The word eternity occurs only once in the King James Bible (in Isaiah 57, verse 15).
“The next day I was sad and sick at heart, for I felt how dull it was to be thus cut off from all the rest of the world. I had no great wish for work: but there was too much to be done for me to dwell long on my sad lot. Each day as it came, I went off to the wreck to fetch more things; and I brought back as much as the raft would hold.”
— From Robinson Crusoe in Words of One Syllable by Mary Godolphin, 1869
Published in 1838, Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket tells of four men who survive a shipwreck. Starving, they draw lots to see which one is to be eaten. The loser is a man named Richard Parker.
Forty-six years later, in 1884, a yacht named the Mignonette sank during a journey from England to Australia. Four survivors were stranded in a dinghy. After 16 days, Captain Dudley and his two mates killed and ate the cabin boy–whose name was Richard Parker.
The three eventually returned to England, where they were convicted of murder.
Edgar Allan Poe was fascinated by cryptograms. He once offered a free magazine subscription to any reader who could stump him, and he claimed to have solved all 100 ciphers that were sent in.
That mania ultimately created a mystery that lasted 150 years after the writer’s death. In 1840 Poe published two ciphers sent in by a “Mr. W.B. Tyler” and challenged readers to solve them. No readers succeeded, and in fact the first cipher wasn’t cracked until 1992, when University of Illinois English professor Terence Whalen decoded a passage from Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato.
The second puzzle was even harder, a polyalphabetic substitution cipher using several different symbols for each English letter — and containing several mistakes. It was finally solved in 2000 by Toronto software engineer Gil Broza:
It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious langour of universal nature, are laden the various and mingled perfumes of the rose and the –essaerne (?), the woodbine and its wildflower. They slowly wafted their fragrant offering to the open window where sat the lovers. The ardent sun shoot fell upon her blushing face and its gentle beauty was more like the creation of romance or the fair inspiration of a dream than the actual reality on earth. Tenderly her lover gazed upon her as the clusterous ringlets were edged (?) by amorous and sportive zephyrs and when he perceived (?) the rude intrusion of the sunlight he sprang to draw the curtain but softly she stayed him. “No, no, dear Charles,” she softly said, “much rather you’ld I have a little sun than no air at all.”
Probably it’s a quote from a novel of the time.
Interestingly, some scholars think Poe himself composed the ciphers, as city directories show no W.B. Tyler in that period. We’ll never know for sure, but Poe himself once wrote:
Ye who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have long since gone my way into the region of shadows. For indeed strange things shall happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries shall pass away, ere these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen, there will be some to disbelieve, and some to doubt, and yet a few who will find much to ponder upon in the characters here graven with a stylus of iron.
The first Harry Potter book was given a print run of only 1,000 copies.
Today, these copies are valued at between £16,000 and £25,000 each.
The Bible does not contain the word bible.
Because of its cover design, some readers briefly imagined that SF author Jack Dann’s 1984 novel The Man Who Melted was called The Man Who Melted Jack Dann. That inspired some readers to search for other such titles, with some success:
- The Joy of Cooking Irma S. Rombauer
- Captain Blood Returns Raphael Sabatini
- Flush Virginia Woolf
- Contact Carl Sagan
Any others? You’ll get extra credit for bending parts of speech (Two Sisters Gore Vidal).
The pied piper is not just a fairy tale. Something specific and terrible appears to have happened in the German town of Hamelin on June 26, 1284. What it was is uncertain, but it seems to have claimed the town’s children, perhaps in a mass drowning, burial, epidemic or exodus. An inscription from 1603 reads:
Anno 1284 am dage Johannis et Pauli
war der 26. junii
Dorch einen piper mit allerlei farve bekledet
gewesen CXXX kinder verledet binnen Hamelen gebo[re]n
to calvarie bi den koppen verloren
In the year of 1284, on John’s and Paul’s day
was the 26th of June
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colors,
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
and lost at the place of execution near the Koppen.
Rats weren’t added to the story until the late 16th century. The site of the children’s disappearance, on Coppenbrugge mountain, is now a site of pagan worship, and a law forbids singing and music in one street of Hamelin, out of respect for the victims … though we may never know what their fate was.
Henry Roth had writer’s block for 60 years.
He published Call It Sleep in 1934 and couldn’t produce a followup until 1994.
“Eight Degrees of Drunkenness”:
- The Ape-drunk, who leaps and sings and hollers
- The Lion-drunk, who is quarrelsome and rude
- The Swine-drunk, who is sleepy and lumpish
- The Sheep-drunk, wise in his own conceit, but unable to speak
- The Maudlin-drunk, who declares he loves all mankind
- The Martin-drunk, who drinks himself sober again
- The Goat-drunk, who is lascivious
- The Fox-drunk, who is crafty, like the Dutch, who bargain when drunk
— Thomas Nash, 1592