The Latest Word on Hawthorne

With the departure of LJ book review editor Mirela Roncevic to her new publishing job in Croatia, I’m thrilled to inherit some of her assigning categories. Now I get to assign and edit Literature book reviews, meaning, for the most part, books of literary criticism, literary biography, and related collections. (And I need more reviewers in this area! Please email for details!)

The Lit shelves in the bookroom here are overflowing with juicy stuff, new biographies of Louisa May Alcott, Raold Dahl, letters of Saul Bellow, volume 1 of Mark Twain’s Autobiography — presented for the first time uncut and uncensored!

And a book called The Story of Literature: From Antiquity to the Present, published by H.F. Ullmann of Potsdam, Germany (distributed by Langenscheidt), which claims its “Story of…” series “provides quick and sound knowledge on the most central cultural-historical topics with a chronological depiction of the most important topics.”

All bookies have their test subjects that they use to gauge a reference work’s authority. For this book, I went right to the paragraphs on Hawthorne, where I read that “Hawthorne’s short stories, such as The Minister’s Black Veil and Mudkips of Fire, exhibit a regression to a more Puritan outlook that sees man as inherently sinful and –”

Mudkips of Fire“? Forget the quibble about short story titles being placed in italics, Hawthorne didn’t write about any “mudkips.”

How to figure such a confusion out! First of all, it turns out that a mudkip is a Pokemon species. Live and learn. That’s one of them up above.

Where could the unnamed authors of this book have come up with that citation? (The book credits two editors on the copyright page: Ritu Malhotra and Gaurav Dikshit. Yes.) All I could find in a casual web search was an entry in the New World Encyclopedia (“Organizing Knowledge for Happiness, Prosperity, and World Peace,” though not, evidently, for accuracy), which, in the “Dark Romanticism” entry, says “Hawthorne’s short stories, including “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Mudkips of Fire”, …hold that guilt and sin are qualities inherent in man. ”

No wonder Goethe is up there on the cover looking embarrasssed!

Now, by writing this blog, I have effectively doubled the number of web citations for a Mudkips story by Hawthorne.

How many web citations make something true?

Margaret Heilbrun About Margaret Heilbrun

Margaret Heilbrun is a former Senior Editor, Library Journal Book Review.


  1. rjfmgy says:

    The whole thing is a complete mystery to me, but I must say that if was going to write a short story illustrating the theme that guilt and sin are qualities inherent in man, I would never in a million years be able to come up with a better title than “Mudkips of Fire.”

  2. Stewart says:

    I was curious enough to look through a list of Hawthorne’s stories (which you must have done also) to see if there was some mistranslation. But I didn’t find anything. Maybe they meant Young Goodman Mudkip.

  3. Megan Fraser says:

    This isn’t remotely related to your points, but may I also express disappointment about the three white men and one white woman on the cover of this volume? Surely the whole “story of literature from antiquity to the present” includes writers who don’t look like that. (Should I be happy they at least included a woman?) But anyway, I am in agreement with the first commenter about the excellence of the title, it’s egregiously wrong attribution aside.

  4. Megan Fraser says:

    And I’ve negated the righteousness of my rant with my typo in “it’s” above. So hard to stay on my high horse these days…

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