15 Memorable Alien Races in Science Fiction

Let it be said from the start that this list is neither comprehensive nor an attempt to rank the “greatest” aliens. I truly feel the odds are highly in favor of there being more alien races in the universe than science fiction could possibly imagine (and we haven’t met a single one of them yet). But the field has certainly given it the old college try in imagining what they might be like. As such, this list is nothing more or less than some of the aliens I have enjoyed getting to know in the pages of books. Some are foes, some are friends, some are neither or misunderstood decent-folk. In an effort to limit the possibilities at least somewhat, the following criteria apply: Only races found in “books” are included (no short stories or visual media). The book must be good enough to read regardless of how cool the aliens are. The aliens must be fleshed out to where you would know what to expect if suddenly meeting them. They must be unique and memorable. Here then, are a few I think I “know” that are in no particular order.

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Hard for humans to pronounce, with a deep glottal stop after the first “A”, the Aalaag conquered Earth easily to set the stage for Gordon R. Dickson’s 1987 novel, Way of the Pilgrim. Considered within their own ethos, the Aalaag are extremely just masters — mistreatment of their human “cattle” by one of their kind is a serious offense. But they demand obedience and a rigid code of conduct that rankles the human spirit. Actually, the Aalaag are a conquered race themselves, fleeing from some unnamed but awesomely powerful enemy that took their home worlds. They are in essence warriors, tall and proud, each with a collection of personal arms and possessing a Spartan outlook on their condition. Every single Aalaag views duty as the highest virtue, and all duty is directed towards one day regaining their lost worlds. The races they themselves conquer are used to exploit resources in support of this ultimate goal. Our hero is Shane Evert, a gifted linguist who leads a translator-courier corp in the service of the alien leader, First Captain Lyt Ahn. The book title refers to the use of a Pilgrim as a universal motif of the human condition, which becomes a symbol for the nascent resistance movement. Absorbing, warmly human — at times captivating — the novel is Dickson at his finest, and that is a high level of writing indeed.

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Forget about the absolutely wretched John Travolta movie. Forget about whatever you think of L. Ron Hubbard as the founder of Scientology. Just read his mammoth (1,066 paperback pages) 1982 novel Battlefield Earth. It is rollicking space opera the way space opera is supposed to be. The Psychlos don’t just conquer planets. They don’t just conquer galaxies. They conquer universes. Only they have the secret to instantaneous teleportation. And one of their biggest operations is the Intergalactic Mining Company, which knocks natives back to the Stone Age and then systematically strips their planet of all available ore, almost down to the very core. Oh, and the Psychlos find cruelty to be “delicious.” The crooked — even by their standards — Security Head of Earth is named Terl and he is scheming to get rich by “training” native humans to do some illegal mining for him. Superb characterization of both aliens and humans in a story that moves so briskly, you’ll forget you are reading. A tip of the hat must be made to the Selachees, another alien race in the book that is unique and crucial to the outcome.

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Alan Dean Foster has penned a number of works set in the Human-Thranx (Humanx) Commonwealth, but most deal with well-known characters such as Flinx and Pip, with the Thranx being in the background if appearing at all. One novel, however, thoroughly explored the culture of the Thranx while detailing how humans came to partner with them. That would be 1982′s Nor Crystal Tears, which in large part is written from the Thranx viewpoint. Everything just seems to fit in this novel — by the end of it, you are so much pulling for the insectoid Thranx to form an alliance with humans that you would immediately recognize any instance of Foster not treating a Thranx as a Thranx (even though there is plenty of room for individualism within the species). But he handles the race perfectly. And I happen to really like praying mantises.

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Specifically, the Martians in Fredric Brown’s 1955 novel Martians, Go Home. They literally are little green men, but what they truly are — first, foremost, and always — are assholes. Being an asshole seems to be their major occupation. They invade Earth by the millions literally overnight, speaking English with something like a Brooklyn accent, and proceed to make utter nuisances of themselves. With disastrous, even fatal, results. They can teleport anywhere, and although they can’t be touched, they are substantial enough to where you can’t see through them — auto and plane crashes by the thousands. They like nothing better than to tell you who your wife is sleeping with, give national defense secrets to other countries, comment of human shortcomings — anything to be as big a pain in the ass as possible. This book is almost universally considered a classic of the genre, and I haven’t met anyone who read it and didn’t like it.

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Speaker for the Dead is Orson Scott Card’s 1986 sequel to his justifiably world-famous novel Ender’s Game (a deserved entry on JFrater’s list of science fiction for people who don’t read science fiction). Both novels won both the Hugo and Nebula awards — the first time anyone has accomplished such a back-to-back feat. Speaker is much different in tone, backdrop and subject material, even though Ender is still the major character. Almost certainly many people will disagree with listing pequinos as a classic alien race — arguing instead for the Buggers or even Jane — but it is the rich depiction of the “piggy” society that gets the nod here. Especially because, much to Ender’s chagrin, once again the difficulties of interspecies communication are at the forefront as humans attempt (in vain) to understand the pequinos without disrupting their natural development. Very touching in places, and a must for any sci-fi reader interested in comparative religion. Before that scares you off, I am most decidedly NOT interested in such, but loved the book anyway. If nothing else, the concepts of framling (humans from other planets), ramen (non-humans whom we communicate with as though they were human), and varelse (non-humans with whom no communication is possible, such as intelligent viruses) should be remembered at the inevitable time when we come into contact with interstellar beings.

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Widely included in university science fiction courses everywhere, Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 classic Childhood’s End depicts yet another conqueror of Earth — but a benign one, in many ways. The Overlords make life better for everyone and end many of our persistent woes, all while sitting aloof in their gigantic starships positioned over major cities. Mankind adapts, as is his nature. But the Overlords will not reveal themselves for fifty years and the reason why incorporates the Jungian concept of racial memory. No spoiler coming, but this inclusion is probably why so many professors love to teach the novel. Anyway, of course there is a secret to why the Overlords are doing what they do. What happens when that is revealed might best be described as “poignant.”

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Larry Niven didn’t need the money but Jerry Pournelle did. Doesn’t really matter, because both guys are science fiction authors whether they’re eating Hamburger Helper or fillet mignon. Together they are one of the most successful collaborations the field has ever seen. 1985′s Footfall is an excellent example. People who don’t read science fiction were reading Niven/Pournelle novels in college during the 80′s while waiting for the next Heinlein to come out. Anyway, anyone who has read the book has to think of the Fithp as elephants. As humans are a culture of individuals, as ants are a colony culture, the Fithp are a herd culture. Excellent treatment of that basic premise — and being herd creatures, they do not understand the concept of diplomatic compromise… you either dominate or you submit. In particular, the internal politics of an intelligent herd engaged in difficult conquest are handled with admirable skill.

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Ok. So a guy publishes a novelette and it wins the Nebula — mere months after the guy publically denounces the awards themselves! Then it wins the Hugo. Along with the John W. Campbell award because, after all, the guy is new. So he’s the first person ever to win all three of those awards in one year. Big deal? Sort of. Along came Hollywood and a somewhat underrated film starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr. (Gossett got a Best Actor nomination, even though the film wasn’t really a hit.) Suddenly, Barry B. Longyear is a major player in science fiction as a result of 1979′s Enemy Mine. Drac and humans are at war. One human fighter pilot and one alien fighter pilot are marooned on a world where existence is difficult to say the least. They are forced to pool resources just to stay alive. Problem is, the Dracs are hermaphrodites and Jeriba doesn’t need a partner to reproduce. Spoiler alert next sentence: An untimely death and our human is forced to raise the alien progeny as his own. Both the book and the movie are essentially the story of one human and one alien interacting, with a beginning and an ending tacked onto either end. If you’re in the right frame of mind, you’ll cry. You will absolutely know the Drac, especially if you have both seen the movie and read the book. The Drac are included here because they fit the criteria; I own many Longyear books mainly as a result of the sheer pathos in Enemy Mine, but find the majority of his stuff barely readable.

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H. Beam Piper solidified his place in science fiction history with the publication of 1962′s Little Fuzzy. The adjectives most used in reviews of this book might well be “delightful” and “charming” and one can’t blame the reviewers for that. Cute and cuddly, the Fuzzies are. But the novel explores a rather important theme: how do we define sapience? Is this lifeform just a critter, over which we can claim dominion, or a thinking creature in its own right, in which case exploitation — and even murder — rears its ugly head? Sequels followed, not always written by the originator — none are as enjoyable as the original.

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It’s problematical whether Keith Laumer is best known for his Bolo series of works or what he has done with his James Bond-ish assistant diplomat character Jame Retief. Probably the latter. Lots of stories and novels over several decades. Regardless, these tongue-in-cheek tales of derring-do and human ingenuity in the face of human diplomatic incompetence have sold quite well for many years. In most of them, there is an insidious plot behind whatever the current weird aliens are doing that is being masterminded by the Groaci. No slouches at the diplomatic bargaining table, the Groaci are nonetheless almost incapable of dealing squarely. The books are pun-filled and light-hearted, but the Groaci are badass unless put on a leash. Almost not included on the list, as they are rather a two-dimensional race. Fun, nonetheless.

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Poul Anderson is undoubtedly one of the deans of American science fiction — his word count alone contains way too many commas. Many of those words were as a result of cranking out short story after short story for the magazines back in the day. He had sort of a “Future History” — a term associated with Robert A. Heinlein which see, — but Anderson’s future history was rather a disjointed one. Many of his stories were set in the backdrop of the so-called “Polesotechic League” which spanned 4,000 years of human interstellar exploration. The League is a thinly-veiled (if veiled at all) allegory of 19th-century robber-baron capitalism. So what about the Ythri? 1978′s The Earth Book Of Stormgate violates a criterion: it’s a story collection, not a novel. But Hloch of the Stormgate Choth introduces each story as a scholar/historian. And the interwoven stories themselves, combined with Hloch’s notes, definitely give the reader a sense of Ythrian culture. The best way to include that race in this list — and they are worthy of inclusion — is via the Earth Book (although Ythrians also appear in other works by Anderson).

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Hard to explain these guys without spoiling everything, but I’ll try. Well over half of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1954 “juvenile” SF novel The Star Beast has played out before the word Hroshii ever appears. But, they’re plenty powerful — and disinclined to negotiate. They’re looking for someone, and they simply will not take no for an answer. The someone they are looking for has a little trouble taking no for an answer, as well. Not truly disobedient, and with no desire to cause harm, just kind of literal-minded in following instructions and always a little hungry. “Lummox” is so a person and more than that, s/he’s a friend!

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Pretty danged human for being essentially giant spiders. Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer, who is probably today’s foremost purveyor of “hard” science fiction, introduced us to this race in 2000′s Calculating God. Even though the events in the novel deal with the Forhilnors coming to Earth and interacting with a human paleontologist, it could be said that the aliens are simply bystanders… Sawyer uses that encounter to tackle really mind-blowing concepts of creation, cosmology, and why life exists at all. Nevertheless, the reader would love to have Hollus as a dinner guest and would be proud to have that [person] as a friend. Satisfies the criterion of knowing what those folks are really like. But as a digression: Take three good friends. One is a fundamentalist assured of his salvation. The second is an agnostic who feels he believes in God but doesn’t quite know what that means. The third is an atheist who looks strictly to chemical processes. Remember, they are all good friends. Calculating God is the book they should discuss around a campfire.

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If you don’t know David Gerrold, you nonetheless probably know one thing he did — he wrote the Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” His output includes a number of short stories and novels of varying quality. But in 1983 he published A Matter For Men, volume one in what became known as “The War Against The Chtorr.” Although the “worms” are the most visible face of the Chtorr, what we have here is nothing less than the attempt of an entire biosphere to conquer Earth. Several books resulted, and happily some of the latter ones are just as good as the first. They really have to be read in order, though, as the Chtorran infestation multiplies and human reaction changes accordingly. This comes close to violating a criterion — it would be stretching it to call a Chtorran worm a “person”… even with absolutely zero speciesism. A God maybe, but not a person.

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Another rather well-known race, and here’s hoping someone with a real budget will get around to making a movie of Harry Harrison’s 1984 masterpiece West of Eden. It spawned a few sequels (with the usual slight lowering of quality) and is a stunning example of meticulous alien-creation. Although, the Yilane aren’t truly aliens in one sense of the word… this is an alternate evolution of Earth story. Humans are at the hunter-gatherer stage. The Yilane are 4-foot tall, erect intelligent reptiles descended from dinosaurs. Theirs is a matriarchal society whose technology is based almost exclusively on the manipulation of the biological sciences. They literally grow plants and animals that are modified to perform such diverse functions as microscopes, boats, and living blankets. The Yilane are tropical whereas the humans are temperate. But impending climate changes push the two societies towards one another and conflict erupts. Kerrick, the human protagonist, is uniquely situated — he was captured by the Yilane at an early age and raised among them. This upbringing is the true beauty of the book: it allows the author to show the reader the awesomely rich Yilane culture without having to rely heavily on exposition. As Kerrick learns, so do we. And quite an education it happens to be, as readers end up truly knowing a completely alien culture — without any sacrifice in good storytelling whatsoever. Harrison is rather erratic in the quality of his various works — some are horrible, many are craftsman-like, a handful are quite good — but he undoubtedly triumphed with this one.

Contributor: Grubthrower

Read more: http://listverse.com/2008/08/13/15-memorable-alien-races-in-science-fiction/

Top 10 Works of Postmodern Literature

Postmodernism has become widely recognized as a movement consisting of an epic scope, innovative techniques and wide ranges of psychological and intellectual impact. The beginning of postmodernism is uncertain, but for the sake of continuity, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake has been chosen as the chronological starting point for this list. Books have been decided upon by overall excellence rather than impact.

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A triple-whammy from the master abstract minimalist, whose technique of viewing objectively the subjective world was taken to its zenith in this trilogy of meta-fictional neurosis, in which characters lives and situations seem to splice together until it becomes apparent they were the fictions of one person all along. A formidable work of Joycean density.

Todd House Of Leaves

A labyrinth of ergodic structure, Danielewski’s novel has become a recent cult classic and by simply opening its pages its conspicuous that there’s no other book like it: encoded typography, color-word associations and the meticulous inclusion of mythological and metaphysical references turn this roaring institution of a novel into a rorschach test on a Minsa scale.

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Though Slaughterhouse Five may be his best-known work, this is the one that should be included in the pantheon of solipsistic narration. Often overlooked as self-indulgent and uneven, Breakfast is a personalized account of the phrase “perfect paranoia is perfect awareness.” Pontiac salesman Dwayne Hoover becomes obsessed with the work of sci-fi writer Kilgore Trout, eventually spiraling into acute eruptions of anxiety when he believes that he is the sole human combating a world of reificated humanoids. Black satire at the peak of its powers.

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The works of Borges are impossible to describe without a depth of analysis, since he has the power to include in five pages a universe of infinite captivation. Even today, many of the short stories in this collection are open to interpretation.

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

The Gonzo journalist epic is included here for its superior attempts to splice fact and fiction through surrealist imagery to construct the greatest drug and political satire of its epoch.

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No other book of its kind is as gruesome, funny, polemical or disturbing as the story of Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman as he calmly iterates the details of his homicidal life, all in an apathetic tone that combines magical realism with minimalism in a way no other book can. Its swift change from comedy to horror happens in such breakneck speed that its stream of consciousness takes on a new level of apprehension.

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The most paradoxic war novel ever written, Heller’s novel is widely recognized as one of the greatest novels ever written, its structure centering on irony and repetition that would grow irritating in lesser hands. Cemented Heller’s mastery in the literary world.

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To faithfully describe this novel is to end in failure: a pastiche of paranoia, pop culture, sex and politics that turns narration on its head with subtle metaphorical discipline, as the lives of several people center around the parabolic venture of the rocket “0000.” Comparisons of the novel and its symbols to Ulysses and Moby-Dick do not do justice to its singularity.

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So much has already been written about this book’s impact that to go further would seem superfluous. Arguably the novel that put postmodernism on its contemporary path, filtering paranoia, drugs and influences from erotica to detective fiction to science fiction comprises one of the most influential and unforgettable works in modern literature. [JFrater: This is one of my all-time favorite books – if you haven’t read it – do it!]

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The recently-departed Wallace left behind the most intriguing, in-depth, comedic, sorrowful, apprehensive and overall sagaciously maximalistic read in the postmodern canon. The parallelism between the Enfield Tennis Academy and the Ennet Drug and Alcohol Recovery House using alternating esoteric and colloquial words (and his trademark endnotes) creates the most epic and exhausting novel of modern times.

Honorary Mentions: Finnegans Wake, Fight Club, The Unfortunates, A Clockwork Orange, Lolita, Godel Escher Bach

Contributor: F. McClure

Read more: http://listverse.com/2009/02/13/top-10-works-of-postmodern-literature/

10 Sayings and their Strange Origins

This is a list of phrases we are all familiar with and most likely use from time to time. The origins of these phrases are often unexpected and strange. As you will see on this list, some of them originate in places you simply wouldn’t believe. If you know of any others be sure to share them in the comments. The source for this list was The Book of Beginnings (out of print).

Listerine

This phrase, surprisingly, was used to sell Listerine mouthwash! To promote their product, the manufacturers of Listerine employed the personal experience of girls at the time, who desperately wanted to settle down but seemed always to be left on the shelf. First used in the 1920’s, it portrays a situation and a possible explanation for the lack of success these girls had. Here is the transcript of the ad:

Poor Edna was getting on for thirty and most of her girlfriends were either already married, or about to tie the knot. How she wished that, instead of being their bridesmaid, she could be the bride! However, any romance of hers invariably ended quickly. There was a reason. Unbeknownst to her, she suffered from bad breath and no one would tell her, not ever her closest friends. The advertisement sold millions of bottles of mouthwash and also gave the English language a new saying!

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Originating back when hunting was still a major sport, this phrase came from when animals were used to track, catch or retrieve prey. This applies, not least, to dogs. Dogs were used in the chasing of raccoons, which was chiefly undertaken at night and were trained to indicate the tree in which the animal had taken refuge by barking at it. Of course, even dogs can err and, at times, barked up the wrong tree.

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A pleasant relationship with other people, not least those in a superior position, is portrayed as being ‘on a good footing’ with them. There are two thoughts as to where this saying came from. Some say the phrase goes back to a practice of early apprenticeships. It was the custom, on the first day at work, for apprentices to invite all their workmates for drinks. The new apprentice ‘footed the bill’. If proved a generous host, he made friends for keeps. The hospitality would never be forgotten. Recalling how much it had cost, it was said the novice gained ‘a good footing’. A second derivation links the phrase with an early and bizarre interpretation of human anatomy, the importance given to the length of one of a person’s digits. At one time, the dimension of the middle toes determined a person’s ‘standing’ in the community. Thus, the measurement of their foot decided their status in the eyes of others. Those whom nature and genes had endowed with large feet were lucky to be ‘on a good footing’. Draw your own conclusions on this one!

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Someone who doesn’t get to the point is said to ‘beat around the bush’. The origin of this phrase is, undoubtedly, from hunting, and more specifically from the hunting of boars. A ferocious animal, it often hid in the undergrowth and beaters were employed and ordered to go straight in to chase it out. But very much aware, and afraid, of the animals’ sharp tusks, they much preferred to merely ‘beat around the bush’ a practice strongly disapproved of by their masters.

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When you are trying to make a good impression it is said that you should put your ‘best foot forward’. There are many options as to where this phrase came from, one being that it was believed that ‘the left’ was the realm of the devil, of evil and misfortune. After all the Latin word sinister means left, and in English sinister has kept its ominous meaning. Hence, it was advisable to keep the left foot behind and step forward with the best, the right, foot first.

But this phrase seems to have come from the fashion world, rather than the occult. The saying can be traced to male vanity, particularly apparent in the late eighteenth century, the period of the dandy. His desire to attract people’s attention and admiration took strange and elaborate forms. At the time, people imagined that their two legs differed in shape and that ‘normally’ one was more becoming than the other. To draw attention to it they kept the worse one in the background, literally putting ‘their best foot forward’, and with it, of course, their leg.

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A person who ‘bites the bullet’, without any sign of fear, acts with great courage in the face of adversity. The phrase recollects a dangerous army practice in the 1850s. Soldiers were then equipped with the British Enfield rifle. Prior to using it, they had to bite off the head of the cartridge to expose the explosive to the spark which would ignite it. The procedure was fraught with danger, particularly so in the heat of battle. It needed firmness and courage, as even the slightest deviation or hesitation would endanger the soldier.

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People who waver in their opinions and quickly change from being enthusiastic to showing disinterest are said to ‘blow hot and cold’. The saying can be traced to one of Aesop’s Fables. It was a cold winter’s day, and the freezing traveler was blowing on his stiff fingers. Mystified, a satyr wanted to know what he was doing. The man explained to him that, with his breath, he was warming his chilled fingers. Taking pity on him, the satyr invited the man to his home for a hot meal. This time, he watched him blowing on the food, which intrigued him all the more. Inquiring why he did so, his guest explained that he was blowing on the stew to cool it down. There and then the satyr told the traveler to leave at once. He was not prepared to entertain, or even mix with, someone who could ‘blow hot and cold from the same mouth’.

Break-A-Leg

To wish an actor prior to his going on stage to ‘break a leg’ is a well-known practice. A pretty strange wish, actually it is meant magically to bring him luck and make sure that his performance will be a success. From the superstitious age it was thought that jealous forces, always present, are only too anxious to spoil any venture. A good luck wish would alert and provoke them to do their evil work, whilst a curse will make them turn their attention elsewhere. The underlying principle is the belief that if you wish evil, then good will come. I’m sure it’s called reverse psychology these days.

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To bury the hatchet means to create peace. With hostilities at an end, the hatchet was no longer needed, and therefore could be disposed of. Now a merely figurative expression, the phrase is based on an actual practice of North American Indians. When negotiating peace, they buried all their weapons; their tomahawks, scalping knives and clubs. Apart from showing their good faith, simultaneously it made it impossible for them to go on fighting.

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The achievement of a goal with determination, by fair means or foul, is described as getting things done ‘by hook or by crook’. The origin of this phrase is linked with an early British practice, at a time when forests were still the exclusive property of royalty. For any unauthorized commoner, then, to gather firewood in them was a crime, poor people being the only exception. Though they were not permitted to cut or saw off branches, they were free to remove withered timber from the ground or even a tree, doing so by means of either a hook or a crook.

Read more: http://listverse.com/2010/08/15/10-sayings-and-their-strange-origins/

Top 10 Bathroom Reads

It is during the process of excretion that a book seems most useful for some people. Somehow, many in our modern culture have embraced the idea of reading while using the toilet. We take a look at some books which are tailor made for that purpose. The subjects range from the seemingly trivial to the a philosophically astute, but always with the characteristic of adaptability to the commode…

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Buy it: Buy the Kamasutra at Amazon

Vatsayana may never have imagined his treatise on the art of lovemaking to make this list, but that’s what you get when a book written in the sixth century continues to hold the public imagination. All of the positions, all of the erogenous zones and all of the techniques are explained in so complete a manner that you might spend a lifetime practicing the art. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a book only about sexual intercourse – Vatsayana’s aim is to set kama (enjoyment of the senses) in the context of a complete Hindu life.

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Buy it: Buy 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die at Amazon

Because you won’t read them all, but you will have some idea of what that cute girl who studies linguistics is talking about. A compilation from Herodotus to Halldor Laxness and everyone in between, the book is the combination of recommendations of over one hundred literary critics. The pathway to faking great knowledge? You bet.

 

Poopculture

Buy it: Buy Poop Culture: How America is Shaped by its Grossest National Product at Amazon

A scholarly investigation into toilet culture, this book is informative, to say the least. The author, Dave Praeger, has delved deep into the depths of this source of national embarrassment and shame to produce an all encompassing study which dares to be funny. And through it all you will witness the history of poop and the various factors which have led to it being such a subject of shame. One thing is for certain, you’ll never look at poop the same way again.

Art-Of-War

Buy it: Buy The Art of War at Amazon

Wisdom for the battlefield is what Sun Tzu intended his short book to be about, but today the ideas are applied to business, management and beyond. Its application to almost every enterprise is one of the hallmarks of this examination of human behavior, making it a must-have of any bathroom shelf. Lucid and short but with layers of penetrating thought and discerning ideas, it’s an excellent book to reread every once in a while.

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Buy it: Buy Grossman’s Cyclopedia: The Concise Guide To Wines, Beers, And Spirits at Amazon

Have you ever wondered how to say ‘Cheers’ in Gaelic or Korean? Did you know why experts always recommend drinking Single Malt Whiskey pure, or with a tiny bit of water, at room temperature? You will find all the answers in this book. You may also encounter Ouzo, Palinka (a Hungarian brandy) and Dongdongju (a Korean liquor) on the way. Need I say more?

Rough Guide - Make The Most

Buy it: Buy Make the Most of Your Time on Earth at Amazon

Over one thousand experiences, from spotting lemurs in Madagascar to the camel fair in Pushkar, this book caters to the Phileas Fogg-type characters – those seeking great adventure. You’ll be thrilled, exhilarated and titillated as the authors take you on a journey of those spots in the world where you wish you’d rather be. And what’s more – you can do it from the comfort of your own home.

P How Soccer Explains The World

Buy it: Buy How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization at Amazon

Whether you call it Soccer or Football, play it in the favelas of Rio or at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the beautiful game has influenced millions – and not always for the better as the author of this book, Franklin Foer, claims in his exploration of world geopolitics through the sport. His conclusions may sometimes seem overreaching, but when the regulating body, FIFA, can boast of more members than the United Nations, the arguments seem plausible. Especially in a bathroom.

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Buy it: Buy 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die at Amazon

‘Time is the lens through which dreams are captured’ , said Francis Ford Coppola, and what better way to spend time than to rummage through some of the best that moviedom has to offer. You’ll be introduced to Satyajit Ray and Francois Truffaut, reacquainted with Bogart and Bacall and taken on a joy ride with Charlie Chaplin. For romantics there is always Cary Grant’s charisma and Rudolph Valentino’s nonchalant sensuality.

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Buy it: Buy Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at Amazon

Robert Pirsig’s magnum opus, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was called by the Times Literary Supplement ‘profoundly important, disturbing, deeply moving, full of insights, a wonderful book.’ No wonder then that it was rejected 121 times by publishers before it was eventually published. Perhaps you will need several sessions in the bathroom to get through the whole book, but his discussions stir something in every soul. And along the ride he gives you pearls such as ‘the only Zen you find at the tops of mountains is the zen you bring up there.’ Of course, the same can be said about the bathroom.

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Buy it: Buy What’s Your Poo Telling You? at Amazon

‘Know thyself’ said Cereventes, ‘for that is the hardest thing to do’. No philosophical dilemmas here, though. Only Anish Seth and Josh Richman dissecting your poo. Anish is a trained gastroenterologist so take him seriously – if you can that is. Hysterically funny at times, but always educational, the authors have managed to weave a comic masterpiece around a subject which has been relegated to the point of scorn. Tailor made for the bathroom.

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Buy it: Buy The Ultimate Book of Top Ten Lists at Amazon

This is a bonus because it is not only good for a bathroom reader – but for any time and place. The Ultimate Book of Top 10 Lists combines all of the best lists from Listverse, and presents them in a very easy to read format. In addition to enjoying many of our lists at times when the computer is not available, every entry in the book has been professionally edited and checked. This is the perfect gift for the person who has everything – and Christmas is just around the door!

Read more: http://listverse.com/2009/12/02/top-10-bathroom-reads/

Top 10 Metamorphoses in Literature

Folklore is littered with humans who are transformed into animals, trees or objects (willingly or otherwise). Being transformed into ‘the other’ has been taken up in modern literature to allow for exploration of complex issues of identity. It has also been used to amusing ends. Here are ten of the most memorable human transformation in literature.

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Lewis Carroll’s Alice books are amongst the most famous children’s books in the world. The story follows a young girl called Alice as she experiences the absurd, and often anarchic, world of Wonderland. Her learning to cope with the changing world is a clear metaphor for growing up. But the book also features a literal ‘growing up.’ When Alice first follows the White Rabbit into Wonderland she finds herself trapped in a hallway full of doors. All are locked but she finds a key, so small as to only fit a tiny door on the ground, and a bottle labelled ‘Drink me.’ She knows enough to check the label for the word poison before drinking the potion. She shrinks and becomes stranded on the floor, having left the key up on the table. It is now she finds a cake labelled ‘Eat me.’ This cake seems the remedy to her woes when she grows large enough to fetch the key. Unfortunately, she continues to grow and is now too large for any of the doors. Growing up can be awkward, indeed.

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The woman of the poem, Lamia, is a mysterious person who has become trapped in the body of a snake. One day, while hunting for a Nymph he is romantically pursuing, the god Hermes happens on Lamia. In return for revealing the location of the nymph, Lamia begs to be made human again. Returned to her gorgeous human body, Lamia weds her beloved. Unfortunately, a wise man at the feast reveals Lamia’s true nature, and she is returned to the form of a serpent before dying. Her husband dies of his grief. All in all there have been better weddings. The poet does not reveal much about the characters in the poem, and the meaning of their actions is left for the reader to decide, but there are clear Christian resonances of a man being undone by a woman and a snake.

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To quote a song; this is a “tale as old as time.” Well, not quite, but it does feature several archetypal themes. The story of a young woman who offers herself in place of her father to an inhuman beast is a familiar one, but the meaning of the story has changed over time. All versions feature a young prince transfigured into a monster, and his eventual return to humanity via the transformational power of love. In the earliest published form of the tale, the emphasis is on the need for the beast to return to his human form. Over time this message has shifted somewhat to also include the message that the heroine must learn to appreciate more than appearances. It should be noted that this trope of love equating to beauty was wittily subverted in Shrek, where true love joins both people in the ‘monstrous’ state of ogre hood.

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Transformation allows us to step outside of ourselves so we may understand others better. In the books of T.H. White’s Once and Future King we see metamorphosis included in an organized educational programme. These books deal with the early years of King Arthur, here a squire named Wart. Merlyn takes the young boy in hand to prepare him for his future role as monarch. To do this he transforms Wart into various animals. Wart becomes by turns: a merlin, an ant, an owl, a goose and a badger. Each transformation comes with an adventure and a lesson. The most spectacular transformations in the book occur during a wizard battle between Merlyn and Madam Mim, where the magicians shape shift rapidly to outwit their opponent. In a radical transformation Merlyn becomes a deadly bacterium to kill his rival.

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The Odyssey is one of the two epic poems ascribed to Homer, and tells the story of the return of the Greek soldiers who fought at Troy. Since the gods are displeased, none of the soldiers have an easy journey. Odysseus, in particular, will have to travel for ten years before allowed home to Ithaca and his wife. On the journey he meets with many strange adventures. On the island of Aeaea, Odysseus and his men meet the goddess of magic Circe. The beautiful Circe lures all the men to join her in a feast. The food is laced with her potions. After the men are sated she turns them into pigs. It is only the cleverness of Odysseus, and a warning from the god Hermes, which keeps him from falling for her porker plot. The men are restored and the journeys can continue (after a years interlude in which Odysseus beds Circe). Is this a simple fantastical tale, or is there a deeper meaning about the debasement of men who give in to baser urges? Homer was a good enough poet not to make his meaning explicit.

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The concept of good and evil as forces in opposition to one another is an ancient one. The duality of good and evil has been internalized so that our own minds have become a battleground between devils and the better angels of our nature. The transformation which forms the basis of Stevenson’s book is more subtle than some others featured here. When Dr Jekyll takes a drug to separate his darker emotions from the good to make himself flawless, he succeeds only in creating an amoral creature, Mr. Hyde. At first Jekyll revels in the feeling of freedom Hyde gives him, but soon the violent Hyde commits murder and other terrible acts. The internal struggle between our animal instincts and higher reason is physically played out as the characters alternate. The transformation is marked by Jekyll becoming hideous as Hyde, though the disgust on seeing Hyde is more sensed than written in his face.

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Transformation between sexes have a long literary tradition; in Greek legend the sightseer Tiresias was turned into a girl. The most important gender metamorphosis in all of literature is surely that of Orlando in Woolf’s story. In the book, a young boy is born during the Elizabethan period and through force of will he decides not to grow old. This conceit of will shaping reality gives Woolf the chance to examine English literature throughout history as her protagonist works on a poem over the course of centuries. The most famous event in the novel is the transformation of Orlando to Lady Orlando. The transformation occurs while Orlando sleeps and he wakes up as she. Now Woolf, one of the great feminist authors, has a chance to compare the male to the feminine as well as the idea of loves which are not bound by gender. The gender change does not upset or even greatly concern Orlando because the person inside the body is unchanged. Orlando is perhaps Woolf’s easiest work to read, but asks deep questions in an entertaining way.

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Also known as the Metamorphosis, The Golden Ass is the only complete Roman novel to come down to us. Unlike some ancient works which seem remote, this book still amuses and interests readers today. The protagonist is a drifting young man, Lucius, just out of education. Deciding to travel rather than work, he visits his old home town and meets a witch whom he secretly watches transform into an owl. Deciding he wishes to fly he sneaks a drink of her potion. Instead of feathers he grows rough fur, and large ears. Lucius has transformed into a donkey. To turn back, he is informed, he must eat a rose. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Lucius the Ass is stolen. Lucius is always on the verge of getting his rose but Apuleius never quite lets him eat it. Lucius learns the hard lot of a donkey and undergoes amusing, and risqué, adventures. In the end, Lucius is reborn in human form by the divine agency of the Goddess Isis, and dedicates his life to her service.

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Kafka is the master of using the bizarre to explore the banality of existence. The Metamorphosis famously opens with the line, “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible verminous insect.” Why Gregor has been changed is not addressed directly, and the novella deals more with how his relationships change than his new body. Gregor’s transformation does not affect his mind, and his character changes very little over the course of the story. The monstrous metamorphosis is contrasted with the other members of Gregor’s family, who transform themselves into a more capable group to deal with their shameful secret member. Gregor is killed when an apple thrown by his father gets lodged in his carapace and festers. The final metamorphosis for everyone is death.

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Ovid is the source for most of our Graeco-Roman legends concerning transformations. His encyclopedic poem, The Metamorphoses, follows a narrative thread from the creation of the Earth to the transformation of Caesar into a god. The huge breadth of the stories Ovid tells ensured the popularity of the work even when Christian authorities frowned on the pagan content. Without Ovid we would have far fewer transformations to draw on. His telling of the story of Arachne is the fullest we possess. Arachne, a young lady puffed up with pride in her spinning ability, boasts that her fabrics are better even than Athena’s. Athena forces a contest between the two, to see whose work is better. When Arachne produces a magnificent tapestry, but with images of the sexual transgressions of the gods, Athena is so exasperated that she strikes Arachne. Arachne is spared death by the goddess but is shriveled, and her slender, skillful fingers changed to legs. Arachne the spider must learn to weave something more appropriate. With fifteen books of such stories Ovid is surely the king of metamorphoses.

Notable Omission: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde; The Adventures of Pinnochio, Carlo Collodi

Read more: http://listverse.com/2011/10/09/top-10-metamorphoses-in-literature/

Top 10 Underrated Fantasy Stories After 1937

Some of you may recall that I wrote a list of a similar title regarding fantasy works before 1937. This is my follow-up. These are the stories that are never mentioned as the greats of modern fantasy, in spite of often surpassing the quality of their contemporaries. These are under appreciated, under-read or simply unknown pieces of fantasy literature. These are my top ten underrated fantasy stories (or series) published after J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. And no, before you ask, I won’t be doing a similar list for science fiction works (all ten slots would be given to ‘The Iron Dream’, by Norman Spinrad).

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A high fantasy trilogy written in the past decade seems like a nice way to start off this list. At first glance, it seems like the sort of story that falls in with the rest of the modern genre. However, if one opens the books, you will find an emotional, political fantasy in a unique, (non-Medieval) setting, with sympathetic characters and numerous twists and turns. It’s the sort of book where you glance over details, only to realize five hundred pages into the next book that those details will change the outcome of the final battle. They are a pleasant surprise for any casual reader looking for something outside the mainstream.

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L. Sprague de Camp is one of those names in speculative fiction that often falls through the cracks in a list of influential authors, in spite of his great work in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Harold Shea is one of his greatest works. It details the titular character, a psychologist, who travels between parallel worlds where the mythologies of our world are the reality. Or he tries to, anyway. He doesn’t always get where he wants, but no matter where he ends up, it is worth the journey. After de Camp stopped contributing to the series, a number of other authors and collaborators continued, and spanned into a variety of fictitious worlds (such as Oz), as well. Certainly, an interesting series to explore.

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Probably the most ‘mainstream’ entry on this list, the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik, is an alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars, following a British captain named Laurence. The main alteration to the timeline this story makes is the addition of dragons. Really, do you need to know more about the book? Napoleon with dragons. Her writing is good, her characters are engaging, the story is exciting – but it wouldn’t go anywhere without such a wonderfully entertaining premise. As an added bonus, Peter Jackson (director of Lord of the Rings) has shown interest in adapting the novels into a mini-series.

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Jeff VanderMeer is best known, in the world of fantasy and science fiction, for his excellent anthologies of obscure subgenres, ranging from pirate fantasy to steampunk. This is a collection of his own short stories, set in one of the strangest (yet most beautiful) fictional cities in fantasy, Ambergris. While China Miéville generally overshadows VanderMeer in the genre, The Ambergris Cycle solidifies his place as a great name in New Weird. An excellent read for anyone who enjoys exploring a new setting, or is simply a fan of any fantasy that feels more than a little strange.

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This is a prime example of a series that is both a classic fantasy story and a deconstruction of it at the same time. Thomas Covenant, as the title may suggest, is an ‘unbeliever’, a cynical leper who spends more of his time doubting the alternative world he is in, and the magic that surrounds him, than he does saving it. And at times, you might doubt it all, too. The story is, of course, fantastic and his writing also excels. The series consists of three ‘chronicles’, the first two are trilogies and the last is a tetralogy (the final book will be published in 2013).

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Horror fans will almost certainly recognize the name. Clive Barker is one of the greatest horror authors of the modern day, ranking alongside such names as Stephen King, and is perhaps most famous for his contribution of the “Hellraiser” series to the horror canon. The Books of Abarat is a series of young adult fantasy, surprisingly light given the author’s background, with a unique world featuring the islands of Abarat. There are twenty-five unique islands, each representing an hour in the day (as well as a twenty-fifth hour) that provide an engaging fantasy adventure sure to be loved by any fan of the genre. What makes this series so spectacular, though, is the artwork. Barker, before even starting the first book in the series, painted over 300 pieces relating to his world.

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This utopian novel is arguably not really ‘fantasy’, due to the lack of any magic or fantastic elements to speak of; indeed it even takes place on Earth. The story itself is simple, following a Harvard graduates as he learns about the culture of Islandia, a small nation on the Karain continent (near Antarctica). That’s really about it. What makes this novel stand out, however, is the nation itself. Islandia is arguably the most well constructed worlds in fiction, rivaling only Middle Earth itself. The history, the culture, the language, the maps – it is truly a magnificent achievement in an art almost exclusive to fantasy, and well worth a mention on this list.

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Perdido Street Station, The Scar and Iron Council – while only loosely connected otherwise – are three novels set in the Lovecraftian, steampunk world of Bas-Lag. His writing is sparing where others might be frivolous, while grotesquely descriptive where most would simply fade to black. His political background has a heavy influence on his stories, as well, and his stories benefit greatly from this, making them some of the most meaningful fantasy stories in the market today. Miéville is both engaging in terms of the stories he tells, while also provocative in regards to his message. While each of the stories follows a different set of characters, all three are incredible reads that are certain to exceed the expectations of the average fantasy reader.

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Guy Gavriel Kay is the modern master of fantasy. His novels take a piece of history – often one far less explored in fantasy – and makes it his own, adding to it a mastery of fantasy prose he gained while editing “The Silmarillion”, with Christopher Tolkien. Tigana, perhaps his best work, takes place in a world much like medieval Italy during a time of two tyrants. The story is one you have seen before, with rebels fighting those who run their homes, but the characters and setting are so rich and complex that it borders on literary fiction.

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This one should not be a surprise to any of you. Gormenghast, the incomplete series following the life of Titus Groan, is inarguably the greatest piece of fantasy literature in modern history, perhaps even exceeding Tolkien himself. As with a couple of examples above, this story contains no magic. The books follow the heir to the Groan throne, although the first takes place during his infancy, named Titus as he grows in the Earldom of Gormenghast, and later explores the world outside it. Some even claim the third book, Titus Alone, to be a precursor to the science fiction subgenre of steampunk. It is a book that has influenced modern fantasy nearly as much as the contemporaneous Lewis and Tolkien, yet is by far the most under appreciated.

Read more: http://listverse.com/2010/10/12/top-10-underrated-fantasy-stories-after-1937/

20 Examples of Why You Should Enjoy Poetry

Here is a sampler of various English-language poetry which, I hope, will give non-readers of poetry, in particular, the impetus to follow through and discover the joys of poetry for themselves.

The samples I have included are representative of the development of poetry over some 800 years, but without going into technical or critical detail; that is to say, I have tried to provide examples that may, notwithstanding any deeper meaning, be appreciated at face value.

Note that the list is fairly traditional, in that there are no examples of ethnic verse. This is purely for the reason that I have limited my selections to works with which I am familiar (ie. largely British and, to a lesser extent, American). It was extremely difficult restricting the list to the 20 excerpts detailed below and, whilst literary merit was my primary criteria, (arguably) my one indulgence was the William Carlos Williams poem.

If your own favourite is not here, tell us about it.

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This wonderful lyric is one of the most famous examples of Middle English (1066-1450) and, although it was traditionally sung as a “round”, is also commonly taught as an introduction to Middle English literature. It is thought to be written in the Wessex Dialect. W. de Wycombe, a late 13th century English composer and copyist has been suggested as being the author, but there is little evidence to support this. It is typically attributed as Anonymous.

Note that a round is a musical piece in which two or more voices repeatedly sing the same melody, but with each voice starting at a different time. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is an example of a round that most people will be familiar with.

Interesting fact: whilst some commentators translate verteth as “twisting” (or whatever) the word is, in fact, the earliest written example of vert, the Middle English version of fart!

And here is a very nice choral version for your listening pleasure, in counterpoint.

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Image: Shakespeare’s First Folio, 1623

Shakespeare who? A great sonnet from the nonpareil!

Interesting fact: Shakespeare ultimately had no descendents – apparently, his grandchildren all died!

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I was so tempted to quote Jonson’s famous Song : To Celia, which includes the famous line “Drink to me only with thine eyes”, but this lesser known example of his work is typical of his lyricism. It was published as one of ten linked pieces in 1623. A friend of William Shakespeare, Jonson was a complex character; he apparently liked an argument and could be arrogant, but was also noted for his sense of honour and integrity. Not quite a genius…but still one of the giants of English literature.

Interesting fact: Jonson is the only person buried standing up in Westminster Abbey (London). His grave bears the famous epitaph “O Rare Ben Johnson” – yes, the inscription erroneously includes an “h” in his name – the engraver made a mistake!

According to Westminster Abbey:

In 1849, the place was disturbed by a burial nearby and the clerk of works saw the two leg bones of Jonson fixed upright in the sand and the skull came rolling down from a position above the leg bones into the newly made grave. There was still some red hair attached to it.

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These famous words by John Donne (pronounced “Dunn”) were not originally written as a poem – the passage is taken from the 1624 Meditation 17, from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions and is prose. The final 3 lines are possibly amongst the most quoted excerpts of English verse.

Interesting fact: Donne was Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral (London)

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Born in London’s Cheapside, Herrick was the seventh child and fourth son of Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith, who committed suicide when Robert was a year old. He ultimately took religious orders, and became vicar of the parish of Dean Prior, Devon in 1629, a post that carried a term of thirty-one years. It was in the secluded country life of Devon that he wrote some of his best work.

The over-riding message of Herrick’s work is that life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it (“carpe diem”). He is also renowned for frequent references to lovemaking and the female body.

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Richard Lovelace was born a nobleman, being the firstborn son of a knight. On April 30, 1642, on behalf of Royalists in Kent, he presented to Parliament a petition asking them to restore the Anglican bishops to Parliament; as a result he was immediately imprisoned in Westminster Gatehouse where, whilst serving his time, wrote “To Althea, From Prison”, which contains – as per the excerpt given – one of the more famed lines of English verse “Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage”. Basically, Lovelace is saying that physical imprisonment/oppression cannot stifle his imagination or spirit.

Interesting fact: While in prison, Lovelace worked on a volume of poems, titled Lucasta, which was considered to be his best collection. The “Lucasta” to whom he dedicated much of his verse was Lucy Sacheverell, whom he often called Lux Casta. Unfortunately, she mistakenly believed that he died at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1646 and so married somebody else. Oops!

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Milton ! Another literary giant. Possibly ranked, in terms of sheer literary genius, second to Shakespeare. Paradise Lost is an epic, dealing with the fall and subsequent salvation of Man. So great was the contemporary acclaim for Milton’s poetic epics, that other writers began to avoid writing long poetical works…which contributed to the birth of the novel as a literary genre.

Interesting fact: Milton became blind, and most of his prodigious works were dictated to a secretary.

Also: as a student at Cambridge University, Milton was so vain about his appearance that he was nicknamed “the Lady of Christ’s College”.

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Image: Inscription on the Church at Stoke Poges refering to Gray’s Elegy

Gray’s Elegy (an elegy commemorates death) was written after the passing of one of Gray’s close friends, and is a meditation on the mortality of man. Gray was Professor of History and Modern Languages at Cambridge and, despite not being a prolific writer, was one of the most prominent poets of his day He was buried in Stoke Poges (near Windsor, England) the village whose churchyard was where he composed the Elegy.

Interesting fact: although he became a literary giant of his age, Gray only published 1,000 lines of poetry during his lifetime – this was due, largely, to his acute fear of failure.

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This is a good example of a poem having as many dimensions as you might like to afford it. On the one hand, there is no certainty as to exactly what Coleridge is talking about. However, it is also deemed by many critics to be profoundly symbolic (art v nature etc.). The poem does appear to most to have obvious sexual imagery, though Coleridge himself did not elaborate on any hidden depths or symbolic undertones. Kubla Khan was, upon its publication, widely denigrated by contemporary critics. Today, it is viewed as a work of genius.

Interesting fact: Coleridge (possessor of an egregious opium addiction) stated that he woke one morning having had a dream/vision of the entire text of Kubla Khan. The poem remained unfinished because, as he was in the midst of writing it down, he was interrupted by a knock at the door – it was a local village tradesman. After some small talk the villager departed, but Coleridge had now lost his train of thought and could not remember the rest of the poem! Bummer!

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Much of Wordsworth’s poetry was concerned with nature. He was a well-traveled individual, accompanied on his excursions by his sister, and lifelong companion, Dorothy. He was a prolific poet, and every school pupil will probably be familiar with his poem Daffodils.

Interesting fact: Wordsworth was born in a town with the improbable name of Cockermouth.

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George Gordon Byron (the 6th Lord Byron) was an egotistical and temperamental person who during his own lifetime witnessed his reputation as an individual and as a poet reach lofty heights for a time only to plummet due, in no small part, to his scandalous private life (he married a wealthy heiress who left him after a year of marriage for reasons that were greatly speculated upon but never divulged). In fact, his poetry was thereafter belittled so much he left England, never to return. His literary reputation has, of course, been more than restored since his death.

She Walks in Beauty was inspired by his being smitten at the beauty of his first-cousin, whom he met at a funeral – she being dressed in black mourning attire.

Interesting fact: Byron had a club foot, and his sensitivity to this is reflected in some of his works.

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Image: Keats’ deathmask

Having already lost both parents, Keats wrote these soulful lines upon learning that his brother was dying and that he himself was suffering from tuberculosis. He views the nightingale’s song as lasting and eternal, and as a counterpoint to his own deeply-felt mortality. Having said this, Keats could also turn his hand to some of the most beautiful lines in the English language eg. To Autumn).

Interesting fact: Keats was a doctor who was tormented by operations carried out – as was the norm in his day – without anaesthetic.

Also, it seems that our friend Lord Byron was a little jealous of Keats’ obvious poetic talents. In letters to contemporaries he described Keats’ works as “mental masturbation”, and wrote of “Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry” Charming! To be fair, he wrote generously of Shelley (well, of his personality, if not of his works).

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Wonderful words imaginatively expressing an ex-patriate’s nostalgia for his home country

Interesting fact: Stephen King’s Dark Tower series was inspired by Browning’s famous work “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”.

Also… Browning was the first person ever whose voice was able to be heard after his death ! He attended a dinner party in 1889 (the year he died) and was persuaded to talk into a phonogram (a wax-cylinder recording device). He (somewhat falteringly) read his famous work How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, which you can listen to here .

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the wife of the poet Robert Browning and, though the theme of her works was often social injustice, she shows in these well-known lines that she could turn her hand to romantic poetry – a fact well understood by her husband, who had to insist that she publish them. I think the words speak for themselves, and that it is fairly pointless to try and attribute any profound meaning to them.

Interesting fact: Barrett-Browning, having never been unwell, was prescribed opium at age 15 and suffered from unknown illnesses (so called “nervous disorders”) for the rest of her life.

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Image: Fitzgerald’s grave.

Fitzgerald’s Rubáiyát is a (loose) translation of the work of 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam. It’s not a particularly consistent translation, but was a staple text for English students for many years (not so much today). It has been pointed out that the “thou” to which Fitzgerald refers in the second line of the famous tract, above, refers to a male (given that there does not appear to be any reference to women in this work).

Interesting fact: Fitzgerald was a vegetarian who, erm, apparently hated vegetables. He mostly lived off of bread and butter and fruit.

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Another who is commonly held to merit the title “genius.” This poem is reflecting, in a remarkably nonchalant manner, upon death. This particular poem has been described as “flawless to the last detail” by at least one eminent critic.

Interesting fact: reclusive in nature, only 2 of Dickinson’s 1,000+ poems were published during her lifetime – and these 2 without her permission!

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from The Road Not Taken (1916)

Just a few lines from two of Robert Frost’s more famous works. Frost remains one of America’s pre-eminent poets, and there is often a genial simplicity in his words that continues to make his poetry accessible. Although a common theme in Frost is individuality or independence, I cannot help but think that he doesn’t follow through enough.

Listen to Frost read The Road Not Taken.

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I’m not sure what is so compelling about this; maybe it is the simplicity of a writer who liked to create imagery about everyday people in their everyday lives. Whatever the case…I do know that most people, after a few readings, come to also love this short poem without really knowing why.

Interesting fact: Williams was a doctor.

Listen to him read one of his other works (Elise)

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Dylan Thomas, one of the 20th century’s more influential poets, wrote this to commemorate the death of his father. The poem (which in its entirety has 19 lines) has only 2 rhymes throughout.

Interesting facts: it is widely held that Robert Zimmerman adopted the name Bob Dylan as a homage to Dylan Thomas, who was somewhat of a Bohemian cult figure in the USA.

Widely believed to be an alcoholic (a rumor that Thomas himself “promoted”), there is much evidence to suggest that this was not the case (including the state of his autopsied liver).

Listen to Dylan Thomas, himself, reading the above poem.

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Who said modern poetry is dead! Undoubtedly Larkin’s best known poem, according to wikipedia “It appears in its entirety on more than a thousand web pages. It is frequently parodied. Television viewers in the United Kingdom voted it one of the Nation’s Top 100 Poems”. Cynical..yes, but also memorable.

Interesting fact: Larkin’s reputation was tarnished after his death. A biography based on his papers suggested that he was preoccupied with pornography and racism.

Contributor: kiwiboi

Read more: http://listverse.com/2008/03/26/20-examples-of-why-you-should-enjoy-poetry/

10 Interesting Word Searches On Google Books

Google NGram is a cool feature that lets you search the amount of times a certain word or phrase appears in over 5 million books.

It instantly searches these books as far back as the 1500’s and graphs their amount of usage over time. Sometimes this yields interesting results; such as words that come and go into language with different meanings.

1. “hipster”

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More people were using the word ‘hipster’ in the 1950’s than they are now.

So basically, the word was, like, so much cooler before everyone started using it… like in the 1940’s.

2. “cocaine”

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Cocaine is a hell of a drug. People in 1909 knew it too.

3. “Seattle”

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Seems like Seattle has a moment in the popular imagination every few decades. But the “grunge” era is when people really started writing about the city… and then lost interest around 2001.

4. “cowboys”

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From actual cowboys to fake cowboys to Dallas Cowboys.

5. “Disco”

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This one shocked me. Was disco really incredibly popular in the 1600’s?
Yes, but only as the Latin word for “I learn”.

6. “gay”

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This is interesting. You can see when the word was used to mean “care-free”, and then drop off rapidly when it took on the meaning we use today. Then it came back hard as gay rights became a more widely-acknowledged social movement.

7. “web”

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A word that has always been there, but happened to get a new meaning in the early 1990’s when it became a name for the Internet… until people started calling that “online” or “my phone” or “life”

8. “bomb”

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Bombs have been around for a long time, but have increased in deadliness. During the end of the 1910’s there was a rash of “anarchist” bombings. WWII ushered in an era in which bombs could wipe civilization itself. And of course, Hollywood produces it’s own bombs.

9. “Hawaii”

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You can see Hawaii’s entire history in this chart; from undiscovered paradise, to important agricultural colony, strategic military base, and finally sexy setting for fiction. But why are people now writing less about Hawaii with each passing year?

10. “comedy”

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Looks like comedy is more important during certain eras than others. Sadly we are in one of those slumps; one that’s almost as laughless as the Civil War days.

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/danmeth/10-interesting-word-searches-on-google-ngram

John Green’s Response To The Banning Of His Book Is Perfect

1. John Green answered a fan’s question on his Tumblr yesterday about the banning of The Fault in Our Stars.

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2. Riverside Unified School District in California has banned TFIOS from its middle schools for dealing with mortality and sex.

Q: Hey John, what is your reaction to the news that the Riverside district has chosen to ban TFIOS from middle school libraries on the grounds that it deals with mortality and sex? I remember your reactions to similar situations concerning your books have been pretty animated and wondered what you thought?

3. His response was hilariously perfect:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

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5. Well played, John Green.

Jarry Lee / BuzzFeed / Dutton Books

Read more: http://buzzfeed.com/jarrylee/brb-crushing-your-dreams

10 Notoriously Controversial Books

We have written two lists in the past which deal with this same subject, so there is a little overlap, but this list is a more general one so it makes sense. This is a list of books (fiction and non-fiction) that have been the subject of great controversy.

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The Da Vinci Code almost made it onto this list, but in light of this entry’s nonfiction status, it must overtake what Dan Brown expressly intended as fiction.

This is the nonfiction book from which Dan Brown got most of his ideas for The Da Vinci Code. As if that book isn’t controversial enough, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (yes, that’s right, three writers), published this book in 1982 in the UK. It states a case that Jesus was not divine, married and had sex with Mary Magdalene, had children by her, and that these children or their descendants emigrated to Gaul (France), and founded the Merovingian Dynasty, which has two of the most famous Frankish kings, Charles the Hammer, and Charlemagne.

You can see how this might upset a few Christians. It wouldn’t have be so bad if the writers actually had some hard facts to back up their case, but they rely almost exclusively on factoids, which are dubious, probably spurious attempts to sound factual. The Priory of Sion, on which the book heavily relies, did not have the storied history it describes. The true Priory was founded in 1956 in France, by Pierre Plantard, who deliberately concocted a fictitious history going back to 1099 and the Christian sack of Jerusalem. The Christians did sack it, but there was no Priory involved.

It also asserts that the Roman Catholic Church has completely corrupted the truth of Judeo-Christian history in order to control people. You can see how this might upset a few Catholics (and Jews).

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This one makes very frequent appearances on public school banned-book lists throughout the United States, because of its use of the word “nigger.” Mark Twain wrote it at a time when it was not dangerous to use this word, but today things have changed.

The truth is, in the time of the story, white people called black people “niggers,” because that was the most usual word in the nationwide vernacular. It was not, at that time, so much a pejorative term as now. But typical PTA meetings at elementary, middle and high schools center on this book as often as they center on sex education, because the horrified parents can’t get over the thought of their children reading the word “nigger” several hundred times throughout the book.

Book Of Mormon

This one is controversial for a specific reason. At the very end of the Judeo-Christian Bible, in Revelation, there is a verse that reads, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

The first half of that quotation is the one Mormons have to sidestep carefully, and they usually do so by saying that it should be interpreted as referring to only the Book of Revelation, not the entire Bible. If this is accepted, then Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon is an acceptable addition to the Bible. Almost all other Christian denominations argue fiercely that whatever the quoted verses mean, there is no need for an addition to the Bible. It was already complete before Smith came along.

Their arguments typically center on Smith’s (and Brigham Young’s) desire for multiple wives. Smith was not allowed by U. S. law to marry more than one wife, so he invented a new religion and got it accepted into the mainstream in order to marry more than one woman. Today, the Mormons believe some bizarre things, in terms of fundamental Christianity, namely that God has physical sex with angels, that when a Mormon dies, he or she becomes God in another universe, and that God took care of the ancient Native Americans, perhaps from as long ago as 2,500 BC, in much the same way that he took care of the Israelites. Also that during the forty days between Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus appeared and preached to the native American tribes.

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Coupled with Huck Finn as a popularly banned book in schools around the United States. Salinger had a lot of nerve to publish it in 1951, given its amount of profanity, sexual scenes, general subversive nature, and lots and lots of smoking and drinking. It was one of the ten most challenged books in 2005, with furious parents demanding it be removed from their children’s school curricula.

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Atheists champion it, theists denounce it, and there is very little middle ground. That was Richard Dawkins’s intent with it. This is by far his most inflammatory treatise on atheism to date, and his biggest commercial success. It has sold over 2 million copies.

Dawkins openly attacks religion as a delusion, since there is almost certainly no God, never has been, period. He goes through a logical process of destroying the idea of a God of any kind, then discusses the nature of morality, whether it requires a religion to work.

The book has so inflamed the debate between atheists and theists that quite a few books have been written promoting it, and even more condemning it. Dawkins and two others, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who have also written such books, are referred to by many Christians as an Unholy Trinity, now.

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O. J. Simpson should have laid low for a little longer. It wouldn’t have made the list had it not actually been printed, but about 400,000 copies have been.

It is difficult to know how many were destroyed, if any, but when it was announced in November 2006, it started such a controversy that the publisher had to yank it off the press. In August of the next year, the Goldman family was awarded copyrights for the book, as partial compensation for the lawsuit that Simpson never paid.

Judith Regan, the publisher, is on record stating that she considers the description of Simpson’s “hypothetical” scenario so perfect and pristine that it’s as good as the actual confession.

The premise of the book is really stupid, given that Simpson swears he didn’t do it. He puts forth the case that though he didn’t do it, this is how he could have done it. Not smart.

After his original plans for the book, as a way to make some money, were canceled, the Goldman family acquired the rights and hired a ghostwriter to get it into publication. Not a bad read, really.

(He did it.)

The-Prince

Niccolo Machiavelli’s masterpiece has garnered a rotten reputation over the centuries as advocating tyranny. Machiavelli argues that the best ruler is the one whose people love him. Such a ruler is almost impossible to come by. But a very close second to this is the ruler whose people fear him. There have been many of those.

The book is more philosophy than politics, and it champions the idea of self-reliance. But this can easily be taken as “don’t help anyone, because they should help themselves.” Self-reliance is one of the founding principles of the modern Church of Satan, and that’s the comparison detractors of this book routinely make.

In general, the detractors loathe it because it appears a very efficient method by which to create a corrupt tyrant.

Communist-Manifesto

Karl Marx should have been reprimanded, not for its controversial nature, but for writing the most boring book in history. His idea came from an observation that all of humanity’s strife, from the beginning of our history to now, has been over class struggles.

He therefore sought to abolish classes, and establish a system of government in which there are no betters or worses, but only equal people, who all get paid the same amount for whatever their jobs are, from the President to the peon. They would all get the same kind of food, the same amount, the same kind of car, house, everything.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Someone always wants more or better. Actually, everyone does. It was seen as the polar opposite of democracy, not because of its philosophy, but because it was seized upon and championed by the Soviet Union, whom the United States deeply abhorred during the Cold War.

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A few facts that you may not know. Muslims believe that the Q’uran is the divine speech of God, revealed through the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad, from around 610 to 632 AD. They regard it as the primary miracle to prove that Muhammad is indeed the greatest prophet of all.

Muslims revere Moses and Jesus also, but do not hold that Jesus was divine. Christians around the world who are not particularly educated about the book consider it the closest thing to the Devil Himself that anyone is likely to see until Armageddon.

Most of these Christians (and there are other denominations and religions involved in loathing the book) believe that the Q’uran instructs its followers to strap on dynamite and C-4 explosives, and go kill infidels (Jews and Christians) in order to get to Heaven and be rewarded with 72 dark-haired virgins.

The problem is that the word for these “virgins” is “houri,” which has many meanings. It may mean nothing more than angels, meaning that 72 angels will minister to the departed in heaven, and “minister” does not necessarily mean sexual intercourse.

Most Muslims believe in these 72 virgins in the same way that most Christians believe that they will be outfitted with harps, wings, and walk on clouds.

But the terrorist organizations, dedicated to hatred of Jews and Christians, indoctrinate their primarily illiterate trainees into believing that their suicides and bombing of said infidels will be the path to Heaven. There is no such statement anywhere in the Q’uran. It is quite a peaceful book, advocating understanding and tolerance of the three major Monotheisms.

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No book has been published more, translated more, interpreted or misinterpreted more than the Judeo-Christian Bible. It has more copies in circulation that any other book, and is present in part or in whole in about 2,400 of the world’s 6,900 or so languages.

It is the breeding ground for more furious debates than any book in history, and is the go-to book for Christians, atheists, deists, even Jews and Muslims. If you’re going to convince a Christian he’s wrong, you have to use his book to do it.

Atheists, in particular, regard it with extreme hatred, because it depicts God as particularly ruthless, cruel, barbaric (Old Testament) and then self-righteous and magical (New Testament). Logically speaking, they say, the Bible is its own worst enemy, because it appears notoriously ambiguous in places.

It is the center of authority on gay rights issues, gay marriage, abortion, even the very nature of democracy. The Founding Fathers of the United States used it as their primary template for drafting the Constitution.

Not even the most secular debate on morality can avoid it. Before the Bible, philosophers typically quoted Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama, etc. After the Bible, even the most vehemently atheistic philosophers quote the Bible more than any other source of philosophy when attempting to prove or disprove any of its points.

Some even argue that all of the world’s wars after its dissemination have been caused by it.

Read more: http://listverse.com/2010/04/24/10-notoriously-controversial-books/