there is no need to worry. If you don’t recover you can’t worry.

— W.E. Johns, Spitfire Parade, 1941


Hateful Spider, (You are quite right. It doesn’t matter a bit how one begins a letter, nor, for the matter of that, how one goes on with it, or even how one ends it — and it comes awfully easy, after a bit, to write coldly — easier, if possible, than to write warmly. For instance, I have been writing to the Dean, on College business, and began the letter ‘Obscure Animalcule,’ and he is foolish enough to pretend to be angry about it, and to say it wasn’t a proper style, and that he will propose to the Vice-Chancellor to expel me from the University: and it is all your fault!)

— Lewis Carroll, letter to Agnes Hull, April 30, 1881

Words and Motion


In a 1778 letter, English naturalist Gilbert White captured the characteristic movement of almost 50 birds:

Owls move in a buoyant manner, as if lighter than air … herons seem incumbered with too much sail for their light bodies … the green-finch … exhibits such languishing and faltering gestures as to appear like a wounded and dying bird … fernowls, or goat-suckers, glance in the dusk over the tops of trees like a meteor; starlings as it were swim along.

Biographer Richard Mabey writes, “What is striking is the way Gilbert often arranges his sentence structure to echo the physical style of a bird’s flight. So, ‘The white-throat uses odd jerks and gesticulations over the tops of hedges and bushes’; and ‘woodpeckers fly volatu undosu [in an undulating flight], opening and closing their wings at every stroke, and so are always rising or falling in curves.”

(From Mabey’s Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of The Natural History of Selborne, 2007.)