Ten little-known literary facts (including the famous line Sherlock Holmes never said)

The stories behind the stories, including what Frankenstein's monster was really called and a children’s book that was almost entirely different

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Novels that have endured the test of time also come with their own lore, rumours and tales.

From Pride and Prejudice to Catcher in the Rye, there are plenty of hidden stories to be found within the pages of some of the world’s most famous books.

Here are 10 little-known literary facts.

1. Sherlock Holmes never said: ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’

It’s one of the most famous lines in film and TV adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated works, but Sherlock Holmes never actually said it.

There are only seven instances of the famous detective saying “elementary” across 56 short stories and four novels.

The famous phrase actually originated in PG Wodehouse’s 1915 novel Psmith, Journalist: “I fancy,” said Psmith, “that this is one of those moments when it is necessary for me to unlimber my Sherlock Holmes system… 'Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary'.”

2. Aladdin from ‘1001 Arabian Nights’ is Chinese

In Disney's version of 'Aladdin', the young Chinese boy from the original stories is given a Middle Eastern makeover. Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

The character of Aladdin is so entrenched in popular culture it has almost been forgotten he was originally from the Far East.

The original book about Aladdin begins: “Aladdin was a little Chinese boy”, and the tale was set in China, centred around a lazy little boy who lived at home with his mother.

The original tales do feature many Middle Eastern elements, and Disney’s 1992 animated film drew inspiration from the city of Baghdad to create the magical metropolis of Agrabah.

3. Professor Digory Kirke in ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ is based on JRR Tolkien

The Chronicles of Narnia author, CS Lewis based the Pegasus-riding professor who appears in four of the Narnia books on Lord of the Rings writer, JRR Tolkien.

The pair became close friends after meeting at Oxford University in the 1920s, where they were both members of the English faculty.

They bonded over their experiences in the First World War, and joined the celebrated Oxford literary group The Inklings.

4. The monster is not called Frankenstein

A big faux pas in literature is referring to the monster as Frankenstein, when in fact Victor Frankenstein was the creator of the cobbled together "wretch".

In Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel, also known as The Modern Prometheus, the monster created in Frankenstein’s lab is never given a name.

However, when speaking to his creator, he refers to himself as the “Adam of your labours", a reference to Adam in the story of the Garden of Eden.

5. ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ turned author JD Salinger into a recluse

JD Salinger's debut novel about schoolboy Holden Caulfield caused controversy when it was published, and was banned in a number of countries. Photo: Penguin Random House; Getty Images

Creating the ultimate literary symbol for disenchanted youth in Holden Caulfield took its toll on New York-born writer JD Salinger, who became a recluse soon after its 1951 release.

The novel, which follows 16-year-old Caulfield’s experiences in New York City after he is expelled from school, was banned in several countries and achieved notoriety when it was revealed John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman called the book his “statement” before murdering the Beatle.

Salinger retreated to seclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire, never allowing the book to be turned into a film.

6. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was originally called ‘First Impressions’

One of history's most beloved books underwent significant rewrites and a title change to become Austen’s masterpiece.

The English novelist wrote the first draft of First Impressions between October 1796 and August 1797, but it was rejected by the London publisher.

Austen went back to the drawing board, changing the book from a series of letters into a third-person novel called Pride and Prejudice, and the rest is history.

7. ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’ was banned in China

Lewis Carroll's children's classic 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' was banned in China because it featured talking animals. Photo: Penguin UK

While many books over the years have been banned in many different countries, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, wasn’t blocked because of political or religious beliefs.

Rather the book, which follows a young girl called Alice down a rabbit hole into a fantasy land, was deemed offensive in China due to the animals being able to talk and behave like humans. The Governor of the Hunan province dubbed the behaviour an “insult” to people.

8. ‘Don Quixote’ is the bestselling novel of all time

While works such as The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter have sold in their millions, the bestselling novel in history is widely believed to be Don Quixote, the Spanish epic by Miguel de Cervantes, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

Thought to have sold more than 500 million copies, it is one of the most-translated books, following the adventures of erstwhile chivalric knight Don Quixote and his droll sidekick Sancho Panza.

9. The Things in ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ were originally horses

Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak's book 'Where the Wild Things Are' was first called 'Where the Wild Horses Are' before he admitted he couldn't draw horses. Photo HarperCollins; Getty Images

Having long cemented its status as one of the most popular and beloved children’s books, Where the Wild Things Are has sold millions worldwide.

Created by US author and illustrator Maurice Sendak and published in 1963, the titular “Things” started out life as horses, when Sendak pitched a book called Where the Wild Horses Are.

Later admitting to his publisher that he couldn’t draw horses, when asked what he could sketch he replied “Things”. The “Things” were based on Sendak's relatives.

10. Ghosts appear in only four Shakespeare plays

The Bard’s plays have a reputation for being filled with the supernatural. And, while fairies abound in the likes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, only four of William Shakespeare’s plays feature ghosts.

In Julius Caesar Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus; in Richard III no fewer than 11 spectres turn up to haunt the king; Hamlet is terrorised by the ghost of his father; and Macbeth by Banquo.

Updated: September 12, 2022, 3:53 AM
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