Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spurious Titles

There is a tradition of spurious bibliography that includes many imaginary books mentioned in works of fiction, like Lovecraft and his Necronomicon; but also, less frequently, some truly imaginative titles appear in nonfictionin articles and reference books that seem on the surface to be entirely reliable and authoritative. How many of these references slip by even the most knowledgeable readers?

Ramsey Campbell apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to invent a new rarity when writing a column (“Ramsey Campbell, Probably” in Necrofile #27, Winter 1998) about a two-part 1983 article in Twilight Zone magazine in which R.S. Hadji, Thomas M. Disch, and Karl Edward Wagner recommended a bunch of obscure horror and weird fiction titles. (All of the titles they recommended were real, though some certainly seemed imaginary by their scarcity.) Campbell wrote that “the article deserves reprinting, guaranteed as it is to send all but the most arduous collector in search of treats as obscure as Francis Xavier Faversham’s The Rising of the Gorge.” Yes, Campbell’s tongue was clearly in his cheek in coming up with that title. For a title as as obscure as The Rising of the Gorge, arduous collectors will indeed search in vain.

Another that I know of appears as a ghost entry in Roger C. Schlobin’s The Literature of Fantasy: A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Modern Fantasy Fiction (1979). Here’s the entry:

Regor Clarkk

220. The Last of the Sorcerer-Dragon. Trans. [from the Welsh] Philip D. Baugher. West Hempstead, NY: Grail Press, 1944.

In this poignant and bittersweet love story, a young professor, on leave in the Gobi Desert, discovers the last of a race of sorcerous dragons. The dragons have guarded mankind since its beginning. The beautiful and compassionate reptile tells the young man the story of man’s beginning—a tale stripped of its Christian overtones that is influenced by the medieval love story, Tristan and Iseult, and which retells the Eden myth in a totally new and delightful way. Throughout, the tragedy of the slowly dying race of benevolent dragons is intertwined, and their powers gradually explained and transferred to the young professor. As she ends her tale, the dragon dies and the man suddenly realizes that he is now the one with the power to aid mankind. One of the least read and least noticed of all fantasy works.

The first clue to me that this was a spurious work, beyond the fact that I found no other reference to it anywhere, was in noticing that “Regor” is Roger spelled backwards—as in the first name of the bibliographer. And sure enough, Schlobin’s middle initial “C.” turned out to be short for Clark. I checked with Schlobin back in 2001, and he admitted that it was a ghost entry, and that I was the first to notice it, adding, “Of course, I did go on to write and publish the novel although [it is] between e-publishers at the moment.”

My all-time favorite bogus entries are to be found in the two editions of John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations as edited by Christopher Morley. These are the Eleventh Edition, published in 1940, and the Twelfth Edition, published in 1951. Among Morley’s imaginative additions is one quotation attributed to Sir Eustace Peachtree (floruit 1640) who (supposedly) wrote in The Dangers of This Mortall Life:

Among the notionable dictes of antique Rome was the fancy that when men heard thunder on the left the gods had somewhat of special advertisement to impart. Then did the prudent pause and lay down their affaire to study what omen Jove intended.

(page 184 of both the 1940 and 1951 editions)

This quotation appears on the title page of Morley’s novel Thunder on the Left (1925), which Morley admitted that he made up for the purpose of his novel.

The best of all spurious references is the quote which ends the section headed “Of Unknown Authorship”:

Nunc scripsi totum: pro Christo da mihi potum.

Monkish inscription at the end of medieval manuscripts

(page 957 of the 1940 edition; page 1219 of the 1951 edition, where it is moved to the end of the section of “Miscellaneous Translations”)

It translates, in essence, “I’ve finished the job, for Christ’s sake give me a drink.”

Does anyone know of further examples of spurious academic bibliography?