Some classic titles explain themselves, as they reference characters ("The Great Gatsby") or lines from notable passages ("The Catcher in the Rye"). Others are riffs on even older classics ("1Q84"), and still others remain a pleasant mystery ("2666").
Unsurprisingly, the titles of many books come from, well, other books. Also unsurprisingly, a TON were plucked from Shakespeare, be it Isaac Asimov's sci-fi works or Agatha Christie's chilling mysteries.
Here are the origins of 11 famous works of literature:
"The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway
When it was published in the UK in 1927, the book was titles "Fiesta," which seems a little reductive. The title we now know this classic by comes from a quotation by Ecclesiastes, which is also the epigraph:
"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose."
Light in August by William Faulkner
The title is never directly referenced within the book, aside from a scene in which Hightower observes the setting sun. Some scholars believe it's a reference to southern slang for pregnancy - "to be light in August" - which makes sense, considering Lena Grove's centrality to the plot and other characters.
"Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe
Achebe masterfully borrows a few words from Yeats's poem, "The Second Coming," to name his story about colonialism, pride, and loss:
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor
This short story collection takes its name from a book called "Omega Point" by French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."
Who knew she could be so uplifting!
"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley
Huxley's title has become somewhat of a boilerplate exclamation to put in during conversations about technology and the Internet. Actually, it's derived from Shakespeare's "The Tempest," and is uttered by a wide-eyed, totally naive Miranda, when she meets men her age for the first time. Her father sagely and sardonically replies, "'Tis new to thee."
"The Fault in Our Stars" by John Green
You may have guessed this one - It's from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," when a scheming Cassius says, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings." This helps to convince Brutus to choose his loyalty to the republic over his love of Caesar.
"Pale Fire" by Vladmir Nabokov
Yet another Shakespeare reference - apparently, the guy was pretty influential! This one is from "Timon of Athens":
"The sun ’s a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon ’s an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun..."
"A Handful of Dust" by Evelyn Waugh
Waugh's work references T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland." Originally, he wanted to name the book "A Handful of Ashes," but publishes said it wasn't quite as catchy:
"I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust."
"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck struggled to come up for a title for his Pulitzer-winning book, so his wife lent him a hand. She gleaned the famous title from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," by Julia Ward Howe:
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on."
"A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick
If there's any source more frequently references in book titles than the Bard, it has to be The Bible. Dick's book-turned-film about drug culture is actually named after a passage from Corinthians (13:12), "For now we see through a glass, darkly."
"The Golden Bowl" by Henry James
Another biblical reference, James' domestic character study is named after Ecclesiastes 12:6:
"…or the golden bowl be broken, …then shall the dust return to the earth as it was."
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