Tuesday, June 3, 2014


In 1934, a male English author named Evelyn Waugh wrote a book called A Handful of Dust, which focused on the breakdown of a marriage and has been named more than once as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It was originally called A Handful of Ashes, but after a dispute with his American publishers, Waugh renamed it—after a line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” which was written a dozen years earlier.

I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

But “The Waste Land,” regarded as one of the century’s most important poems and loosely following the legends of the Fisher King and the Holy Grail, also borrowed its title from another source. In his notes about the poem, Eliot wrote, “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book.” That book, From Ritual to Romance, was an academic examination of the roots of the King Arthur legend and had been published only two years earlier.

So let’s recap, shall we? Over the course of just 14 years, one book borrowed its title from a poem, which borrowed its title from another book. Oh, and a line from “The Waste Land” also led to the title of two Iain Banks novels—Consider Phlebas and Look to Windward. And another poem by Eliot (“Whispers of Immortality”) contributed the title for P.D. James’s The Skull Beneath the Skin. And still another bit of poetry by Eliot (“Gerontion”) sparked the title of another book, this one a detective novel by Peter Robinson called In A Dry Season. Who says all literature isn’t derivative?

Then again, these titular literary loans are far more common that you might think. Charles Dickens did it. Ernest Hemingway did it. William Faulkner did it. E.M. Forster, George Orwell, Margaret Mitchell, Maya Angelou… they all borrowed. In fact, Aldous Huxley, Agatha Christie, John Steinbeck, and Madeleine L’Engle were serial borrowers.

So for the Why Not 100, I have come up with a list that honors the best-of-the-best of the borrowers—74 titles from renowned authors, all of which were taken from other literary creations.

First, there are the titles that come straight from the Bible:

1. The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
2. Abalom, Absalom! (William Faulkner)
3. If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (William Faulkner)
4. The Violent Bear It Away (Flanner O’Connor)
5. A Time to Kill (John Grisham)
6. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (James Agee)
7. The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)
8. The Way of All Flesh (Samuel Butler)
9. Fear and Trembling (Soren Kierkegaard)
10. The Golden Bowl (Henry James)
11. The Lilies of the Field (William E. Barrett)
12. Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh)

And here are 46 more classic books and the literature from whence the titles came:

13. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)—from “Meditation XVII” (John Donne)

14. Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)—from “Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae” (Ernest Dowson)

15. Look Homeward, Angel (Thomas Wolfe)—from “Lycidas” (John Milton)

16. As I Lay Dying (William Faulkner)—from The Odyssey (Homer)

17. Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald)—from “Ode to a Nightingale” (John Keats)

18. This Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald)—from “Tiare Tahiti” (Rupert Brooke)

19. In Dubious Battle (John Steinbeck)—from “Paradise Lost” (John Milton)

20. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)—from “Sympathy” (Paul Laurence Dunbar)

21. A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)—from Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting (Jonathan Swift)

22. A Passage to India (E.M. Forster)—from Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman)

23. Where Angels Fear to Tread (E.M. Forster)—from “Essay on Criticism” (Alexander Pope)

24. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown)—from “American Names” (Stephen Vincent Benet)

25. No Country For Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)—from “Sailing To Byzantium” (William Butler Yeats)

26. O Pioneers! (Willa Cather)—from “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” (Walt Whitman)

27. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)—from “The Second Coming” (William Butler Yeats)

28. Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham)—from Ethics (Baruch Spinoza)

29. The Painted Veil (W. Somerset Maugham)—from “Lift Not The Painted Veil Which Those Who Live” (Percy Shelley)

30. Waiting for the Barbarians (J.M. Coetzee)—from “Waiting for the Barbarians” (Constantine P. Cavafy)

31. Cricket on the Hearth (Charles Dickens)—from “Il Penseroso” (John Milton)

32. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Mark Haddon)—from “Silver Blaze” (Arthur Conan Doyle)

33. A Handful of Dust (Evelyn Waugh)—from “The Waste Land” (T.S. Eliot)

34. All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren)—from “Humpty Dumpty”

35. Dying of the Light (George R.R. Martin)—from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” (Dylan Thomas)

36. The Golden Apples of the Sun (Ray Bradbury)—from “The Song of the Wandering Angus” (William Butler Yeats)

37. I Sing the Body Electric (Ray Bradbury)—from Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman)

38. Blood’s A Rover (James Ellroy)—from “Reveille” (A.E. Housman)

39. Surprised By Joy (C.S. Lewis)—from “Surprised By Joy” (William Wordsworth)

40. Cabbages and Kings (O. Henry)—from “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Lewis Carroll)

41. Far From the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy)—from “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (Thomas Gray)

42. From Here to Eternity (James Jones)—from “Gentleman-Rankers” (Rudyard Kipling)

43. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)—from “The Lonely Hunter” (William Sharp)

44. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackery)—from The Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan)

45. A Catskill Eagle (Robert B. Parker)—from Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

46. Pale Kings and Princes (Robert B. Parker)—from “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (John Keats)

47. A Darkling Plain (Philip Reeve)—from “Dover Beach” (Matthew Arnold)

48. A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Laurie R. King)—from The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (John Knox)

49. Cover Her Face (P.D. James)—from “The Duchess of Malfi” (John Webster)

50. The Skull Beneath the Skin (P.D. James)—from “Whispers of Immortality” (T.S. Eliot)

51. Everything is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer)—from The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)

52. In A Dry Season (Peter Robinson)—from “Gerontion” (T.S. Eliot)

53. Some Buried Caesar (Rex Stout)—from “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” (Edward Fitzgerald)

54. The Lathe of Heaven (Ursula K. Le Guin)—from Zhuangzi, Book XXIII

We’ll add four more from Madeleine L’Engle, one that references a poem and three more from the Bible:

55. A Swiftly Tilting Planet—from “Morning Song of Senlin” (Conrad Aiken)

56. An Acceptable Time

57. Many Waters

58. The Moon By Night

And several classics from John Steinbeck:

59. Of Mice and Men—from “To a Mouse” (Robert Burns)

60. East of Eden—from the Bible

61. The Grapes of Wrath—from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”(Julia Ward Howe)

62. To a God Unknown—from Rigveda Book X

The prolific Agatha Christie borrowed five titles from other literary works:

63. Butter in a Lordly Dish—from the Bible

64. Endless Night—from “Auguries of Innocence” (William Blake)

65. The Moving Finger—from “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” (Edward Fitzgerald)

66. Postern of Fate—from “The Gates of Damascus” (James Elroy Flecker)

67. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side (Agatha Christie—from “The Lady of Shalott” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

And finally, nobody liked to borrow quite like Aldous Huxley:

68. The Doors of Perception—from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (William Blake)

69. Those Barren Leaves—from “The Tables Turned” (William Wordsworth)

70. Antic Hay —from “Edward II” (Christopher Marlowe)

71. Eyeless in Gaza—from “Samson Agonistes” (John Milton)

72. Beyond the Mexique Bay—from “Bermudas” (Andrew Marvell)

73. Jesting Pilate—from “Of Truth” (Francis Bacon)

74. Brave New World—from “The Tempest” (William Shakespeare)

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