Literary conspiracy theories

21:39, Jan 31 2013

You might be interested to know that every character in Winnie The Pooh has a mental illness. Yep, Pooh has ADHD, Eeyore has chronic depression, Tigger is hyperactive and impulsive and Christopher Robin may have future gender identity issues.

Oh, Holden Caulfield and Nick Carraway are both gay, Lewis Carroll's walrus and carpenter are the Buddha and Jesus, and Hogwarts was all in poor, deluded Harry Potter's head - it's called "fantasy coping theory". It makes sense, as this The Atlantic article points out, Harry got sent to the "infirmary" six times over the series, perhaps code for a hospital emergency room after suffering physical abuse at the hands of his aunt and uncle?

I do love me a good conspiracy theory, so it made me think long and hard about what other literary conspiracy theories I've heard about over the years. One of the most famous is about Alice in Wonderland, and how the entire story is one big drug trip written while author Lewis Carroll was high, which has since been proven to be untrue (for one thing, there were few hallucinogenic drugs available in his time) - but let's go along for the ride anyway, because it's kinda fun to imagine.

In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the hookah-smoking Caterpillar becomes a metaphor for marijuana, and then there was all that suspicious eating and drinking that Alice did before she shrank and grew. Let's not forget that the Caterpillar also advised Alice to eat some mushrooms. Special ones, by any chance? The giggling Cheshire cat was also obviously on something - literary conspiracy theorists largely agree it's probably nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. 

Another famous children's work by another Lewis (C.S.), The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, has brought about furious debate on internet conspiracy forums. Mostly, people appear to think the book is an allegory about Christianity - Lewis was strongly Anglican, to the point that he also wrote a theological book. According to this theory, Aslan is Jesus, as proven by his death and coming back to life (rising again), and the kids represent different facets of humanity, especially Edmund, who has his original sin erased by the death of Aslan.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, of course, brought the term "Big Brother" into popular lexicon and it's also largely agreed that it's a searing fictional critique of Stalinist Russia. In fact, Stalin is rumoured to be the inspiration for the character of Big Brother. All the devices of control used in the novel, "newspeak" and "doublethink" for example, represent the use of government propaganda to control the masses. Orwell also attacks totalitarianism regimes again in Animal Farm.


In fact, Orwell is supposed to have said that "every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been against totalitarianism".

Homoerotic undercurrents can also be found in the Sherlock Holmes series. In fact, a short book has been written about the potential pairing of Holmes and Watson called My Dearest Holmes, by Rohase Piercy. There has also been screeds of fan fiction written around this couple, and I dare say that the latest incarnation of Holmes and Watson starring Robert Downey Jr and and Jude Law as Watson has probably helped fuel imaginations.

In The Three Garridebs (check out the Holmes/Watson relationship timeline here), some kind of relationship, or at least romantic longing, is revealed by the following lines:

"You're not hurt, Watson? For god's sake, say that you are not hurt!"

It was worth a wound - it was worth many wounds - to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation."

Over many years of dedicated book geekery, I've had my own moments of inspiration as well. I've always thought that Tybalt was in love with his cousin Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, which, of course, was the catalyst for their unfortunate end.

What literary conspiracy theories have you dreamed up of or heard about? Which of these are your favourites?

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