This Day In Literary History
On June 30th, 1936, Gone With The Wind, the classic novel by the famous American writer Margaret Mitchell, was published. It all began when Mitchell was bedridden with a broken ankle.
To pass the time, her husband, John Marsh, brought her numerous history books from the public library. After she'd read them all, he said, "Peggy, if you want another book, why don't you write your own?" So, she took him up on it.
John brought Margaret an old Remington typewriter, and she started writing a novel, using her vast knowledge of the Civil War and some dramatic moments from her own life as inspiration.
At first, she wrote just for her own amusement and kept her writing a closely guarded secret from her friends, hiding pages in her closet, under her bed, and even disguising them as a divan.
In her early drafts, she called her heroine Pansy O'Hara and Tara had been called Fontenoy Hall. Early titles for the book included Tote The Weary Load and Tomorrow Is Another Day.
Mitchell's husband acted as her proofreader and continuity editor for the manuscript. By 1929, her ankle had healed and she lost interest in writing. She soon took it up again, and most of the manuscript was written by 1930, at an apartment she called "The Dump."
She gave no thought to publishing her novel, but then in 1935, she met Harold Latham, an editor from the Macmillan publishing house, who had been scouring the South in search of promising writers. She escorted him around Atlanta at the request of a mutual friend.
Latham became enchanted with Margaret Mitchell and asked her if she'd ever written a book. She told him no, and he said, "Well, if you ever do write a book, please show it to me first!" A friend of Mitchell's overheard the conversation and made a derogatory comment about "someone as silly as Peggy writing a book."
Insulted, Mitchell went home, fished out her unfinished manuscript and gave it to Latham at his hotel room, just as he was about to leave Atlanta. After he got home and read it, he encouraged Mitchell to complete the book, believing that it would be a blockbuster.
Margaret Mitchell completed her manuscript in March of 1936, and two months later, Gone With The Wind was published. Latham's prediction proved to be uncannily accurate. The novel became an overnight success.
The first edition hardcover sold for $3 - a virtually unprecedented price for a hardcover book in 1936 and the equivalent of $63 in today's money. Yet, within its first six months of publication, the novel sold about a million copies.
Legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick bought the film rights, and three years later, the movie version of Gone With The Wind premiered in Atlanta.
The nearly four hour epic film, which starred Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, is rightfully considered one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.
Selznick had to fight the censors to use the famous line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!" and other elements from the novel deemed objectionable and unacceptable for movies during the Production Code era.
He employed a clever trick to outwit the censors, deliberately peppering the script with content he knew the censors would never pass. That way, he could offer to cut some things in exchange for other material he wanted to keep in the picture.
The film made headlines in 2020 when the streaming service HBO Max pulled it, citing complaints about its romanticized depiction of slavery, pro-Confederate point of view, and racial stereotyping.
Despite these negative aspects of the film, (a product of its time) it also resulted in Hattie McDaniel becoming the first African American to win an Academy Award - a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Mammy.
After an outcry over the pulling of Gone With The Wind, HBO Max returned the film to its service, with an introduction by Jacqueline Stewart (professor of cinema studies and director of the nonprofit arts organization, Black Cinema House) putting its controversial elements in the proper historical context.
Sadly, Margaret Mitchell died suddenly in 1949 at the age of 49. She was struck by a drunken off-duty taxi driver, Hugh Gravitt, as she crossed Peachtree Street on her way to see a movie. At the time, Gravitt was out on $5450 bail (about $67,000 in today's money) and awaiting trial for a previous drunk driving arrest.
Mitchell never regained consciousness. She died in the hospital five days after being struck. Despite his prior record, Gravitt, the drunk driver who killed her, served only eleven months in prison for involuntary manslaughter.
For many years, it was assumed that Margaret Mitchell had only written one complete novel - Gone With The Wind. Then, in the 1990s, an earlier manuscript of hers was discovered. The manuscript was a novel called Lost Laysen - a romance set in the South Pacific. Mitchell had written it in two notebooks in 1916 - when she was just sixteen years old.
In the early 1920s, Mitchell had given the novel and a collection of letters to an old boyfriend, Henry Love Angel. Angel's son had discovered the manuscript and sent it to the Road to Tara Museum, which authenticated it.
Lost Laysen was published in 1996 in a volume that included an account of Mitchell and Angel's romance and a collection of her letters to him.
Quote Of The Day
"The world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business." - Margaret Mitchell
Today's video features a complete reading of Margaret Mitchell's classic novel, Gone With The Wind. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 30, 2022
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
This Day In Literary History
On June 29th, 1900, the famous French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry was born in Lyon, France.
He was born into an old aristocratic family, but his father, the Viscount Jean de Saint-Exupéry, was an insurance broker who died when Antoine was four.
The young Saint Exupéry was a below average student and failed his prep school final exams. Nonetheless, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.
In 1921, he joined the military and was assigned to the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs (calvary) before being sent to Strasbourg to train as a pilot. He received his pilot's license the following year, along with an offer of transfer to the Air Force.
Due to the strenuous objections of his fiancée, Saint Exupéry declined the transfer and moved to Paris, where he took an office job. Over the next few years, the couple broke off their engagement and Saint Exupéry worked at a series of menial jobs.
In 1926, he became a pilot again - and not just any pilot. He flew planes for the Aéropostale as one of the first international mail flight pilots in the world - a dangerous job considering how primitive aircraft were in the 1920s.
That same year, Saint Exupéry published his first work - a short story called The Aviator - in Le Navire d'Argent magazine.
In 1929, he published his first book, Southern Mail. His career as an aviator took off (no pun intended) as well. He became the Latécoère French airline stopover manager at Cape Juby airfield in the Spanish zone of Southern Morocco. He later moved to Argentina and became director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company.
In 1931, Saint Exupéry published his second book, Night Flight, a novel based on his adventures flying for the Aéropostale, which won him the Prix Femina prize and made his name as a writer.
He also married Consuelo Suncin, a Salvadoran writer. It would be a stormy marriage, as Saint Exupéry was always away flying and a notorious womanizer.
After his death, his mistress, Hélène de Vogüé, became his literary executrix and wrote a biography of him under the pseudonym Pierre Chevrier.
On December 30th, 1935, Saint Exupéry and his navigator, André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert while en route to Saigon.
They had been attempting to win a 150,000 franc prize by flying from Paris to Saigon faster than any previous aviators. Both men survived the crash, but they didn't know where they were, and had only enough food and drink to sustain them for one day.
They wandered the desert, experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations. By the third day, the men became so dehydrated that they stopped sweating. The next day, they were found by a Bedouin camel rider who saved their lives.
Saint Exupéry wrote a memoir of their experience, Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939), and his most famous book, a children's novella called The Little Prince (1943) opens with a pilot being marooned in the desert.
The Little Prince is a delightful, clever, surreal, and poetic fairytale about a little boy who is the Prince of B612, a small asteroid out in space.
The Prince works hard caring for his asteroid, which will die if he neglects it. He falls in love with the only rose that grows on the asteroid.
One day, the Prince leaves home to see what the rest of the universe is like. He visits other asteroids, each one the home of an eccentric character.
The King tells his subjects that he can control the stars - but only by telling them to do what they already do anyway. He believes that a citizen's duty is to obey the King - but only if the King's demands are reasonable.
The Conceited Man lives alone, but longs to be admired by everyone. He is literally deaf to anything that isn't a compliment. The Drunkard drinks to forget that he's ashamed of being a drunkard.
The Businessman wants to own the stars, but the Prince tells him that because one cannot care for the stars or be useful to them in some way, he cannot own them. The Prince owns the rose because he cares for it.
The Lamplighter lives on an asteroid that rotates once a minute. Before its rotation sped up, he had time to rest. Now, he has no time to rest, but he refuses to turn his back on his work. The Prince feels sorry for the Lamplighter because he's the only person he's met who cares for something other than himself.
The Geographer spends all of his time making maps, but he never leaves his desk. He won't trust anything that he can't see with his own two eyes, but he refuses to leave his desk to explore the world around him.
The Prince comes to Earth as an ambassador at the King's request, and meets a marooned pilot in the desert, telling him about his home asteroid and the aforementioned characters he's met.
As he travels the desert, he tames a desert fox and meets a railway switchman and a merchant who both comment on the absurdity of human nature. He also meets a sly and deadly snake. The story ends on a sad, surreal, and ambiguous note.
The Little Prince has become - and still is - an all time classic work of children's literature that's beloved by readers of all ages.
In the 1940s and 50s, Disney considered making an animated feature film adaptation, but the plans fell through. In 1974, there was a live action, musical feature film adaptation released by Paramount - the last movie musical written and composed by the team of Lerner and Lowe.
The film starred Steven Warner as the Prince, Richard Kiley as the pilot, Gene Wilder as the Fox, and Bob Fosse (who choreographed his own dance routine) as the Snake.
At the time of its release, the movie was roundly panned by critics and a bomb at the box office, but it has since become a cult classic highly sought after by film lovers. It's now available on DVD.
In August of 2016, a big budget animated feature film adaptation of The Little Prince was released, with a stellar voice cast that included Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Albert Brooks, Paul Rudd, James Franco, and Paul Giamatti.
Although the film featured dazzling animation and received critical acclaim, scoring a 93% fresh rating on the Tomatometer, it flopped at the box office, grossing about $30 million on a budget of $81 million.
In 1943, after living in America for just over two years, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, then 43 years old, returned to Europe and enlisted to fly in the Free French Forces and fight with the Allies in the Mediterranean.
A year later, after publishing his next book, Letter To A Hostage, Saint Exupéry took off from an airbase in Corsica and was never seen again. His plane was thought to have crashed.
In 1998, a French fisherman found a silver identity bracelet bearing the names of Saint Exupéry, his wife Consuelo, and his publishers, Reynal Hitchcock. The bracelet was fastened to a piece of cloth, most likely from Saint Exupéry's uniform.
Two years later, a diver found the remains of a P-38 Lightning war plane off the coast of Marseille. In 2003, some of the remains were recovered, and investigators from the French Underwater Archaeological Department confirmed that the aircraft was Saint Exupéry's missing plane.
Quote Of The Day
"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiring for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." - Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Today's video features a complete reading of Antoine de Saint Exupéry's classic novella, The Little Prince. Enjoy!
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
This Day In Literary History
On June 28th, 1888, the legendary Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson left San Francisco and set sail for the South Seas.
He was searching for a new home with a healthier climate, as he was suffering from tuberculosis. He and his family would settle on a Samoan island, where Stevenson would spend the last six years of his life.
No stranger to such voyages, Stevenson was an avid traveler and adventurer. He began his literary career writing travelogues. His first, An Inland Voyage (1878), was an account of his 1876 canoeing trip through France and Belgium.
He followed it with Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1879), a memoir of his twelve-day, 120-mile solo hike through the Cévennes Mountains in France.
Though he would write several more travelogues, Stevenson made his name as a writer of fiction, first with his short story collections, then with his adventure novels.
His most famous adventure novel was the classic Treasure Island (1883). Set in mid-18th century England, it told the story of Jim Hawkins, a young boy from a seaside village who works at his parents' inn.
One of the lodgers at the inn is Billy Bones, a rum guzzling ex-pirate whom Jim comes to like. Bones is hiding out from his former crew mates, but one of them, a sailor called Black Dog, tracks him down.
They come to blows and Black Dog flees. Another man, a blind fellow named Pew, arrives with a message for Bones - a pirate's summons that causes the rum-soaked Bones to have a stroke and die.
Jim and his mother then open Bones' sea chest, hoping to find enough money to cover the rent that Bones owed them. Later, they discover something unexpected in the chest - a map.
It's a detailed map of an island where Bones' former commander Captain Flint buried his treasure. Soon, Jim finds himself on a ship bound for the island, where he runs afoul of other pirates, including the legendary Long John Silver.
Robert Louis Stevenson later wrote another seafaring adventure, Kidnapped (1886), set amidst the intrigues of the Jacobite movement in 18th century Scotland. David Balfour, an orphaned young man, arrives to stay with his Uncle Ebenezer.
David's stingy, money hungry uncle, scheming to steal his inheritance, sells the boy to Captain Hoseason of the brig Covenant, who forces him to work as cabin boy. Hoseason plans to resell David to another slavemaster.
Other classic Stevenson novels include The Black Arrow (1883), an adventure novel set during the Wars of the Roses - the English civil wars that took place in the 15th century - and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886).
In this celebrated horror tale, Dr. Henry Jekyll, a respected, compassionate doctor and scientist, troubled by Man's capacity for evil, invents a miracle drug to eliminate the dark side of the human psyche.
Unfortunately, instead of eliminating Jekyll's dark side, the drug causes it to emerge as a separate personality - that of Edward Hyde, a depraved, murderous psychopath who terrorizes London.
After Robert Louis Stevenson and his family arrived in Samoa, they settled on the island of Upolu, where they lived on a 400-acre parcel of land in the village of Vailima. Stevenson took the native name Tusitala, which meant teller of tales in Samoan.
The Samoans came to love him and often turned to him for advice. He became active in local politics, and, believing that the European rulers of the Samoan Islands were incompetent, blasted them publicly in a nonfiction book called A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa (1892).
The book caused such an uproar that Stevenson feared he might be deported. He wasn't. The scandal blew over and he remained in Samoa until he died from his tuberculosis in 1894 at the age of 44.
Of the European leaders whom he had blasted for their mismanagement of Samoa, Stevenson would famously quip, "I used to think meanly of the plumber; but how he shines beside the politician!"
Quote Of The Day
"Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life." - Robert Louis Stevenson
Today's video features a complete reading of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure novel, Treasure Island (1883). Enjoy!
Monday, June 27, 2022
I'm happy to announce that two of my poems are up at The Sunlight Press.
I'm happy to announce that two of my poems are up at The Sunlight Press.
Friday, June 24, 2022
This Day In Literary History
On June 24th, 1842, the legendary American writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce was born in Meigs County, Ohio. He was the tenth of thirteen children, all bearing first names that began with the letter A.
He grew up in Kosciusko County, Indiana, where his poor but intellectual parents instilled in him a deep love for reading. When he was fifteen, Bierce left home to become a printer's devil (apprentice) at a small Ohio newspaper.
In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, Bierce enlisted in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. The following year, he was made a First Lieutenant and served on the staff of General William Babcock Hazen as a topographical engineer, mapping areas that would likely become battlefields.
He fought in the Battle of Shiloh, which at the time was the bloodiest battle in U.S. history. Bierce used the terrifying experience as the source for several short stories and a memoir, What I Saw of Shiloh.
He continued fighting in the war and received recognition for his daring rescue of a seriously wounded comrade under fire in the Battle of Rich Mountain, West Virginia. In June of 1864, Bierce himself was seriously wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.
He spent the summer on furlough and returned to active duty in September. He was discharged in January 1865, but resumed his military career in the summer of 1866, when he rejoined General Hazen on an expedition to inspect military outposts in the Great Plains.
In San Francisco, after receiving the rank of Brevet Major, Bierce resigned from the Army. He remained in San Francisco, where he became famous as both a contributor and an editor for many local newspapers and periodicals. On Christmas Day, 1871, he married his girlfriend, Mary Ellen "Mollie" Day.
She bore him two sons and a daughter, but the couple would separate in 1888 when Bierce discovered letters from a lover that constituted proof of Mollie's infidelity. They finally divorced in 1904.
Mollie died a year later. Bierce's sons died before him; his son Day was shot in a dispute over a woman, and his other son Leigh died of pneumonia - a complication of his alcoholism.
Ambrose Bierce lived in England from 1872-75, where he wrote and contributed to magazines. He returned to San Francisco, then left again to manage a mining company in the Dakota Territory.
After the company folded, he went back to San Francisco and resumed his career as a journalist. In 1887, he published a column called Prattle, becoming one of the first columnists and editorial writers for William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner.
In January of 1896, Hearst sent Bierce to Washington, D.C. to foil the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies' plan to have a Congressional ally sneak in a bill that excused the companies from having to repay massive government loans to build the First Transcontinental Railroad.
Bierce's coverage of the story - and his scathing satirical diatribes - resulted in such public outrage that the bill was defeated. His sardonic nature and scathing satire earned him the nickname "Bitter Bierce." Despite his reputation, he was known to encourage young writers to pursue and perfect their craft.
As a writer himself, Ambrose Bierce was known for both his horror stories, which were on a par with the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and his satircal works. His best known horror story was An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.
Published in 1891. It told the tale of a Confederate saboteur, Peyton Farquhar, who is caught and sentenced to be hung from Owl Creek Bridge. At the hanging, the rope breaks and Farquhar falls into the creek.
He escapes and makes it to dry land. From there, as he tries to get home to his family, Farquhar finds that his senses have been heightened to superhuman proportions. He also experiences visual and auditory hallucinations.
When he finally arrives home, he runs to his wife. Just as he reaches out to her, Farquhar feels a searing pain in his neck and all goes black. It is revealed that he never escaped at all. He dreamed the whole thing just as he was hung, before the rope broke his neck.
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge was adapted numerous times, the most famous adaptation being a French short film made in 1963 called La Rivière du Hibou, directed by Robert Enrico.
It won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject and was later aired on American television as an episode of the brilliant and acclaimed 1959-64 TV series, The Twilight Zone.
Ambrose Bierce was most famous for his satirical masterpiece, The Devil's Dictionary. Published in 1911, The Devil's Dictionary was a scathing, book-length parody of Webster's Dictionary, filled with humorous definitions of various words, such as:
LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
CLERGYMAN, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.
The end of Ambrose Bierce's life turned out to be so strange that, had he lived, he might have written a short story about it. In October of 1913, at the age of 71, Bierce embarked on a tour of his old Civil War battlefields.
In December, after visiting locations in Louisiana and Texas, Bierce crossed the border into Mexico, where he became involved with the Mexican Revolution. He joined Pancho Villa's army as an observer, and later witnessed the Battle of Tierra Blanca.
Bierce followed Villa's army as far as Chihuahua. He wrote a letter to his close friend Blanche Partington, which was dated December 26, 1913. Then he mysteriously disappeared, vanishing without a trace - one of the most famous disappearances in literary history.
Some writers have speculated that Bierce headed North to the Grand Canyon, where he committed suicide in a remote location. No evidence exists to prove this theory or the countless other theories about what happened to Bierce.
All investigations into his fate have thus far proved fruitless.
Quote Of The Day
"Patriotism, n. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary, patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit it is the first." - Ambrose Bierce
Today's video features a complete reading of Ambrose Bierce's classic horror story, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge. Enjoy!
Thursday, June 23, 2022
This Day In Literary History
On June 23rd, 1398 (c), the legendary German inventor Johannes Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany. As a young boy, he learned to read. This was a rare skill in the 15th century, as books were a luxury for the rich.
At that time, books had to be written by hand, (usually by monks, scholars, or scribes) a slow and expensive process. Fortunately for Gutenberg, he was born into a patrician (aristocratic) merchant family.
After he learned to read, he became an avid reader and spent hours in the library. The few libraries that existed then did not loan out their books. The books had to be read in the library and were chained to the wall to prevent theft.
Whenever Gutenberg's father ordered a book, it would take from several months to a year for the handwritten manuscript to be completed. Gutenberg hated to wait and dreamed of a more efficient means of producing books than writing them out by hand.
In 1411, there was an uprising against the patricians in Mainz, so the Gutenberg family moved to Eltville am Rhein, where Johannes took up the goldsmithing trade, as his father was a goldsmith who worked with the ecclesiastic mint.
Gutenberg became a skilled metalworker, and his skills would help him create his greatest invention - the mechanical printing press. By 1440, he began experimenting with the elements that would form his mechanical printing process.
Using his skills as a metalworker, Gutenberg designed a movable typeface, with separate metal type for each letter to be printed. He also developed oil-based inks of various colors that would hold up better on the page than the traditional water-based inks.
Last, but certainly not least, he built printing presses based on the designs of the olive, wine, and cheese presses of the time. By 1450, Gutenberg's print shop was in business. One of the first items to be printed there was a German poem.
The successful operation of the press and the quality of the printed material attracted attention, and Gutenberg was able to convince Johann Fust, a wealthy and powerful moneylender, to give him an 800-guilder loan to expand and maintain the business.
He took on Fust's son-in-law, Peter Schoffer, as an apprentice. In 1452, Gutenberg borrowed another 800 guilders from Fust. His print shop was a success and he printed thousands of indulgences for the Church.
Indulgences were certificates absolving the bearers of their sins and guaranteeing them a way out of Hell after their deaths. Indulgences were sold to rich parishioners - the only ones who could afford them.
This made the Church a tremendous amount of money. The printing of indulgences earned Gutenberg a tidy profit as well, which he put back into the business and used to repay his loans. He then embarked on his greatest printing project.
Gutenberg determined to print the most important book of the time - the Bible. He designed and tested beautiful layouts that combined color and black inks. Expenses for the Bible project started piling up, and he borrowed more money from Johann Fust.
Soon he was in debt for over 2,000 guilders. The Bible project took about three years to complete, and around 200 copies of the Bible were printed. During this time, a dispute arose between Gutenberg and Fust.
Fust accused Gutenberg of misusing the money he lent him and demanded all of it back. He filed suit at the archbishop's court. The court ruled in Fust's favor, giving him ownership of Gutenberg's print shop and half the bibles that had been printed.
Unfortunately, Fust also gained control of the Gutenberg name. Though effectively bankrupt, Gutenberg did run a small print shop in Bamberg and participated in another Bible printing project in 1459.
None of the materials he printed bore the Gutenberg name because Fust owned it. So it's uncertain exactly what Gutenberg printed in his little Bamberg shop. It's been speculated that he may have printed 300 copies of the 744-page Catholicon Dictionary there.
Johannes Gutenberg died in 1468 at approximately 70 years of age. By 1500, there were more than a thousand print shops in Europe. Gutenberg's dream of distributing information to the masses had come true.
In 1971, Project Gutenberg was launched by University of Illinois student Michael Hart, taking the inventor's dream into the digital age. The idea of Project Gutenberg was to digitize public domain texts into searchable ASCII text files.
The files could then be stored on the university's Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer - one of fifteen nodes on a network that served as the precursor to the Internet. The first text to be digitized was the Declaration of Independence.
Project Gutenberg has since digitized over 50,000 public domain texts (novels, poetry, plays, nonfiction, etc.) in various languages. With the advent of telecommunication, Project Gutenberg e-texts were distributed on bulletin boards and the Internet.
E-books continue to evolve, and electronic reading devices like the Amazon Kindle have made them more popular than ever, but it was Johannes Gutenberg who gave the world its first means of mass-producing books.
Quote Of The Day
"The most important human being whoever lived, if you want to leave out religious figures, would be Johannes Gutenberg... that's when the liberation of human thought happened, because people could read the thoughts of people across the world, and have thoughts of their own, and publish them and spread information around." - Tom Clancy
Today's video features a documentary on Johannes Gutenberg, hosted and narrated by Stephen Fry. Enjoy!
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
This Day In Literary History
On June 22nd, 1964, the famous American writer Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. Brown's father was a teacher, and he grew up on the campus of Philips Exeter Academy, where his father taught.
Brown was an avid reader, but didn't care for most modern fiction, preferring to read the classics or nonfiction. After graduating college, Brown went to Los Angeles, where he hoped to make it as a singer and songwriter.
In Los Angeles, Brown joined the National Academy of Songwriters and met Blythe Newlon, the Academy's Director of Artist Development. They fell in love. Later, when they moved back to New Hampshire, they married.
Brown worked as a teacher while he pursued his singing career. He released his first album, Dan Brown, in 1993. It was followed by Angels & Demons in 1994. He would later use that title as the title for his second novel.
His musical career floundering, Dan decided to try his hand at becoming a novelist after reading Sidney Sheldon's suspense thriller The Doomsday Conspiracy while on vacation in Tahiti. He thought he could write a better novel.
He began work on his first novel and co-wrote a humor book with his wife - 187 Men To Avoid: A Guide For The Romantically Frustrated Woman - under the female pseudonym Danielle Brown.
Dan Brown's first novel, a techno thriller called Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. With Digital Fortress, Brown began exploring his fascination with cryptography.
In the novel, NSA (National Security Agency) cryptographer Susan Fletcher is called upon to stop Digital Fortress - encryption software that the NSA's code-breaking supercomputer TRANSLTR is incapable of cracking.
If Digital Fortress spreads through the Internet, it could cripple the NSA. The novel addresses civil rights issues in the Internet age, such as government agencies hacking into citizens' private data (i.e. messages in e-mail accounts) and reading it.
In Dan Brown's second novel, Angels & Demons (2000), he introduced his most popular character, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon, who is called upon to help investigate a bizarre murder.
A respected nuclear physicist has been found murdered, with one eye removed and an ambigram of the word Illuminati branded on his chest. Langdon is an expert on the Illuminati - a secret brotherhood of scientists founded during the Renaissance to advance science and challenge the authority of the Church.
At the time of the murder, the Pope has died and a papal enclave has convened at the Vatican to elect the new pontiff. The Preferiti - the cardinals who are candidates to become the new Pope - turn up missing. They are being murdered, one by one, in the same way as the nuclear physicist.
Langdon discovers that the fabled Illuminati still exists and is planning to blow up Vatican City with an antimatter bomb in retribution for the massacre of their predecessors, which was carried out by the Church centuries ago.
Angels & Demons was a bestseller - a huge critical and commercial success for Dan Brown. He followed it with the sci-fi suspense thriller Deception Point (2001).
It told the story of Rachel Sexton, an NRO (National Reconnaissance Office) intelligence analyst and part of a team of experts whose mission is to authenticate findings made by NASA deep within the Arctic's Milne Ice Shelf.
The findings are fossils of insects contained within a meteor, which NASA claims may constitute proof of extraterrestrial life. What the team doesn't know is that their activities are being secretly monitored by a Delta Force unit.
Rachel suspects that the meteor may be a fraud. But who would want to discredit NASA? Could it be her own father, ruthless conservative Senator Sedgewick Sexton, a presidential candidate running on a platform of reducing government spending?
He wants to scrap NASA and turn space exploration over to the private sector. His opponent, the incumbent President, is a huge supporter of NASA. Is the Delta Force unit in on the hoax or have they been ordered to assassinate the team of experts to hide the truth?
In 2003, Dan Brown published The Da Vinci Code - a prequel to Angels & Demons - that proved to be a runaway bestseller, selling over sixty million copies and causing a huge controversy.
In The Da Vinci Code, Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is called upon to assist in the investigation of another bizarre and brutal murder - one that took place in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Jacques Sauniere, the museum's curator, was found murdered, with a strange cipher near his body. Teaming up with Sauniere's granddaughter Sophie, Langdon follows a bizarre trail of anagrams, ciphers, number puzzles, and other brainteasers as he tries to solve the murder.
The trail eventually leads the pair to mysterious clues hidden within the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, a cryptex invented by Da Vinci, and the Holy Grail - proof that the foundation of Christianity was a fairy tale conceived by the Church.
Jesus Christ actually escaped crucifixion and fled to France with his pregnant wife Mary Magadelene, where she bore the child - a daughter whose descendants became royalty.
Mary Magdalene was the real rock upon which Jesus built his church, not Peter, which infuriated the fiercely misogynistic disciple. Years later, the Church tried to exterminate all of Jesus and Mary Magdalene's descendants to hide the truth.
But some of them survived, and a secret brotherhood (whose membership included Leonardo Da Vinci) was formed that pledged to protect them and the proof of the "con of Man."
Blending thrilling, intriguing suspense fiction with historical facts and theories, The Da Vinci Code proved to be hugely popular and hugely controversial.
The Vatican denounced the novel as anti-Catholic. The Christian Right called it blasphemous, and both factions published numerous nonfiction books dedicated to debunking the historical facts and theories Brown based his novel on.
After a movie adaptation was released in 2006 (directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon) and became hugely successful itself, some disgruntled writers filed suit to get a piece of the pie.
First, Lewis Purdue sued Dan Brown, claiming that Brown plagiarized his novels The Da Vinci Legacy (1983) and Daughter Of God (2000).
Then, writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh filed suit, claiming that Brown based The Da Vinci Code on theories put forth in their famous 1982 nonfiction book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dan Brown won both lawsuits, as the plagiarism claims were ruled to be baseless.
A feature film version of Angels & Demons was released in May of 2009. A few months later, The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's third novel in his Robert Langdon series, was released.
In it, Langdon agrees to give a lecture in Washington, DC, at the request of his mentor, Peter Solomon. When he arrives in Washington, Langdon finds Solomon's severed hand mounted on a wooden base, the fingers pointing up at a fresco on the ceiling that depicts George Washington dressed in celestial robes and ascending to heaven.
As he investigates his friend's murder, Langdon uncovers clues that lead him toward a fabled source of wisdom known as the Ancient Mysteries - and toward Mal'akh, a tattooed, musclebound madman who believes that the secrets of the Ancient Mysteries will enable him to rule the world...
The fourth Robert Langdon novel, Inferno, was published in 2013. It opens with Langdon waking up in a hospital emergency room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of how he got there or what happened in the past few days.
Sienna Brooks, the doctor caring for him, tells him that he stumbled into the hospital after a bullet grazed his head. The female assassin who tried to kill him then invades the hospital to finish the job. Robert and Sienna are forced to flee.
When Robert finds a curious object - a medieval bone cylinder containing a hi-tech projector that displays a modified version of Botticelli's Map of Hell and the words "The truth can be glimpsed only through the eyes of death" - he plunges into yet another deadly mystery.
As he and Sienna are hunted by everyone from assassins to soldiers, Robert Langdon follows a trail of clues that lead him to a brilliant and demented billionaire and Dante fanatic who's come up with a solution to the world's overpopulation problem - sterilizing one-third of humanity with a virus...
Dan Brown's most recent novel, Origin, the fifth in the Robert Langdon series, was published in October of 2017. In it, Langdon is drawn into the investigation of the murder of Edmond Kirsch, a billionaire computer scientist and futurist.
Kirsch, also known for his ferocious contempt for organized religion, meets with three members of the Parliament of the World's Religions to inform them of a revolutionary scientific discovery he made, which he'll reveal publicly in a month.
During his public presentation at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Kirsch claims that his discovery will end religion forever and usher in a new age of science and enlightenment, but before he can reveal it, he's shot and killed by a member of the controversial Palmarian Catholic Church.
More people are assassinated, and Robert Langdon, (Edmond Kirsch's former professor) along with museum curator Ambra Vidal, investigates the murders. Following a series of clever clues left behind by Kirsch, they learn what he discovered - proof of the real origin of mankind...
Quote Of The Day
"Writing an informative yet compact thriller is a lot like making maple sugar candy. You have to tap hundreds of trees, boil vats and vats of raw sap, evaporate the water, and keep boiling until you've distilled a tiny nugget that encapsulates the essence. " - Dan Brown
Today's video features Dan Brown discussing his most recent novel, Origin. Enjoy!