Thursday, September 20, 2012

Telling Tales

Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes, by Melissa Katsoulis

I had fun reading this collection of literary fakes and hoaxes (and I love the clever cover!).  Katsoulis only covers more modern stories, from the 18th century on, and I was not familiar with most of them.  She describes all sorts: plain forgers preying on the gullible, sons looking for approval from distant fathers, zealots, jokesters, annoyed rivals, and impersonators. 

A whole chapter is dedicated to Australia, which apparently has more hoaxes per pound than most other countries do.  They're a Weird Mob is a funny, jokey semi-hoax, but some of them are pretty strange.  Of course, the worst one was pulled by a woman from the US--I'd heard of Mutant Message Down Under before, but was unaware of the details.  Wow.

The 'Native American' and 'Holocaust victim' hoaxes are often pretty disturbing, not to mention the really disturbing ones involving fake AIDS victims.  Besides them, you can find out who wrote the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, who made up the Priory of Sion and inspired The Da Vinci Code, and who tried to hoax the whole world with the fake Hitler Diaries.

(The Protocols story reminded me of one of my oddest library requests ever.  A cheerful aging hippie dude once asked me to get that book for him on interlibrary loan.  He was the sort of guy who takes great delight in showing off his knowledge of sketchy literature--I would bet money that he keeps The Anarchist's Cookbook on his coffee table, just so visitors will see it.)

I didn't always love her tone, but oh well.  I did notice that in the beginning, describing what literary hoaxers tend to have in common, she notes that many have had an absent parent, and that "even if they have had a materially privileged start in life or are possessed of a sharp intelligence, at some point each hoaxer has been made to feel excluded from the world they would be part of."  It seems to me rather silly to put that in as a factor, since there is probably no human being who has ever lived who wasn't made to feel excluded sometime.  On the whole, I thought the psychology was a little too facile and PC.  But it's a small complaint.

If you want to read this very interesting collection of tidbits, and you live in the US, you'll have to either buy it or ILL it (as I did).  It seems to have been published only in the UK. 

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