A few weeks ago, I was reading an interview with a novelist who was discussing the changes filmmakers had made to his novel. He said, “It’s their turn to hold the conch.” And I didn’t even have to think about it, I immediately understood what he was saying because I caught the reference to The Lord of the Flies, a novel I’d read 30-some years ago. As surely you know, he who holds the conch gets to speak. Or, you know, totally change the story of the novel.
I love getting the reference. Oh, sure it’s great to catch a film or pop culture reference, but for my money, getting a literary reference is the best feeling in the world. I do feel just a little bit superior on those occasions when I see someone wearing a t-shirt that reads “Who is John Galt?” The wearer and I are members of a somewhat exclusive club. And there are certain uses of the number 42 that are guaranteed to elicit a smile from me.
Literary references have become a part of my basic vocabulary, part of the very way that I think. I recently described a zombie apocalypse as a “brave new world.” I will often ironically describe something as “double plus good.” Does anyone understand my Orwellian Newspeak? Do they catch the literary reference, or do they simply think I’m really, really inarticulate? Just yesterday I referenced Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in the review of an Africa-set novel—and I haven’t even read that book!
Is it just me? Do you also know the joy of getting the reference? What are some of your favorites?