Tag Archives: fiction and literature

The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“A cult radio serial by Douglas Adams (1952-2001), broadcast in 1978 and 1979. The story begins with the imminent destruction of Earth to make way for a hyperspace express route, and the escape of Earthling Arthur Dent and his exterrestrial friend Ford Prefect by hitching a ride on a Vogon spacecraft. The programme combined the comic with the surreal and introduced a host of eccentric characters. In 1981 the serial was adapted for television. The fictional book mentioned in the title gives handy tips to space travellers, and is frequently quoted; its verdict on the Earth is ‘mostly harmless.’ It transpires that the Earth was originally constructed to solve the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, to which the answer turns out to be 42.

Adams went on to adapt and extend the idea in book form, characteristically producing a “trilogy in five parts’: A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979), The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984), and Mostly Harmless (1992).”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Ignacio Manuel Altamirano

Ignacio Manuel Altamirano: (1834-1893) Mexican novelist and poet. A full-blooded Indian, Altamirano was an adherent of Benito Juarez and fought against the French intervention in Mexico. In 1869, he founded Renacimiento, a review to encourage literary activity, almost moribund after fifteen years of turbulence. He became the mentor of the younger generation, to whom he advocated the importance of creating a literature rooted in national life. His poetry consists of a single volume of Rimas (1880), written before 1867 and notable for its description of the Mexican landscape. Altamirano’s preoccupation with purely Mexican themes and customs is also evident in the prose works for which he is best known: Clemencia (1869), a love story set against the background of the French intervention; La navidad en las montanas (1870), a novelette; and El Zarco (1901), a novel dealing with bandits in the state of Morelos.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

The Trial

The Trial (German title: Der Prozess): A posthumously published novel (1925; English translation 1937) by Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Set in a nightmarish, proto-totalitarian world, it concerns the tribulations of Josef K., who is arrested and brought before a court, but the charges against him are never stated. He is driven to find out what he is supposed to have done wrong, and to seek acquittal–which he never succeeds in doing, but is taken to the edge of the city and killed ‘like a dog.’

Orson Welles directed a haunting film version (1963). In the opera The Visitation (1966), the US composer Gunther Schuller (1925-2015) transfers Kafka’s The Trial to the Southern states of the USA and Josef K. becomes a black student called Carter Jones.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Rotten Rejections: The Chosen

“…too long, too static, too repetitious, too ponderous and a long list of other negative ‘toos’…he has no novelistic sense whatever; he just tells you every blessed thing the characters said and did and thought in the the order in which it occurred…most of the time it is solidly, monumentally boring.”

Excerpted from: Bernard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin

[Bakthin was all the rage, and his work justly influential, when I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s. When I was in the used book business, his books were scarce and therefore easily saleable. I include him here because I myself found Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics a fascinating book, but also because Bakthin was part of a circle of intellectuals in the Soviet Union that included the educational theorist Lev Vygotsky.]

Bakhtin, Mikhail Mikhailovich: (1895-1975) Russian philosopher and literary critic. In 1929, Bakhtin was sentenced to six years’ exile in Kazakhstan and subsequently sought obscurity to hide from Stalin’s purges. Bakhtin introduced the notion of novelistic discourse as distinct from poetry; he characterized it as inherently ‘dialogical’ and open-ended, with potentially parodic and surprising features. His work began to be will-received in the 1950s, and he published Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1929; 2nd ed 1963; tr 1984) and Rabelais and His World (1965; tr 1968). Bakhtin might have also been the author of the more ostensibly Marxist works of Voloshinov (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, 1929; tr 1973) and Medvedev (The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship, 1928; tr 1978). Bakhtin’s ideas about dialogue were also developed in ethical discussions of aesthetics in Art and Answerability (tr 1990). His concept of the “carnivalesque,” a disruptive and parodic genre of social behavior, is notorious.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Miguel Angel Asturias

“Miguel Angel Asturias: (1899-1974) Guatemalan novelist, short-story writer, and poet. Asturias spend much of his life in exile because of his public opposition to dictatorial rule. When he was sympathetic to his country’s leadership, he served as ambassador to El Salvador and later to France. He took a law degree in 1923 and then went to London to study economics and Paris to study anthropology, where he encountered French translations of Mayan writings. He proceeded to translate the Mayan text Popol Vuh into Spanish in 1925, developing a deep concern for the Mayan culture that was to weave its myth and history into everything he wrote, though never to the exclusion of this social and political statements. His greatest novel is El senor president (1946; tr El Senor Presidente, 1964), a phantasmagoric satire on Latin American military dictators, based largely on the regime of Manuel Estrada Cabrera, president of Guatemala from 1898 to 1920. Viento Fuerte (1950; tr Strong Wind, 1968), El papa verde (1954; tr The Green Pope, 1971), and Los ojos de los enterrados (1960; tr The Eyes of the Interred, 1973) comprise a trilogy attacking the exploitation by U.S.-owned fruit companies of the Guatemalan banana plantations. Week-end en Guatemala (1956) is a collection of stories about the C.I.A.-directed overthrow of the government of Jacobo Arbenz, whom Asturias had supported. After Arbenz’s ouster, Asturias went into exile, returning to Guatemala in 1966. In 1967 he was appointed ambassador to France, the same year in which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.


“Allegory (noun) The use of metaphoric, often schematic storytelling and characters for two levels of meaning, with that beneath the surface narrative expressing deeper human truths, whether with a spiritual or moral message or as a form of satire; a literary work whose characters, settings, and incidents have their own verisimilitude but also mask hidden, parallel significations; symbolic narrative. Adj. allegorical; adv, allegorically; n. allegorization, allegorist; v. allegorize.

‘Tolstoy describes her as a creature so sensitive that we wonder she can’t speak. Now we see her lying at his feet, she bends her head back and gazes at him with her speaking eyes. The very suspicion of allegory destroys the validity of the scene.’ Joyce Cary, Art and Reality”

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.