The first day in April is a silly day. If this day had a spokesperson, it would be Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“Nudge, nudge! Know what I mean? Say no more! A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat, say no more, say no more”).
The origin of April Fool’s Day is obscured by this and that, but a good lead suggests it started as a farmer’s festival in ancient Rome around 230 BC. This festival, Saturnalia, was named for Saturn, the Roman God of Agriculture. It was a way for the people to cut loose after a long harvest season.
According to what we know about the old days in Rome, these guys and their mythological gods loved to party. During the Feast of Saturnalia, roles were reversed. The master served the servant, the parents obeyed the children, executions were cancelled with a laugh and pat on the back, cats pretended to be rabbits, and, for the most part, the shoe was on the other person’s foot for awhile. Silliness ran rampent.
Although April Fool’s Day can be loosely traced to the Feast of Saturnalia, pranksters have been around since the beginning of time. The Romans upped the ante and it snowballed into what we recognize today as a time to get away with bending the truth. As long as we do it in the spirit of fun, we’ll be forgiven. Of course, don’t try this if you’re attempting to get out of a speeding ticket. Trust me, it doesn’t work.
Sometimes the holiday can be taken a little too far. There are numerous accounts of hoaxes and pranks throughout time and if I start talking about them, we’ll be here all day. Instead, I limited myself to four of the more notorious literary fibs from this century.
James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” hit the bookshelves with a bang in 2003. The sad memoir of a young substance abuser, this tale (and I use the word “tale” very specifically) was on the New York Times Best Seller’s list for almost four straight months. Only after The Smoking Gun published an article entitled “A Million Little Lies,” which pointed out the falsehoods in Frey’s recollections, did the “memoir” become “semi-ficitonal.” Great. One more category in book genres to keep up with. What next?
“Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin was published in 2007 and stayed on the NY Time’s nonfiction best seller’s list for a long time. Too bad this account of one man’s journey to make a difference in the lives of young children from Afghanistan and Pakistan was overshadowed by fictious accounts touted as true events and mismanagement of the charitable institution that sprang from the book. Was co-author Relin’s suicide last November because of all the controversy? Who knows? One thing for certain is Jon Krakauer’s rebuttal book, “Three Cups of Deceit,” did not help matters.
“Honor Lost,” an account of life in Jordan by Norma Khouri, debuted to sensational acclaims shortly after publication in 2003. While the story of two star-crossed lovers has played out through time immortal, this one was not true. In fact, it was a bald-faced lie. The relationship between a Muslim woman and a Catholic man is ficitonal but was sold as a true story by the author who was the supposed go-between for the lovers. The eventual “honor killing” of the girl by her enraged family is also false. Khouri admitted her deceit after she was caught in the lie. While these types of executions still happen in modern times, for Khouri to exploit this type of tradegy for profit was shameful.
Last, but not least, here’s one that was stopped at the gate before trotting into the Field of Books. “Angel at the Fence” by Herman Rosenblat was the “true” love story between an inmate in the Schlieben concentration camp and a Jewish girl pretending to be a Christian who saved his life by supplying him with food thrown over a fence. They later met in the States on a blind date and, surprise, surprise, discovered their shared history (ehh, only a little bit true. The truth: they met on a blind date). Although Rosenblat was at Schlieben during the Holocaust, the account of a brave, selfless act by a young girl was fictitious as she was on a farm over two hundred miles away. Once the facts were discovered to be false, publication was cancelled in 2008.
“Secret to Immortality,” rare Japanese document I found in a bottle someone had tossed in the ocean. Bidding starts at $2.5 million. April Fool’s! For all I know, this is someone’s grocery list my dad picked up in Tokyo after the war.
I’m really glad I write fiction. As a teller of tall tales, I can get away with just about anything. Unless I’m a Cohen brother and the script’s name is “Fargo,” if I label something I write as the truth, I sure as shooting flying pigs better be able to back it up with facts. Unless, of course, it’s April Fool’s Day.
By the way, did I tell you I’m in the running for a Pulitzer?
Snort. April Fool’s
J J Dare is the author of two published books, several short stories and triple digit works-in-progress.
Current enthusiasm is sharpening intangible knives and co-authoring at Rubicon Ranch