The reason I’m going on about this is that I ran across an interesting piece on theliteracysite.com this morning. It’s about first cracks at titles for famous novels, and they provide an interesting insight into the thought processes of writers as they struggle with finding the perfect title for what are famous novels. Would they have been famous if the first title had stood? I wonder...
(The blog post was written by someone named Will S. I wish I knew more about him, so I could get in contact with him to ask if I could quote him. I haven’t been successful as of yet, but I want to share this, so Will, thanks in advance. If you don’t wish this, just let me know and I’ll remove the quoted material.)
So here goes: bad titles for famous books!
Here are the titles. See if you can guess what the book is. Descriptions will follow. They are all iconic works of the 20th Century.
- The Kingdom by the Sea
- Among Ash-Heaps and Millionaires
- The Last Man in Europe
- Something that Happened
And now the answers:
- Vladimir Nabokov nearly titled his 1955 novel, Lolita, with this more imagistic title. Had he done so, who knows how reception of his controversial classic would have gone!
- Believe it or not, F. Scott Fitzgerald went through several titles for his American classic, The Great Gatsby. Sometimes it’s the simpler titles that say the most. Instead of choosing this more abstract title, he chose the epithet of its most exciting character, Jay Gatsby.
- Although this original title makes sense for content of the book, doesn’t 1984 have a nice ring to it? George Orwell couldn’t have known the lasting effect of his now-famous dystopia when he originally wrote it, but dating its plot shows readers of every decade how close we still are to Big Brother.
- This is an example of how sometimes a successful title can come from a source that is external to the book. The Sun Also Rises is a quote that Hemingway adapted from Ecclesiastes to title his famous novel about the running of the bulls in Pamplona, applying the quote to the “lost generation” of which he was a part of. Although most of the book takes place at a fiesta, Hemingway was wise to choose a more elegant title for his novel of failed romances.
- John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men was a commercial success in the U.S. with his Robert Burns-inspired title. How would his audience have reacted in 1937, to such a vague title for such an intense story? Something did happen, but it’s the mice and men that still haunt audiences today.
The really interesting question, though, is: would these books have been successful if the original title had stood?