6 Books That Destroy Your Image of the People Who Wrote Them
Sometimes the name of the author tells you everything you need to know about a book: If you see the words "Stephen King" on the cover, you know it's gonna be creepy as hell and set in New England, and if you see "Nicholas Sparks," you know there's smooching inside, and that there'll be a shitty movie of it in two years. But then you find out that J.K. Rowling secretly wrote a detective novel and everybody loses their shit.
But that's nothing compared to the bizarre shit cranked out by some of the most iconic authors of all time ...
H.P. Lovecraft Wrote a Wacky Romantic Comedy
H.P. Lovecraft's disturbed imagination enriched the 20th century's nightmares by giving birth to concepts like the Necronomicon (the book of the dead) and Cthulhu, everyone's favorite octopus-headed cosmic entity. There are many (terrifying) recurrent themes in Lovecraft's work, but the main message in his stories seemed to be "All of us are fucked and there's no possible escape from the horror, not even in death."
But He Also Wrote ...
"Sweet Ermengarde," a whimsical farce about love, opportunism, and a stash of gold buried under a farm.
"Almost nobody dances sober, unless they happen to be insane." -H.P. Lovecraft
The story stars the pure, beautiful farmer's daughter Ethyl Ermengarde, who is taken from her family and virtuous suitor, Jack Manly (Lovecraft's second best named character after B'gnu-Thun, the Soul-Chilling Ice-God), by their villainous landlord. The landlord then promptly forgets about her when he finds out about the aforementioned buried gold. Later Ermengarde escapes to the city, falls in with the right kind of wealthy widow, and makes a fortune. She comes home to reunite with her love, but realizes that the landlord is quite wealthy, and so she marries him instead. It seems like the sort of plot the Farrelly brothers would put together in 15 minutes.
"We're thinking Jack Black in drag for Ermengarde and the suitors."
According to letters Lovecraft was writing at the time, the whole thing was apparently motivated by the fact that, back in the late 1910s/early 1920s, those rags-to-riches stories were all the rage, while his tales of monsters that make you insane when you look at them weren't, so this was his minor revenge. Also, maybe, just maybe, old H.P. took a look at his last name one day and decided he could make a fortune crafting romantic tales, but it didn't quite work out that way.
In fact, such was Lovecraft's reputation and the literary typecasting that the first time "Sweet Emengarde" was published for public consumption was in the horror collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep, between tales with names like "Herbert West -- Reanimator" and "The Crawling Chaos." Shockingly, its potential audience of bored housewives never managed to find it there.
Nostradamus Wrote a Book of Jam Recipes
Nostradamus earned a place in the pages of history by vaguely predicting vague world events that vaguely came true, sort of. Nostradamus' followers allege that in his book The Prophecies, published way back in the 16th century, he predicted things like Hitler's rise to power, the Kennedy assassination, and the 9/11 attacks. And yet he said nothing about Shaquille O'Neal's Kazaam.
That bit about the "gienne struck by lightning" doesn't count.
But still, it's precisely the vagueness of his writing that gives Nostradamus that air of mystery that has allowed him to remain a household name for so many centuries. Does this mean that 500 years from now people will see that "ancient aliens" guy from the History Channel as a powerful mystic? Probably, yes.
But He Also Wrote ...
Treatise on Make-Up and Jam, which is exactly what it sounds like: a cookbook full of jam recipes.
"And the jelly will become one with the cream of peanut, and the bread will rejoice, for it is made delicious."
Nostradamus' jams were apparently so yummy that the book managed to become a best-seller in 1555, back when like five people knew how to read. It even became the standard on how to make jam by the jam makers in Paris. Nostradamus gathered all these recipes way before going into the future-guessing business, when he was an aimless 20-something going around Europe researching herbal medicines (he listened to a lot of Frank Zappa and grew his hair long during this time).
The book also included recipes for other delicious treats like candy, marzipan, and toothpaste. However, this was still a book by Nostradamus, so naturally there's plenty of bullshit in there. One recipe claimed to be able to cure the plague. Another could turn your hair blonde. And then there's the one that, when properly fed to another person, could instantly convince them to have sex with you (and by "properly fed," we mean you have to spit it into their mouth). So, yeah, maybe the whole best-seller thing had less to do with the jams being delicious and more with their plague-curing/boner-causing powers.
Roger Ebert Wrote a Filthy Movie for the Sex Pistols
Roger Ebert's opinion on what makes a good movie can be found on literally thousands of Wikipedia pages and the minds of three generations of cinephiles. Ebert's film reviews were so respected that he received an unprecedented Pulitzer Prize for them. During his final years, the man reinvented himself as the classy uncle of the Internet, telling us what to think about a number of topics and totally owning up on the few instances when he got it wrong.
He would've come around on video games, too.
But He Also Wrote ...
Who Killed Bambi? This aborted movie starred the Sex Pistols and was so depraved, even Sid Vicious thought it was a little too much.
"Oi, where's my Fred Astaire dance number?"
The scene in question, suggested to Ebert by the Pistols' manager, Malcolm McLaren, would have found Vicious shooting up heroin with his mother and then making out with her. The complete mess of a human being that was Sid read it in front of Ebert and the director, and his reaction was essentially, "Man, you guys are freaks."
The director, by the way, was the king of boobies, Russ Meyer, for whom Ebert had written some softcore pornos in the early '70s, as we've mentioned before. It was this work that compelled the Pistols to hire the pair for their proposed movie, which was supposed to be the A Hard Day's Night for the punk generation. Ebert rose to the challenge and wrote the entire thing, while Meyer spent his time carefully collecting the amplest bosoms in Britain.
Pictured: two punk motherfuckers.
Filming of the movie actually did get started for a few days and a couple of minutes of footage was shot, but then the production collapsed because it turns out the Sex Pistols weren't the best when it came to keeping track of their money. It's hard to imagine Ebert being taken so seriously as a film reviewer if such a turd of a movie had come out under his name, although it would have been interesting to find out if he would have become the first movie critic to have a Pulitzer Prize taken away from him.
Johnny Cash Wrote Futuristic Science Fiction
Johnny Cash spent the '60s going in and out of jail, sometimes in his role of performer with balls of steel who could tame a crowd of prisoners with his guitar, and sometimes as another felon sleeping off his misdemeanors in a cell. When he wasn't quitting hard drugs and subsequently joining them again, Cash was writing classic songs of sorrow and redemption that can be sung only in a deep baritone voice or not at all.
Glee reportedly tried to do a Cash-themed episode, but his ghost showed up and kicked all their asses.
But He Also Wrote ...
"The Holografik Danser," a science fiction tale about a future where America has been conquered by the Soviets and English has been replaced with the language of YouTube commenters:
But with less racism.
Not everything sucks in the commie-ruled world imagined by the Man in Black, though. After spending the first half letting readers know that being conquered by an enemy power would be a total bummer, all that is dropped so that the story can become about how protagonist Phil Graver decides to buy a holographic projection of a flamenco dancer that comes into his room through his phone lines. When he tries to enter the holographic world bodily, he loses his life energy and dies.
Here, young Nerdy Cash will make this more believable.
So, this was basically a Twilight Zone episode, only The Twilight Zone didn't exist yet. Cash wrote "The Holografik Danser" in 1953, before he'd started his music career. At the time, he was a radio intercept operator with the U.S. Air Force, and thus his private Red Dawn is more understandable. The story then sat in a drawer until 2001, when it was included in the book Songs Without Rhyme alongside writings by David Byrne of the Talking Heads, Paula Cole, and Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies. You've finally hit the big time, Mr. Cash!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Wrote About Real-Life Fairies
The real-life exploits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made his most famous character look like a total wuss: Whereas Sherlock Holmes stayed home solving crimes using flawless logic, Doyle went out and saved people in wars, solved a couple of real cases, and earned the title of knight. The man was as awesome as his mustache implies.
The mustache itself was named commander of the British Empire.
It's only natural to assume that, on top of all this, Doyle must have also had quite the intellect. After all, to create the most intelligent man on the planet, you have to be at least twice as smart as that, right?
But He Also Wrote ...
The Coming of the Fairies, which isn't as embarrassing as the name would suggest. It's more embarrassing. We've mentioned before that Doyle was one of the folks duped by the Cottingley Fairies hoax, the "real fairy photos" taken by two teenagers who were clearly just playing with cardboard cutouts.
This was before they invented Barbie dolls or fun.
Well, the analytical mind behind the Sherlock Holmes stories didn't just say "that's neat" and go about his business: He wrote a whole damned book about why fairies are real and why it's totally not ridiculous for a grown man to be obsessed with such teenage girl nonse- Oh no. Oh Jesus Christ, Arthur Conan Doyle was a brony.
The book opens with the not-at-all batshit argument that since water animals stay in the water and land creatures stay on land, it's equally plausible that fairies are separated from our view by some "difference of vibrations." It's pretty much all downhill from there. Doyle even brings in testimony from his own kids, and the notion that the whole lot of them are little goddamned liars isn't even considered.
No, it had to be fairies stealing the cookies and setting fire to the cat.
The real pisser? The girls who faked the photos took the fairy drawings from a book that included a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Either he didn't get a free copy of the publication and never saw the original pictures, or he was so desperate to believe in magic that he conveniently forgot about them.
Benjamin Franklin Wrote an Essay About Farts
The venerable Benjamin Franklin invented things like the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and the United States of America. Or at least he helped out in that last one. The most famous piece of writing that Franklin had a hand in creating was a little thing called the Declaration of Independence, followed by his classic autobiography, which is still one of the most influential books in the genre. After all, it's hard to compete with a guy who did such a great service to his nation and to the world throughout his life.
Yep, this looks about right.
But He Also Wrote ...
"To the Royal Academy of Farting" (also known as "Fart Proudly"), a 1,000-word academic essay about why farts are awesome. In it, the Founding Father argues that scientific resources should be used to come up with a way to make farts smell more like perfume so that civilized people could then compare the odors coming out of their buttholes instead of shunning them. He also claims that not farting can cause disastrous consequences.
Pulling off a convincing "'Twasn't me" face wasn't among his many talents.
Franklin's motivation for writing the essay was not entirely scientific. In 1781, he was serving as the American ambassador in France when he decided to go to a conference at the Academy of Brussels in Belgium. There, he was confronted with dozens of academic books about scientific, political, and other "educational topics." Franklin's reaction to such a wealth of accumulated knowledge was "What a load of wank." Appalled at what he considered a bunch of pretentious assholes jerking each other off about the most trivial topics imaginable, he decided to get in on that action, but with the most obnoxious topic possible. Namely farts.
Understandably, all the serious academics who read it reacted as if a wet ass-blast had been released directly in their faces. Franklin simply kicked his feet back and watched as people debated the 1700s equivalent of the Onion. He had already summed up his opinion about those academics at the end of the article when he said that all other scientific discussions were "scarcely worth a FART-HING." OK, he might have been drunk when he wrote it.
Dustin Koski is also the author of stuff like this and is very sorry about this. SURPRISE! Evan V. Symon can be found on Facebook, and be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line. Richie Ryan has also been known to work the wood. See his things and follow him on Twitter.
Related Reading: For more famous authors doing things you wouldn't expect, give this article a read. You'll learn that Louisa May Alcott's love for money and drugs was the fuel to her writing. And while you're being surprised about authors, you might as well learn about the erotic lesbian novel written by Dick Cheney's wife. Finish off your literary binge with some authors who were more badass than the characters they created.