15 Literary Facts Every True Nerd Should Know

Posted Jun 10, by Val Liarikos

John Steinbeck was an American writer best known for Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. J. Edgar Hoover was on a fight against communism.

He was convinced that Steinbeck was a full-blown Red communist. Steinbeck was a proud patriot who tried to give a voice to the powerless and defenseless. J. Edgar had nothing to charge Steinbeck with, though. Instead, J. Edgar used his power to encourage the IRS to audit Steinbeck’s taxes every single year of his life to be politically annoying.

The FBI denied all allegations that they were harassing Steinbeck let alone have a full fledged investigation going on about him. Steinbeck was heavily tied to communists through the League of American Writers and the United States Communist Party’s John Reed Club for writers. He was in contact with leftist authors, journalists, and labor unions. He was a close associate of playwrite Arthur Miller, too.


Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin was a French educator and historian, and is credited as the founder of the International Olympic Committee and the modern Olympic Games. It was in 1889 when Coubertin started reviving the Olympic Games as an international competition. He spent five years organizing an international meeting of athletes and sports enthusiasts to try and make the new Olympics a reality.

As you may already know, Coubertin’s hard work came to fruition when the 1896 Athens Olympic Games took place- the first “new” Olympics. As the Olympics progressed through the years, they were for a time expanded to include Art Competitions. This lasted from 1912 to 1948, and on the very first year they were introduced, Coubertin won the gold medal for literature for his poem Ode to Sport.


JRR Tolkien considered Sam Gamgee the "chief hero" of The Lord of the Rings. If you’re unfamiliar with The Lord of the Rings, it is a world famous story of the struggle of a group of people to destroy a powerful ring before it results in the resurrection of the evil Sauron. The “main character” of the story is Frodo Baggins, a hobbit (a person with large hairy feet and in short stature). 

Frodo is tasked with taking the ring to Mordor, the place where it can be destroyed. Frodo is joined by his gardener, Samwise Gamgee. Throughout the course of the story, it might seem obvious that the main character and carrier of the ring is the story’s hero. J. R. R. Tolkien, the author, saw things differently though. Tolkien claimed that Sam was the true hero of the story. 

To be fair, the claim holds some merit. Sam did beat a man eating giant spider in single combat, storm a tower full of orcs on his own, resist the temptation of the ring, and carry Frodo up the side of a volcano essentially carrying the fate of the world on his back- all while suffering from starvation and dehydration. So it seems to stand to reason.


Author Joseph Conrad was working on a book called Suspense: A Napoleonic Novel in 1925 when he died leaving it unfinished. It was published uncompleted after his death. The great irony is that his readers will be forever in suspense with the story, never able to complete it, as if it’s title were a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Conrad was a fairly prolific writer, contributing his works to the fields of novels, novellas, short stories, and essays. Though somewhat influenced by romanticism, his work tends more towards modernist literature. He is particularly known for his anti-heroes. 

Interestingly, though his writings are in English, Conrad did not always speak English fluently and always spoke with a Polish accent. Many of Conrad’s books have been made into movies including Victory, Lord Jim, The Secret Agent, An Outcast of the Islands, The Rover, The Shadow Line, The Duel, Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and Almayer's Folly.

William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on the same date, but not the same day.

April 23 is regarded as World Book Day, marking the anniversary of the deaths of two literary giants, English playwright William Shakespeare and Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes. Both men died on April 23, 1616, but they did not really die on the same day. Cervantes’ death date is based on the modern Gregorian calendar, while Shakespeare’s is based on the old Julian calendar that was still being used in England at the time. If he used the Gregorian calendar, Shakespeare would have died in May.

William Wordsworth also died on April 23, though it was many years later in 1850.

\"\" The ‘forbidden fruit’ mentioned in the Bible is never actually identified as an apple.

The Latin word \'malus\' can mean either ‘apple’ or ‘evil.’ This dual-definition actually stems from the Bible itself, which can confuse the meaning of the original Bible passage. Of course, this wasn’t the first ancient text to feature apples as temptations. In Greek mythology, Zeus and Hera owned a tree of golden apples. The temptation of these godly apples was the motivation for wars and treachery, including the kidnapping of Helen of Troy. The apple served a symbolic purpose, since, in addition to being delicious, the apple bore sexual connotations in literature and was known then as an aphrodisiac.

Given the historical context, it would make sense that the Biblical forbidden fruit that tempted Adam and Eve would be an apple. However, there is no way to know for sure. This is only further complicated by the Latin translation with the confounding “malus” dual-meaning. In the original Hebrew, the nature of the fruit is left unspecified, and throughout history, rabbis have suggested that it was a fig, a grape, a carob, or even wheat!

Read more about the forbidden fruit and misconceptions about the book of Genesis at the Straight Dope.

Click here to learn more about apples in religion and mythology.


Stan Lee of Marvel Comics gave several of his characters alliterative names so they’d be easier to remember.

Betty Brant, Bruce Banner, Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four, Green Goblin, Happy Hogan, J. Jonah Jameson, Matt Murdoch, Otto Octavius, Pepper Potts, Peter Parker, Silver Surfer, Sue Storm, Stephen Strange, Scott Summers, Wade Wilson, Warren Worthington III...if you couldn’t tell by now, Stan Lee is OBSESSED with alliteration! Over the years, his constant consonance has developed not only into a personal trademark, but also into an industry cliché! His reasons for using this literary technique are actually threefold:

  1. He has a terrible memory, so he figured that if he could remember half of a character’s name the repeated letter would provide a clue for recalling the other word. This theory didn’t always succeed though - early on in his career, Stan blundered by mistakenly calling the alter-egos of Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk “Peter Palmer” and “Bob Banner”! FAIL.
  2. Alliterative names and catchphrases are more memorable for his readers. Lee believes these should be “like a really memorable advertising slogan. It sticks in your head and you can’t stop humming it. Let’s face it, superheroes are just really selling themselves as products.”
  3. He just REALLY likes alliteration. Stan has said that he adores not only this sort of wordplay, but the sound of words in general. His penchant for flowery diction makes even more sense given the fact that his favorite writer is Edgar Allan Poe.

Something tells me Stan Lee’s gotta be en-V-ious of Alan Moore\'s V for Vendetta.

(Sources: 1, 2, 3)

In 2004, a French author wrote a book without using a single verb.

Le Train de Nulle Part (The Train from Nowhere) is a book that takes place on a train. It features flowery prose and, in lieu of any action, is limited to a narrator describing and criticizing the passengers on the train.

The author, under the pseudonym Michel Thaler, wrote this book as part of a crusade against verbs. He says that the verb is an "invader, dictator and usurper of our literature". He even staged a funeral, to ceremonially "bury" the verb.

"The verb is like a weed in a field of flowers. You have to get rid of it to allow the flowers to grow and flourish. Take away the verbs and the language speaks for itself".

Somehow, 300 people attended Thaler's mock funeral for the verb at Sorbonne University in Paris, France. Imagine sending invitations for a mock funeral without using verbs!

Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961 at the age of 61, but he wasn’t the only in his family to do so. His father, Clarence, sister Ursula, brother Leicester, and his granddaughter Margaux also committed suicide.

Hemingway’s youngest son, Gregory, died of unnatural causes in 2001 after becoming a transsexual named Gloria. Hemingway had a dark view of life and some close to him say his suicide was a noble way for him to die, even calling it an act similar to a samurai warrior.

The Hemingway family is wrought with dark secrets, neglectful childrearing, and severe alcohol abuse. If you want to learn more about it, check the source.


Roald Dahl is a famous author, known for his many works including James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. He is perhaps one of the best British novelists of the last century. He had another profession that was a little less known though.

Dahl was also a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force. That, however, wasn't his secret profession. Dahn was also an undercover agent for the secret service network British Security Coordination (BSC). He was based in the United States to help further the goal of the BSC, promoting UK interests in the US and countering Nazi propaganda.

In order to gain intelligence, Dahl romanced and slept with many high society women. He was somewhat of a gossip though and frequently betrayed confidences. This tendency didn't make him the best secret agent. He could have learned a thing or two from James Bond's quiet stoicism.


Probably not the most uplifting story for one of the most beloved children’s book authors of all time, but there it is. Seuss’ wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, suffered from a long series of illnesses including cancer over a period of 13 years. Eventually, Helen learned of her husband’s adulterous relationship with another woman. Given that and the constant illnesses she suffered, Helen decided to commit suicide through an overdose of barbiturates.

She wrote a suicide note to Seuss that said “Dear Ted, what has happened to us? I don't know. I feel myself in a spiral, going down down down, into a black hole from which there is no escape, no brightness. And loud in my ears from every side I hear, 'failure, failure, failure... I love you so much ... I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you ... My going will leave quite a rumor but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed ... Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years ..."
Dr. Seuss was very distraught at his wife’s suicide in 1967, but he later married the woman he had been cheating on his wife with only one year later!

Stephen King started an impromptu book signing at Alice Springs book store in Australia. The problem was that the employees didn’t realize who he was and that he was signing his own books. They mistook him for a vandal. Later, the employees said King was nice and charming. They said they’d have baked him a cake had they known he was coming to their book store.

Many of Stephen King’s novels have been adapted to films. He’s written Carrie, The Shining, and Misery. Most of the books he signed at the book store are being donated to charity. King’s representative in Australia said he wasn’t aware King was even in the country at the time of the signing. The manager of the book store said that it isn’t uncommon for authors to come into the store and see if their work is on the shelves. It is really embarrassing if they don’t have the author’s work.


Anybody who’s ever read E.B. White’s classic novel “Charlotte’s Web” knows it’s a touching story. The friendship between the pig (Wilbur) and the spider (Charlotte) has stood the test of time, being enjoyed by multiple generations over the last sixty years. E.B. White, a self-professed animal lover, said he wrote the children’s story to amuse himself.

It all started in 1933 when White and his wife bought a farm, and it was his experiences there that inspired him to write the book. He once observed a spider spinning its web night after night above the pig trough, and then he spied her egg sack one morning. He cut it down when he moved away to New York, watched the spiders hatch, and then finished writing the story.

Apparently this experience touched the author profoundly. White himself recorded the audio book for “Charlotte’s Web,” and it took him SEVENTEEN takes to get through the part about Charlotte’s death. Why? He became so emotional each time he read it that his voice would break and he’d begin to cry.


If any of you Eastern folk are reading this, you may be wondering; “So?” Well, in Western superstition Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day. According to folklorists, there is no written evidence for a “Friday the 13th” superstition before the 19th century. The earliest known documented reference occurs in a biography of Gioachionio Rossini who died on a Friday 13th. The author writes; “He [Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring friends; and if it be true that, like so many Italians, he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that one Friday 13th of November he died.”

There are a few theories as to why Friday the 13th incites paranoia:

  • In numerology, the number 12 is considered the number of completeness (there are 12 months, 12 hours, 12 Gods of Olympus, etc.). The number 13 is blamed with transgressing this completeness; daring to be greater than the number 12.
  • According to Christians, Jesus was crucified on a Friday, thus making the day unlucky.


To put it bluntly, Lisbeth Salander could probably kick your butt (if she were real). A genius hacker who had no problem putting perverts in their place, the unforgettable character was played by Mara Rooney in the film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

The film is based on the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by Swedish author Stiegg Larsson. Surely such a dynamic character was inspired by someone, right? In interviews, Larsson states that Lisbeth is based on what he imagines Pippi Longstocking would be like as an adult.

HUH? Well, Pippi did take on a 250 pound pirate bare-handed. She could also lift her horse over her head and was a loner who was content to live with her pet monkey. Okay, I get it now, Mr. Larsson.

Interesting fact: in the movie, the words “V. Kulla” are displayed on Salander’s door. V. Kulla is an abbreviation for Villa Villekulla, the name of Pippi Longstocking’s house.


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