April: Top five Easter eggs in Literature

Happy Easter, everyone.

I hope you are enjoying the long weekend. I don’t normally take much notice of Easter. I’m not religious and I don’t enjoy chocolate so I normally just enjoy the extra long weekend. There is one kind of Easter egg I do enjoy, Easter eggs in films and literature. I’ve spoken about these kinds of Easter eggs before, they are a joke or a secret that you have to search for. Arguably the most famous Easter egg in film is the number A113. The developers at Pixar Studios worked in a classroom called A113 and have hidden that code into most of their films.

A113 as seen in Toy Story 3, Cars, Monsters University, Finding Nemo, Wally, Bug’s Life and Car 2.

While Easter eggs hidden in films are more prolific that those in literature today we’ll be looking at the latter. There are hundreds of lists dedicated to Easter eggs in films and I wanted to do something a little different.

These are my top five Easter eggs in literature, I hope you enjoy.

1 – The Stephen King Universe

The term “cinematic universe” is used to describe a series of films that are set in the same universe and impact one another without being direct sequels. The most popular cinematic universe at the moment is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (abbreviated as the MCU) and it was Marvel who also popularised the term to modern day audiences. Surprisingly the technique of cinematic universes dates back to 1941 and the creation of the horror film, The Wolf Man. The Wolf Man was so popular that it lead to a crossover film, Frankenstein meets The Wolf Man, starting the first recorded cinematic universe. Interestingly this universe, called the Dark Universe was rebooted in 2017 with Tom Cruise’s The Mummy which unfortunately failed to impress critics.

Shared universes are common in literature, particularly in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genre. The first shared universe I can think of is Terry Pratchett’s disk-world series. The reason Stephen King’s universe is worthy of this list is the fact that you wouldn’t know it was a shared universe unless you were looking for it. Every published work of Stephen King’s contains at least two references to his other works. 

The above chart should indicate to you how how detailed and intricate the Stephen King universe is. If you want to see the chart in more detail, click here. My favourite links in the Stephen King universe are:

  • Characters from several novels visiting or mentioning the infamous Shawshank prison. 
  • The multiple appearances of Randall Flagg, a worshipper of the outer dark.
  • Several concepts such as Ka (fate) or ancient animal guardians appearing across novels.

King has never explained if he started his universe intentionally or if it evolved naturally (I like to think the latter) but I’m warming to the idea of the Jack Dowd universe…

2 – The name of the real Alice in Wonderland is hidden in Through the Looking Glass.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, most commonly known as Alice in Wonderland was first published in 1865 by Lewis Carroll and has been credited as one of the most influential novels ever written. In the novel a little girl called Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a land where logic does not exist. In her adventures, Alice meets several now well known characters including the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat. Although many readers view the children’s novel as an allegory for drug use (which isn’t surprising when you consider Alice eats magic mushrooms and talks to animals) Carroll actual intended the novel to be satirical view on the new methods of mathematics, in particular algebra. Carroll argued the logic behind algebra was absurd and that if a world was governed by such logic it would appear like his Wonderland.

Although the message of the novel was lost upon most readers Carroll wrote a sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (also simply known as Through the Looking-Glass). This novel introduced more iconic characters such as the Jabberwocky and Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

What people may not realise is that Lewis Carroll is a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Dodgson held a first class degree in mathematics from Oxford university and although he had numerous health problems (including a stutter, a knee injury, deafness in one ear, whooping cough, an unknown chest condition and possible migraine and epilepsy problems) he was generally liked among his colleagues. Since his death however Dodgson’s reputation has been tarnished and the relationship between him and Alice has been described as predatory…

Alice Liddle the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson also known as Lewis Carroll

Dodgson met Alice Liddle in 1856 in Oxford and became a close friend of the Liddle family. In 1862 while on a rowing boat with Alice and her sisters Dodgson began to tell them a story which later became the first draft of Alice’s adventure in Wonderland. According to witnesses at the time Dodgson was more comfortable in the company of children than adults and would often spend time with the Liddle children unsupervised. During his lifetime Dodgson painted as a hobby and out of his surviving 3000 paintings more than half contain unclothed children as the subjects. In addition to this, in 1863 the Liddle family had a falling out with Dodgson. Dodgson kept detailed diaries over his lifetime but the pages containing details of this rift were removed.

Despite this damming evidence there is also reason to believe that Dodgson was the target of a smear campaign. Due to his health problems it is suspected that Dodgson preferred the company of children to adults as they would not judge him. While Dodgson did paint naked children, in Victorian times they were seen as presexual creatures and many of Dodgson’s friends believed his claims that there was no erotic element in his work. Although the missing pages are yet to be explained, in her later life Alice Liddle always spoke very highly of Dodgson and denied any claims of a sexual inappropriateness.

Regardless of their relationship, Dodgson left a clue to the real Alice in the poem, A boat beneath a sunny sky.

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die.
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

The first letter of each line spells out the full name of the real Alice, Alice Pleasance Liddle. 

3 – The Da Vinci Code holds hidden clues in its dust jacket.

The Da Vinci code is a mystery novel that examines alternative history through the use of symbols and historical documents. In the novel (spoiler warning) symbologist Robert Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu discover that Jesus Christ had a secret daughter who’s bloodline has survived to the modern day.  The Da Vinci Code was published by Dan Brown in 2003 but despite being a best seller was faced with mixed reviews. Brown’s prose was described as wooden and clumsy with critics pointing out his many historical inaccuracies. The novel also offended religious groups and resulted in several lawsuits all of which were unsuccessful. These setbacks did not stop Brown from writing three more novels in the series and for what it’s worth I enjoyed the Da Vinci code. 

I do not have a copy of The Da Vinci Code to hand so please enjoy this image from Google.

It is not surprising that in a novel about code breaking and secret cyphers that the book itself contains a secret. On the back page of the novel’s original dust jacket (pictured above), beside the reviews are numbers written in dark red ink on a light red background. These numbers are the coordinates of the Kryptos statue, outside the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. This statue was built and installed by Jim Sanborn in 1990 and contains four codes, only three of which have been solved.

The Kryptos statue

This isn’t the only hidden code Brown has used in his novels. On the final page of Deception Point readers can find a string of random letters and numbers. They are: 

“1-V-116-44-11-89-44-46-L-51-130-19-118-L-32-118-116-130-28-116-32-44-133-U-130.”

If, and I don’t know who first worked this out or why, you replaced each number in the sequence with the first letter in the corresponding chapter in Deception Point you will receive a new code.

“T V C I R H I O L F E N D L A D C E S C A I W U E”

While this may look meaningless to you and me codebreakers noticed that this second code contains twenty five characters which can be arranged in a five by five square. 

T V C I R
H I O L F
E N D L A
D C E S C
A I W U E

On first glance this too looks meaningless but if you read this square top to bottom left to right you will find the following message:

The Da Vinci Code will surface.

Two years after Deception Point, Brown published The Da Vinci code. 

4 – There is a hidden Playboy bunny logo on the front page of every Playboy Magazine

I had a choice when planning this particular entry. I could have chosen to write about the runes Tolkin placed around the borders of Lord of the Ring and how they can be translated to Ancient Norse or I could have written about Playboy. I’ve written about Tolkin’s languages before on my website and the Playboy Magazine were much more… interesting to research.

A Playboy logo has been hidden on the front page of every Playboy Magazine since the second issue. While some of these logos are obvious others are much more subtle as the pictures below demonstrate.

It’s very impressive that the editors of the magazines continued to hide these logos from 1952 all the way to March 2020 when the magazine moved online due to complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Another interesting fact is that the magazine series held short stories from Ian Flemming, Roald Dahl and Margaret Atwood. I think it is safe to say that their works were not the most attractive feature of the magazine. Ahem. 

5 – The naked women on the front cover of The Great Gatsby

While The Great Gatsby is in the syllabus of most American schools, it is not featured in the British educational system. Due to this, I did not have the pleasure of reading his novel until I was in my final year of university. The novel is famous for its ambiguity, it can be interpreted countless ways but while the novel itself has been dissected in countless classrooms the cover of the novel itself is rarely given a second look. 

In the novel there is a billboard which contains the eyes of Doctor T.J Eckleburg. This billboard is located in the Valley of Ashes, a dumping ground for industrial waste and is set between the luxurious West Egg area and New York City. Although the billboard is selling glasses most of the characters who see the advert feel disturbed by the giant eyes overlooking the wasteland. The novel suggests that these are the eyes of God looking out and judging American society and due to the sheer imagery of this most versions of The Great Gatsby use these eyes on their front covers. 

However, if you take a closer look at the eyes you will see two naked woman. Have a look at the close up below.

These figures are a subtle joke from the illustrator Francis Cudat. Cudat was contacted by Fitzgerald’s publisher to design a front cover for the upcoming novel and was paid $100 for his work. He created the now iconic book cover but for reasons unknown he refused to create any other illustrations following this commission. Although Fitzgerald at first liked the cover, his enthusiasm later waned and he admitted in a conversation with his friend Earnest Hemmingway that he thought the cover did not portray the seriousness of the novel. 

I hope you enjoyed this list. Make sure to enjoy your easter and I’ll see you next time.

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