Literary Hoaxes

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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…)

Newly Found Frida Kahlo Works Denounced

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, You Decide

Forthcoming Frida Kahlo book denounced as fake
by Jason Edward Kaufman
The Art Newspaper
20 August 09

Art historians assert that “lost archive” of paintings, drawings and diaries are forged

web-frida.425New York. A collection of Frida Kahlo oil paintings, diaries and archival material that is the subject of a book to be published by Princeton Architectural Press on 1 November has been denounced by scholars as a cache of fakes. Finding Frida Kahlo includes reproductions of paintings, drawings and handwritten letters, diaries, notes, trinkets and other ephemera attributed to the artist. They belong to Carlos Noyola and Leticia Fernández, a couple who own the antique store La Buhardilla Antiquarios in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The publisher describes it as “an astonishing lost archive of one of the twentieth century’s most revered artists…full of ardent desires, seething fury, and outrageous humor”. (more…)

LiteratEye #29: Kidnapped by Slavers! Abducted and Tortured by Wild Savages! Worse Yet, Branded a ‘Reckless Liar’!

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters, Urban Legends

Here’s the twenty 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 #29: Kidnapped by Slavers! Abducted and Tortured by Wild Savages! Worse Yet, Branded a ‘Reckless Liar’!
By W.J. Elvin III
September 4, 2009

Indian Peter-200Let’s say you had to choose, which would it be:

Abducted off the streets as a child, cast into the dingy hold of a sailing ship and, when it got filled with other unfortunates like yourself, carried off to a foreign land to be sold into slavery … or … captured by merciless wild Indians, witness to the brutal slaughter of numerous of your own people – men, women and children, and cruelly tortured for the mocking amusement of your captors?

Well, if you happen to be as lucky as Peter Williamson of Aberdeen, Scotland, back in the mid-1700s, you could have all that, plus a few other horrors and terrors for good measure.

Williamson, known later in life as “Indian Peter,” made the best of it. He wrote a book that sold well in his own day and remains an oft-quoted classic among tales of Indian captivity.

It’s quite the yarn, as some of the chapter headings indicate: (more…)

LiteratEye #27: The Plagiarist – A Literary Vampire?

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the twenty seventh 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 #27: The Plagiarist – A Literary Vampire?
By W.J. Elvin III
August 21, 2009

Twilight-PosterJordan Scott claims mega-best-selling author Stephenie Meyer stole some plot ideas for her teenage vampire romance series.

Based on particulars I’ve seen, Scott’s chances of chomping into Meyer’s colossal publishing and film cake are somewhere between slim and none.

There are similarities in the story in question, but coincidence of ideas and phrases is hardly unique in literature.

Generally speaking, plagiarism has more to do with intent than with specifics. Of course there are some blatant cases, as in the one to be discussed further along here, where material is lifted practically “as is.”

Seems like any author who hits it big – Dan Brown and A.J. Rowling come immediately to mind – attracts plagiarism charges and/or lawsuits.

And there are cases in the past – Alex Haley and Roots for instance — where charges have held up. Haley settled with Harry Courlander, author of “The African,” for $650,000.

Well, let’s move on to a case where the hijacking was indisputable. Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist by Neal Bowers details the relentless pursuit of a plagiarist who stole poems, changing them only slightly before sending them off to small literary magazines as his own. (more…)

The Pynchon Hoax

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Submitted by Peter Markus as seen on gawker.com:


Thomas Pynchon is No Indie Rock Groupie
by The Cajun Boy
August 12 2009

pynchon001-200In 1996 the New Yorker ran a “Talk of the Town” piece about the notoriously reclusive Thomas Pynchon becoming a huge fan of an indie rock band called Lotion, a story the magazine now acknowledges was all a hilarious hoax.

To get an idea of how all this came to be, here’s what the New Yorker’s Andrew Essex wrote about the friendship between Pynchon and Lotion in the 1996 TOTT piece:

The writer and the rockers first met in Cincinnati… After the show, the older guy, who was wearing a Godzilla shirt and ill-fitting pants, swung by to offer his compliments. He introduced himself as Tom. Jim Ferguson was reading “Slow Learner”, Pynchon’s collection of short stories. He’d left his copy backstage in a New York rock club, where Pynchon had been invited to watch the show. Pynchon saw it and asked, “Who’s reading my book?” “I said, ‘No, that’s my book,’” Jim recalls. “It didn’t register until 1 got onstage… After that, Tom began showing up at Lotion performances all over the country. An unlikely friendship was born. A year later, the members of Lotion are still a bit stunned by their guardian angel.

Recently Essex contacted the magazine to say that he and the New Yorker’s vaunted fact-checkers had been tricked by the band all those years ago. (more…)