• The first two editions of Edward Lear’s A Book of Nonsense, consisting of nonsense poems and drawings for children, were printed without Mr. Lear identifying himself as the author. By the time he put his name on the third edition, in fact, some people felt that the author of the book was someone else. One day, he was in a railroad carriage headed toward London. Two boys were reading and laughing at a copy of A Book of Nonsense. One old gentleman who was present noticed what they were reading and told the two ladies accompanying the boys that the name “Edward Lear” was a pseudonym used to hide the real author of the book: Lord Derby. The old gentleman pointed out, “Edward is the Christian name of Lord Derby, and Lear is only Earl transposed.” (In fact, the book was dedicated to the descendants of the 13th Earl of Derby.) Hearing the old gentleman and the two ladies discussing the authorship of the book, Mr. Lear said to them, “I have reason to know that Edward Lear, the painter and author, both wrote and illustrated the whole book.” The old gentleman, sure of himself, replied, “And I have good reason, Sir, that you are wholly mistaken. There is no such person as Edward Lear.” Mr. Lear responded, “But there is, and I am he.” In a dramatic finish, Mr. Lear produced his printed calling cards, his monogrammed handkerchiefs, his name and address inside his hat label, and other evidence of his existence. The old gentleman was forced to admit that he had been mistaken.
• The title character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula was based in part on Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, who lived in 15th-century Transylvania. He murdered hundreds of people at a time by impaling them on stakes, then letting them die slowly. One day, one of his soldiers complained about the stink of rotting flesh after one such murderous campaign, so Vlad had him impaled — on a higher stake than the other victims so he would have fresh air to breathe until he died. On one occasion, some Turkish ambassadors wearing turbans visited him. When they declined to take off their turbans, explaining that in their country the custom was to wear them at all times, Vlad ordered that the turbans be nailed to their heads. Vlad’s own people referred to him as “Dracula,” a word that means “son of the Devil.” He died in battle, the victors decapitated him, and fittingly, they impaled his head on a stake.
• While writing her children’s book The 18th Emergency, Betsy Byars wanted a good, original name for the bully — she felt that she had used the name “Bubba” too often for the bullies in her books, although she had known a real bully named Bubba when she was a child. She thought hard and came up with the name “Marv Hammerman,” which she liked because of its hardness. Because she thought the name was original — after all, she had just thought it up — she wrote in the book, “There had been only one Hammerman, just as there had been only one Hitler.” One day, she received a telephone call, and the caller told her that he was Marv Hammerman. At first, she thought that the caller was joking, but he was really named that. What’s more, he was a teacher who had read her book to his class, and his young students were delighted to hear that there were two terrible Marv Hammermans.
• The protagonist of Paula Danziger’s book The Pistachio Prescription is named Cassie, whose problems include an addiction to pistachio nuts. Years after writing the book, Ms. Danziger met a woman who wanted her to autograph a copy of the book for the woman’s daughter, who was named Cassie. At first, Ms. Danziger thought the name was a coincidence, but the woman told her that she had named her daughter after the book’s protagonist. Ms. Danziger says, “It means a lot to me, especially since the book was so hard to write, that so many people love and identify with it.”
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Buy