Literary Hoaxes

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LiteratEye #46: Who Discovered the Americas? Egyptians, Irish, Chinese and Your Uncle Bob

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #46: Who Discovered the Americas? Egyptians, Irish, Chinese and Your Uncle Bob
By W.J. Elvin III
January 8, 2010

covermaur-200

“Nowhere, alas, does bullshit and bang-me-arse archaeology flourish so well these days as in America where foolish fantasies pour from the press every month and sell like hotcakes.”

-Noted archaeologist and detective novelist Glyn Daniel, quoted in the book, Fantastic Archaeology.

Do you get lured off down a rabbit hole by claims of lost civilizations, fantastic explorations, bizarre archaeological discoveries and all that? Welcome to the club.

My membership dues have included books I’ve bought, bang-me-arse fabrications or not, about visits to the Americas by Chinese, Welsh, Scot, Irish, Basque, Libyan, Egyptian, Norse and other travelers in the days before Columbus.

There’s no shortage of fascinating tales. Take, for instance, the one about the Roman-Jewish settlement in the Tucson area, dating back a thousand years or so. Has to be a hoax, but if so how did it fool several respectable investigators? (more…)

LiteratEye #45: How to Keep That New Year’s Resolution? Take It Along to a Desert Island

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-fifth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #45: How to Keep That New Year’s Resolution? Take It Along to a Desert Island
By W.J. Elvin III
January 1, 2010

viewoftown-copia-200Happy New Year to all, especially to those who’ve signed on as friends at the Art of the Prank site on Facebook – it’s intriguing to see some of the people you’re writing to, or to try to guess who might be behind that weird picture.

So, have you made a resolution never to do that again, whatever that was? Good luck. Probably the only way to keep your resolution is to go live on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe.

But then, Robinson Crusoe is a literary character, he never really existed. As mentioned in LiteratEye #22, the story is based largely on the adventures of Alexander Selkirk, marooned on the island then known as Aguas Buenas, off the coast of Chile.

It is now officially Robinson Crusoe Island.

Daniel Defoe took a lot of heat for deception because he presented the book as a true memoir, the work of Crusoe.

Even to this day he takes heat for it, as evidenced in Nicholson Baker’s comments in the Columbia Journalism Review: “Robinson Crusoe is Defoe’s most famous hoax. We describe it as a novel, of course, but it wasn’t born that way. On its 1719 title page, the book was billed as the strange, surprising adventures of a mariner who lived all alone for eight-and-twenty years on an uninhabited island, ‘Written by H I M S E L F’-and people at first took this claim for truth and bought thousands of copies.”

Baker passes along a quote from early Defoe biographer William Minto: “He was a great, a truly great liar, perhaps the greatest liar that ever lived.” (more…)

LiteratEye #44: Disinformation: Did Jewish Author J.D. Salinger Really Marry a Nazi Official after World War II?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #44: Disinformation: Did Jewish Author J.D. Salinger Really Marry a Nazi Official after World War II?
By W.J. Elvin III
December 18, 2009

200px-JD_SalingerJ.D. Salinger, the quirky author of The Catcher in the Rye fame, slammed a door in the world’s face many long years ago. But he pops up now and then, mostly in the form of legal representatives, to whomp up on anyone invading his privacy.

Salinger is very much in the news these days due to his efforts to block publication of a “copycat” book.

There is another story, though, that hasn’t caught the attention of literary pundits in the U.S. – yet. It relates to an allegation in his daughter’s highly publicized “tell all” biography, Dream Catcher: A Memoir.

Just a bit of background: The Catcher in the Rye, as readers from Melbourne to Murmansk certainly know without it being said, is one of the most influential books of the last century.

Most survivors of the education mill of the ’60s and ’70s have probably read the book, either because it was required or because it was forbidden. Having sold 35 million copies, sales figures still run to 250,000 copies a year.

The book was denounced as a corrupter of youth. And, given certain sinister associations, maybe the tight-sphincter set was on to something in fearing its impact.

Among obsessive Catcher fans were John Hinckley, who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon.

But that’s another story, and so, back to the “Salinger married a Nazi” allegation. (more…)

LiteratEye #43: Oh, I wonder, wonder who, ummbadoo-ooh, who, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-third installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #43: Oh, I wonder, wonder who, ummbadoo-ooh, who, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?
By W.J. Elvin III
December 11, 2009

santa_record_broken-200Sure, some of us are nostalgic for ancient pagan winter rites like getting all painted up in blue for a sun worshipping cavort around a circle of huge boulders. Or those jolly pre-Christian customs like decorating trees with the intestines and various organs of one’s enemies. But let’s face it, the old-fashioned ways of celebrating year’s end are pretty much out of favor with the mainstream.

All that old-fashioned revelry has been transposed into kinder, gentler Christmas. In fact — regardless of your position as participant, observer of some other tradition, or just as bystander — you probably see the reality of two Christmases operating side by side. There’s the Christian religious celebration and then there’s the giving and getting commercial holiday frenzy.

Well, we’ll leave the religious rigmarole for someone else to tackle. Let’s look at the evolution of the commercial frenzy. (more…)

Boris Vian, French Artist and Provocateur Remembered

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Literary Hoaxes

A half-century homage to France’s master-prankster
by Alison Hird
Radio France Internationale
December 7, 2009

vian-cropped_200Boris Vian [1920 – 1959], the provocative writer, singer, poet, inventor and jazz trumpeter, was underestimated during his short, fast lifetime. Yet he had – and still has – a huge impact on French cultural and intellectual life. Fifty years after his death, Boris has come of age.

Listen to Alison Hird’s “Culture in France: Boris Vian” radio broadcast and read the whole article here.

In the preface to his perhaps finest and most famous novel L’Ecume des jours (Froth on the Daydream) Vian wrote: “There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music…of Duke Ellington. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly”.

Wilfully provocative maybe, but there was more than a hint of truth in those words: Vian loved jazz and everything frivolous.

He refused to take himself seriously… Read more here.

LiteratEye #42: Stuart Kelly Guides Us On the Madcap Trail of Lost Books

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-second installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #42: Stuart Kelly Guides Us On the Madcap Trail of Lost Books
By W.J. Elvin III
December 4, 2009

ThomasUrquhart-200The quiet of a library, the reverential hush, is a courtesy to readers. But it might also involve respect for great works of literature and god-like authors. And do those authors, often gilt-edged and wrapped in fine-tooled leather, really rate our awe?

Many were loose cannons, some eccentric and others flat out insane.

Not that you or I would necessarily know their biographies. But Stuart Kelly does, pretty much. And I don’t think he got his insight into their writing from Classic Comics. He seems to have actually read the stuff.

Kelly is author of The Book of Lost Books.

The subtitle of his book is: “An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read.”

I got onto Kelly’s book while digging for dead authors who are still writing, the topic of a recent column. (#40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion)

The fact is, most books produced before the onset of mass production and general literacy are lost, with neglect, political or religious mania and war being among prime causes. (more…)

LiteratEye #41 – Making a Killing in the Rare Book Business, Texas-Style

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-first installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #41 – Making a Killing in the Rare Book Business, Texas-Style
By W.J. Elvin III
November 27, 2009

scan0002-200Texans of the old-time cowboy mentality regard stunts like putting an unwary dude on the wildest bucking bronco they can find as just another darn good rip-snortin’ down-home prank.

And, in that vein, two high-rolling Texas book dealers in this story thought saddling the suckers with forged or stolen rarities was a real knee-slapper.

We’ll get to that but first a bit of background.

Forgery and theft are the two major crime concerns in the rare book business. It’s also a field where, as we shall see, one might just get away with murder.

While forgery is often encountered on the LiteratEye beat, theft also has elements of deception. When selling a stolen rare book the thief will predictably explain: “I found it in an attic.”

Book theft has long appealed to the pros because, for one thing, a small easily-concealed rare book may be worth thousands of dollars, and secondly, until recently book thefts were rarely treated as serious crimes. (more…)

LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fortieth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #40: And Death Shall Have No Dominion, Particularly If You’re a Best-Selling Author
By W.J. Elvin III
November 20, 2009

pride, prejudice, zombies200It seems a sad thing that writers who keep on pumping out books after they are dead aren’t around to enjoy the benefits. Maybe there are literary awards passed out in heaven? “Best Book By A Recently-Deceased Author.”

I got to thinking about that after learning that mystery writer and outdoor expert William G. Tapply, who had become just plain “Bill” over the course of our correspondence last year, died recently. He left several books still to be published.

What that leads into is the issue of after-death publishing, not the posthumous publication of completed works as in Tapply’s case but works produced under an author’s name but actually involving other writers.

Sometimes such books are based on partially completed manuscripts, or even derived from ideas jotted on a cocktail napkin. If that.

The issue takes some odd turns. (more…)

LiteratEye #39: What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? Somebody Else.

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty ninth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #39: What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? Somebody Else.
By W.J. Elvin III
November 13, 2009

“My walk will be different, my talk and my name,
Nothing about me is going to be the same…”

-From the song lyric, There’ll Be Some Changes Made

12156_Grey-Owl-200There are different kinds of imposters in the field of literary deception. There’s the trickster, such as the false-memoirist in it for the bucks. And then there’s the true believer, the re-invented person who is really into a role.

Nasdijj is a trickster. He made claims but actually had no direct experience of the Navajo life he wrote about.

Grey Owl, on the other hand, surely had a trickster streak but he was far more the true believer. He was an English boy, Archie Belaney, who wanted to be an Indian. And eventually, in outward appearance and lifestyle, he became one.

If the imposter Nasdijj has any Indian defenders, I haven’t run across them. But certainly Grey Owl does. One of them is Armand Garnet Ruffo, author of Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney. The book is a prose poem that includes tales from Ruffo’s Ojibway relations.

Having read half a dozen accounts of Belany/Grey Owl’s life, I find the “facts” vary from one biographer to the next. Then there’s his own autobiography and other writings, which have to be taken with a pillar of salt. (more…)

LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty eighth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #38: New ‘Literary Hoaxes’ Book Leaves the Curious Reader in the Dark
By W.J. Elvin III
November 6, 2009

There are a great many mysteries in the field of literary deception.

amberwitch-200So it is always a pleasure to learn of a new book that may shed light.

Having seen advance reviews some time ago in the British Press, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Melissa Katsoulis’ Literary Hoaxes.

Well, it’s a grand overview, a nice line-up of the usual suspects, but I’m less than delighted. Hoaxes raises many more questions than it answers, most of the questions resulting from a failure to source the tales therein.

How is it Katsoulis knows so much about William Henry Ireland, the young Shakespeare forger of the late 1700s?

Who told Katsoulis that the American Indian imposter Grey Owl was once recognized through his feathers by his very British aunts, who decided to keep their observation a secret?

And what assurance do we have that the author has her facts straight regarding Pierre Plantard’s part in creating the hoax behind Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code?

And so on, and on.

The book has no citations, no bibliography. No index, though the table of contents serves the purpose in a basic way. There just aren’t many signposts to guide those who might want to know more about any given topic. (more…)

LiteratEye #36- Memo to New Age Native American Wannabes: Maybe It’s Time for a Brain Dance

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, The Big One

Here’s the thirty sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #36- Memo to New Age Native American Wannabes: Maybe It’s Time for a Brain Dance
By W.J. Elvin III
October 23, 2009

LL009-200Who wouldn’t want to pop $9,695 for the opportunity to starve for a couple of days and then sit in a steamy, almost unbearably hot box for hours and hours with 50 or so other eager seekers hoping to obtain the secret to enormous wealth?

Mighty compelling. But unfortunately it recently meant death for three participants and dire illness for 18 others. The verdict isn’t in as to the exact cause but apparently the tragedy resulted from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest and elevated body temperature.

The seekers were participating in a “sweat lodge” ritual under the direction of James Arthur Ray, author of Practical Spirituality: How to Use Spiritual Power to Create Tangible Results, and many other similar books.

The charismatic Ray, like many others who might be termed New Age gurus, bases his promises of wealth, healing and/or special powers on a concoction distilled from the mystical beliefs of many cultures. The sweat lodge, at least this particular version, is borrowed from a Native American cleansing ritual.

These New Age gurus are messing with practices that the – what, “Old Age” – cultures have maybe thousands of years experience in administering. Many of the groups that hold the rituals sacred not only resent the “theft of culture” but for many years now have been warning of horrific dangers awaiting novice practitioners. (more…)

LiteratEye #35: Ghost Story: The Riddle of Who Wrote What

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the thirty fifth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #35: Ghost Story: The Riddle of Who Wrote What
By W.J. Elvin III
October 16, 2009

seance-200It may come as a surprise to some that Sean Connery, in his recent book, Being A Scot, provides a truly enlightening cultural history lesson.

The book, issued by Phoenix Illustrated and as yet available only as an expensive import here in the States, surveys Scottish creativity, inventiveness and history. And, since it’s autobiographical in its own quirky way, there’s the necessarily egocentric focus on Connery.

Of particular interest to armchair detectives of the LiteratEye squad is the invitation to help solve a literary mystery.

Connery presents a gloom-and-doom quote, written two hundred years ago but obviously appropriate in the present day. Sorry if it’s a bit windy and profound, it’s Sir Sean’s puzzle, not mine:

“A democracy is always temporary, and therefore cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It will only exist until the voters discover that they can reward themselves with the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury. A democracy therefore always collapses over loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a great dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

Connery says the quote traces to the voluminous works of a fellow Scot, the historian Alexander Fraser Tytler. It was given new life in a speech by President Ronald Reagan (who, ironically, sparked massive raids on the public treasury to compensate for the economic crimes and disasters resulting from his deregulation debacles).

What Connery wants to know is just where in Tytler’s work does the quote appear? A search of Tytler archives in the U.S. and Scotland failed to turn up the exact source. (more…)

LiteratEye #33: The Horror Story Byron Didn’t Write Made His Rep as a Vampire

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty third installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #33: The Horror Story Byron Didn’t Write Made His Rep as a Vampire
By W.J. Elvin III
October 2, 2009

bela_200“Everywhere you look in entertainment these days, you see vampires.” It was cultural critic Johanna Schneller who stuck her neck out to make that observation, quoted in The Week magazine.

Vampires everywhere. Well, then, wouldn’t it be just the right time for a film focusing on suspicions that literature’s premier bad boy, George Gordon, Lord Byron, was a vampire?

Yes, of course, you say, the more vampires the better. And by the way, who is this GGLB character?

Byron is considered a poetic genius on par with greats like Milton or Dryden, but it is his orgiastic personal life that draws most of the attention he gets today. His work still sells – I just saw a six-volume set of his collected works on eBay. He wrote some exquisite, memorable lines – ‘She walks in beauty like the night’ – but the language of the bulk of it is undoubtedly foreign to modern readers.

It used to be, you described someone as “Byronic” and any literate person knew just what you meant. The brooding, mysterious, rebellious poet of later times is a knock-off of the image Byron created for himself.

He was the sort modern publishers hunger for, a master of manipulating his own image into a creation that fascinated the public, thereby enhancing sales of his books. Of recent authors, he calls to mind Ernest Hemingway, a writer who lived much of his legend but also made certain he got plenty of publicity as a result. (more…)

LiteratEye #32: Pranks With a Novel Twist — An Interview with Elusive Wu Ming

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters

Here’s the thirty second installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #32: Pranks With a Novel Twist — An Interview with Elusive Wu Ming
By W.J. Elvin III
September 25, 2009

band0-200The counter-cultural creative arts collective Wu Ming, based in Italy, evolved out of the madcap Luther Blissett phenomenon (see LiteratEye #15).

Blissett scattered into a million little pieces, becoming an incredible world-wide prank epidemic. For a time it seemed everyone was doing bizarre creative “actions” and attributing them to Blissett.

Then some members of the group that launched the Blissett project morphed into Wu Ming.

Apparently they are now four culturally revolutionary Italian novelists cranking out very popular books.

Being anonymous – the name means “no name” in Mandarin – they are only identified by number, Wu Ming1 through Wu Ming5.

Right. And we just said there are four of them. Well, one of them must have dropped out. Or something. (more…)

LiteratEye #31: Poe’s Poems Were Hoaxers Focus

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the thirty first installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #31: Poe’s Poems Were Hoaxers Focus
By W.J. Elvin III
September 18, 2009

2h88h2v.pg-200A master of macabre prose and poetry, Edgar Allan Poe’s greatest masterpiece was undoubtedly himself. Fate had its cruel influence, but to a great extent he authored his own construction and destruction.

You might ask: “Isn’t that true of all of us?” Probably so, to some degree.

But the little lies and exaggerations we construct about ourselves aren’t likely any match for the mystifications of a man whose life remains a weird puzzle despite study by hundreds of researchers and scholars.

Poe’s life and work have been very much in the spotlight this year. Events continue in his primary haunts – Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City – and throughout the nation and the world, in honor of his 200th birthday.

If you haven’t participated, there’s still time to take part in remembrances. Who knows what you might learn, about Poe or about yourself.

Poe walked in the psyche’s darkness as easily as most of us walk in broad daylight. And he brought back tales putting a name and words to what we find inexpressible. Or at least that was so in his day. Today the reader probably thinks, “Yep, saw that last week on Warehouse Thirteen.” (The spooky sci-fi series did in fact incorporate Poe into a recent episode).

But then again, he probably didn’t have anything therapeutic in mind. As portrayed by some students of his life and work, Poe may well have been a diabolical, disdainful and drug-addled trickster who delighted in tormenting his readers. (more…)