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Book Titles That May Not Be Ideal

Posted: 07/26/2012 4:40 pm

If you can't judge a book by its cover, can you judge a book by its title?

I ask that because there are some novels with a title character who is not the most prominent or interesting person in the book. Or, at best, the title character is roughly equal in importance to some non-title characters.

All this occurred to me while reading a friend's blog post about the Konstantin Levin character being more compelling than Anna Karenina in Anna Karenina. It's been so long since I read Leo Tolstoy's iconic novel that I don't recall enough about it to agree or disagree, but the Konstantin/Karenina conundrum did inspire me to think of other novels in which the title character may not quite live up to top billing.

In Sir Walter Scott's historical novel Rob Roy (1817), the title character is the most charismatic cast member, but the less-heroic Frank Osbaldistone appears on many more pages. Frank's last name doesn't exactly make for a snappy title, though -- and Robert Roy MacGregor got the prime role in the 1995 Rob Roy movie starring Liam Neeson.

The title character is certainly a major presence in Scott's Ivanhoe (1820), but he is only one of several significant characters -- including more fascinating individuals such as Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a brutal but complex knight; and Rebecca, a Jewish woman who (along with her father) deals with rampant anti-Semitism in 12th-century England.

Alexandre Dumas' 1844 novel The Three Musketeers -- the three being Athos, Aramis, and Porthos -- is really about four musketeers, including D'Artagnan. Of course, as the novel begins, D'Artagnan is a "rookie" who doesn't yet know the swashbuckling title trio; later in the book, and in several sequels, D is usually on the literary stage more than A, A, and P. Then again, there was The Four Musketeers movie of 1974.

One could argue that L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) is mostly about Dorothy and her famous brain-, heart-, and courage-seeking companions, but of course the memorable wizard is who they're seeking. And "The Delightful Dorothy in Oz" wouldn't have quite the same ring. Baum's book also inspired a certain film you might have heard of...

Jimmy (aka "Snowman") is clearly the most prominent character in Oryx and Crake (2003), though the title duo is quite important as well. Indeed, Crake is the guy who makes things really dystopian in Margaret Atwood's stellar work of speculative fiction -- plus Oryx and Crake is a catchy name for a novel! Yet Snowman is the driving force behind the book's narrative.

Still, all of the above titles make sense compared to Ruben Bolling's "Tom the Dancing Bug" comic, which has no dancing bug named Tom. Of course, that's the zany point of that zany comic's non sequitur name.

Can you name other novels with titles that could have gone to different characters or that don't seem quite right for other reasons?

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Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional (Xenos Press) has just been published! Signed copies are available now; if you'd like to buy one, contact Dave at dastor@earthlink.net. An Amazon listing is pending.

The part-humorous book is about Dave's 25 years at Editor & Publisher magazine covering, interviewing, and meeting notables such as Arianna Huffington, Heloise, Hillary Clinton, Walter Cronkite, Coretta Scott King, Martha Stewart, Paul Krugman, Ann Landers, and Abigail Van Buren ("Dear Abby"); and notable cartoonists such as Gary Larson ("The Far Side"), Lynn Johnston ("For Better or For Worse"), Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"), Charles Schulz ("Peanuts"), Stan Lee ("Spider-Man"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Garry Trudeau ("Doonesbury"), Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County"), Scott Adams ("Dilbert"), Jim Davis ("Garfield"), Milton Caniff ("Terry and the Pirates"/"Steve Canyon"), and Herblock.

Comic (and Column) Confessional also chronicles changes in the media, discusses personal stuff, includes mentions of novelists, and more.

 
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