January 16: Eponymous Adjective Day

El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.jpg
Title Page of the First Edition

On this day in 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.

The novel’s plot begins with an ordinary man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry. Alonso becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to become one himself.  Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.

Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks windmills, thinking they are hulking giants.  Ordinary inns to Quixote become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.

Literary critics call Don Quixote the first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing.   William Faulkner read Don Quixote every year, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don Quixote his favorite literary character (1).

Often when an idea or a style originates from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a noun but as an adjective.  There are many examples of these proper nouns that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as:  Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque.  When proper adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that transforms from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic), but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning.  Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character.  Check any dictionary and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic, or impractical.”

Today’s Challenge:  Autobiography of an Adjective

What are some examples of adjectives that derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary?  Select one of the eponymous adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the biography of the person behind the word.  Then, imagine the person behind the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well known that his or her name became an adjective.  Also, have the person explain the meaning of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it embodies? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Arthurian, Byronic, Chauvinistic, Darwinian, Dickensian, Epicurean, Faustian, Hippocratic, Jeffersonian, Kafkaesque, Leninist, Lutheran, Marxist, Newtonian, Oedipal, Orwellian, Platonic, Pyrrhic, Reaganesque, Sisyphean, Stentorian, Trepsicordian, Victorian, Wilsonian, Zoroastrian

Quotation of the Day:  It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth. –Miguel de Cervantes

1- Bloom, Harold. The Knight in the MirrorThe Guardian. 12 Dec. 2003.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 11

Subject:  Thin Slicing – The Warren Harding Effect (Halo Effect)

Event:  Publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, 2005

On January 11, 2005, Malcolm Gladwell published Blink, a book that examines the psychology of quick decision making. The book includes a fascinating critique of “thin-slicing,” the cognitive process of drawing broad, swift conclusions based on small bits of specific evidence.

While Gladwell explains that the type of intuitive judgment required for thin-slicing can be developed by experience and training, he also argues that it often leads to erroneous hasty generalizations based on prejudice and stereotypes.  

Warren G Harding-Harris & Ewing.jpg
Warren Harding (Library of Congress)

One specific cognitive bias that results from thin-slicing is illustrated by the biography of the 29th president of the United States, Warren G. Harding.  

Gladwell explains that there was nothing that distinguished Harding as a great leader or politician.  He was not highly intelligent, nor did he have any significant legislative or policy achievements.  From the beginning of his political career at the turn of the 19th century until his successful run for the U.S. presidency in 1921, besides winning elections, Harding accomplished little else.  Harding did have one thing that distinguished him, however — his regal appearance.  He was a handsome man with a rich, resonant voice.  

As Gladwell explains, it was Harding’s attractive appearance that short-circuited the public’s thinking:

Many people who looked at Warren Harding saw how extraordinarily handsome and distinguished-looking he was and jumped to the immediate — and entirely unwarranted — conclusion that he was a man of courage and intelligence and integrity.  They didn’t dig below the surface.  The way he looked carried so many powerful connotations that it stopped the normal process of thinking dead in its tracks (1).

What Gladwell calls the Warren Harding error is a more specific brand of a broader psychological phenomenon called the halo effect.  Anytime we allow a single quality, such as physical attractiveness, social status, or celebrity to overshadow all other qualities, we have fallen for the halo effect.  It explains why companies pay star athletes large sums of money to endorse their products.  Michael Jordan may not be an expert in car performance, but Chevrolet can count on the halo effect to subconsciously influence consumers.  Jordan’s athletic prowess is so prominent that it outshines all other qualities.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How can knowing the history of the 29th U.S. president help us avoid the halo effect and help us make better assessments of individuals?

Challenge –  Psychological Effect 101:  The Warren Harding error and the halo effect are just two examples of psychological effects that help us understand human thinking and behavior.  Research one of the effects below.  Then, write an elevator pitch explaining what the effect is and why it is important for better understanding the human species.

Barnum effect, Bystander effect, Contrast Effect, Cocktail party effect, Dunning-Kruger effect, Endowment effect, Framing Effect, False-consensus effect, Flynn Effect, Lake Wobegon Effect, Placebo Effect, Pratfall Effect

Sources:

1-Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 6

Subject:  Fortune – The Consolation of Philosophy

Event:  Wheel of Fortune debuts, 1975 

Wheel of Fortune logo.png
(Wikipedia)

On January 6, 1975, one of the most popular game shows in the history of television made its debut:  The Wheel of Fortune.  The show was created by Merv Griffin, who also created the game show Jeopardy as well as its famous theme song, called “Think.” The WOF is basically an adaptation of the game Hangman, where contestants guess letters in an attempt to solve word puzzles.  The show gets its name from the large carnival wheel that contestants spin.  Each spin determines how much money or prizes they can earn for each guess; contestants can also lose all their winnings if the wheel falls on “Bankrupt” or “Lose Turn.” 

Hundreds of years before the invention of television, the image of the wheel of Fortune served as a powerful symbol of the capriciousness of human fate.  Long before Vanna White turned the lighted titles to reveal letters of the alphabet, Fortuna, the Roman Goddess of Fortune, turned her wheel to determine the fate of mortals. Those at the top achieve happiness through acquired wealth and career success.  The wheel, however, spins on its axis, and even kings who were at the top of the wheel one minute can find themselves at the bottom in the next.  There at the bottom is the pain and agony of lost fortune:  failure, poverty, and loss.  As Shakespeare says in Sonnet 29 being at the bottom of Fortune’s wheel is not pleasant:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

In addition to her wheel, Fortuna was frequently depicted with two contrasting objects: in one hand she holds a cornucopia, symbolizing abundance and luxury; in the other hand, she holds a tiller, symbolizing her control over people’s destinies.

There is a long tradition in philosophy that seeks to find an antidote to the fickleness of fate.  The Stoics recognized the need to determine some method of hacking Fortune’s wheel, refusing to surrender individual destiny to capricious fate.  

Lady Fortune in a Boccaccio manuscript (Wikipedia)

Probably the best example of this comes from Boethius (475-525), the Roman philosopher who wrote the classic work The Consolation of Philosophy.  Boethius began his career with success, achieving the position as Consul for the Roman ruler King Theodoric.  Poised at the top of Fortune’s wheel, Boethius fell to the bottom when he was accused of plotting against Theodoric and imprisoned.  In his Consolation, Boethius tells the story of how he was visited in his prison cell by Lady Philosophy.  She advised him to remember and resist the whims of Fortuna.  She challenged Boethius to not base his happiness on what was out of his control — those things that may be snatched away at any moment by a spin of the fickle wheel. Instead, she instructed Boethius to meditate on what he could control — that is his powers of reason. Only by controlling his own mind and his own powers of perception could he free himself from the chains of fate.  As Hamlet said, “There is nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” 

If the sky is full of dark clouds that block the sun, and the rain is falling, you can choose to let it affect your mood; the more philosophical approach, however, is to accept those things that you have no power to change and to focus instead on what you can change — your mind and attitude.   The Stoics remind us that we have power over what we think and what we feel.  We are mere mortals, but we have a super power called reason. 

Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am”; the Stoics said, “I think, therefore, I am immune to the fickle and frigid finger of fate.”

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is the Stoic’s antidote for overcoming the fickleness of Fortune’s wheel?

Challenge:  Respond to the following quotation:

“Two men look out through the same bars; One sees the mud, and one the stars.” -Frederick Langridge

Today’s Word Day:  Happy Personification Day!

Source:  Boethius and The Consolation of Philosophy.  The School of Life.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – January 2

Subject:  The Curse of Knowledge – Tappers and Listeners

Event: The book Made to Stick published, 2007

Whenever you write, there’s a temptation to do more telling than showing.  This is because of a major writing and thinking obstacle called the curse of knowledge — the principle that says that once we know something, it is hard to remember what it was like when we didn’t know it.  On this day in 2007, authors Chip and Dan Heath published the book Made To Stick:  Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive, which first explained the concept of the curse of knowledge for a wide audience.

The reality of the curse of knowledge was first demonstrated in a 1990 study by Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology.  Newton created a game where the players were given one of two roles:  “tappers” or “listeners.”  The tappers were given a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and were instructed to tap out the rhythm of the song on a table.  The listeners were then asked to guess the song.

When asked to predict how successful the listeners would be in identifying their songs, the tappers predicted 50%.  This prediction wasn’t close.  Of the 120 songs tapped out, the listeners guessed only three, a 2.5% success rate.  The curse of knowledge explains the large disparity between the tappers’ predictions and their actual success rate.  As they tapped out their tunes, they could not avoid hearing the song in their heads; the listeners, however, only heard the taps.  The tappers were “cursed” by their knowledge of the songs’ melodies and were unable to imagine what it was like for the listener to hear only the tapping (1).

To avoid the curse of knowledge, writers must do more than just TELL their point; instead, they must also SHOW it with specific, concrete, and varied evidence.  Furthermore, writers must try to see their writing from the perspective of the “listeners” — the audience — continually asking themselves what they are trying to say, whether or not they are saying it clearly, and whether or not it can be understood by someone who has never encountered the topic before.

As George Orwell wrote in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946), effective writers are always thinking about their audience and are always interrogating themselves to make sure that they are being clear:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? (2)

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  How did the results of the tappers and listeners study illustrate the problem that the curse of knowledge presents us when we try to communicate?

Challenge – PSA – How to Lift the Curse:  Write a public service announcement for speakers and writers on why understanding the curse of knowledge is essential for effective, clear communication with an audience.

Also on this day:  The prolific writer, biochemist, and legend of science fiction, Isaac Asimov was born this day in 1920.  As the author of over 500 books, Asimov knew how to overcome the curse of knowledge.  He was also humble enough to laugh at himself.  Read this anecdote that Asimov told to illustrate the difference between education and common sense.

HAPPY 55 FICTION DAY!

Sources:  

1-Heath, Chip and Dan Heath.  Made To Stick:  Why Some Ideas Die and Others Survive.  New York:  Random House, 2007.

2-Orwell, George.  “Politics and the English Language” (1946)

THINKER’S ALMANAC – JANUARY 1

Subject: Parallel Thinking – Six Thinking Hats 

Event: Edward De Bono’s book Six Thinking Hats published, 1985

You have heard of the Mad Hatter, but have you heard of the Colorful Caps of Cognition?

On January 1, 1985, Edward De Bono published his book Six Thinking Hats.  De Bono is known for coining the term “lateral thinking,” which involves solving problems via indirect, creative approaches.  In Six Thinking Hats, he presents a different type of thinking, a type of thinking that might be even more radical and unorthodox than lateral thinking;  De Bono calls it parallel thinking. 

With parallel thinking, De Bono has the audacity to take on the Greek Gang of Three:  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  De Bono concedes that 2,400 years ago the GG3 established argumentation as an effective method for seeking the truth.  However, De Bono is concerned with the limits of argument because it is too negative, too ego-driven, and too limited for the creative exploration of ideas. Too often argumentative thinking puts us at each other’s throats; De Bono’s vision was to try to put us at each other’s side — thinking together.

Six Thinking Hats.jpg
Wikipedia

The antidote to these limits is the Six Thinking Hats which divides thinking into six distinctly different modes.  When working with a group to solve a problem, De Bono’s key rule is that everyone must employ the same mode of thinking at the same time. This is what he means by parallel thinking:  instead of facing off against each other with clashing claims and arguments in the traditional debate format, parallel thinking has everyone facing the same direction.  Everyone in the group puts on the same thinking cap, facing the issue as a team as they generate ideas and possible solutions.  This prevents anyone in the group from slipping into instinctive negative, adversarial thinking that shuts down the generation and exploration of ideas. Each of the six hats represents a different mode or perspective.  By everyone taking the same perspective at the same time, the thinking becomes more systematic and less chaotic.

First is the Blue Hat.  It’s the metacognition hat, the hat where we think about our thinking.  The Blue Hat allows everyone to organize their thinking, deciding the sequence in which they will wear the other five hats.

Here are the thinking modes and colors of the other hats, in no particular order:

White Hat: Focus only on information and facts, not arguments. Identify the information you have, and ask questions about what information is missing and where you might find it. 

Red Hat: Focus on feelings, emotion, and intuition. What feelings and emotions do you have regarding the issue?  Don’t worry about explaining your feelings or about needing to logically justify them.

Black Hat:  Focus on critical thinking and judgment, looking for weaknesses and problems. This is where everyone in the group gets to play Devil’s Advocate.

Yellow Hat: Focus on positive thinking, looking for the benefits and the value of an idea. This is where everyone forgets about the “cons,” focusing ONLY on the “pros.”

Green Hat:  Focus on creative thinking, generating ideas and alternatives without judging them.

The goal of the Six Hats method is to reduce the chaos normally associated with thinking.  Instead of juggling multiple modes at the same time, the parallel thinking approach allows an individual or a group to focus the thinking in one direction at a time.  For De Bono, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, the Six Thinking Hats method is not just theory; he has made practical application of it for years, working with corporations, educators, and government leaders around the world.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is parallel thinking, and what are the six different modes of thinking represented by the six different colors of De Bono’s hats?

Challenge – The Six Pack Thinking App:  Apply the Six Thinking Hats to the following proposition:  “The electoral college should be abolished.”  List ideas by trying on and thinking with one hat at a time.  Once you’ve created a list with ideas for each of the Six Hats, put on the Blue Hat again, and reflect on what ideas you produced that you might not have if you took a traditional approach of arguing for or against the proposition.

Also on this day: The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to learn about the fresh start effect and the work of Katherine Milkman.

Today’s Word Day: HAPPY EXORDIUM DAY!

Sources:  De Bono, Edward.  Six Thinking Hats.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 1985.

November 24:  Five Ws and H Day

On this day in 1703, the winds of one of the fiercest storms in British history began to blow.  They would continue blowing for an entire week, resulting in 123 deaths on land and 8,000 drowned at sea. More than 800 houses were destroyed along with over 400 windmills.

Almost as notable as the storm itself was the publication of an account of the storm that was published by Daniel Defoe just a few months after the storm.  At the time, Defoe had not yet published his best known work, the novel Robinson Crusoe (See February 1: From News to Novel Day).  Defoe had just been released from prison after serving several months for seditious libel after publishing a satirical tract on the religious intolerance of the Church of English.  His sentence included being put in the pillory in the center of London for one hour on three successive days.

Desperate for money after his legal troubles, Defoe hatched the idea of writing about the great storm.  He didn’t just write his own account, however. Instead, he placed newspaper ads requesting individuals to send him their stories from the storm.  Although there were newspapers at the time, the type of objective news reporting we associate with journalism today was non-existent.  Defoe’s book The Storm is seen today as a pioneering work of journalism, containing approximately 60 separate first-hand accounts of England’s great tempest (1).

In the excerpt below, Defoe recounts a grim anecdote of a double suicide by a ship’s captain and his surgeon:

One unhappy Accident I cannot omit, and which is brought us from good Hands, and happen’d in a Ship homeward bound from the West-Indies. The Ship was in the utmost Danger of Foundring; and when the Master saw all, as he thought, lost, his Masts gone, the Ship leaky, and expecting her every moment to sink under him, fill’d with Despair, he calls to him the Surgeon of the Ship, and by a fatal Contract, as soon made as hastily executed, they resolv’d to prevent the Death they fear’d by one more certain; and going into the Cabbin, they both shot themselves with their Pistols. It pleas’d God the Ship recover’d the Distress, was driven safe into —— and the Captain just liv’d to see the desperate Course he took might have been spar’d; the Surgeon died immediately. (2)

Defoe’s legacy remains alive today in the form of six basic words that form the essential toolkit for journalism:  Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.  Known commonly as the 5 Ws and H, these six words are excellent reminders of the basic questions we should use to investigate any topic, whether writing a news story or an investigative report:

Who was involved?

What happened?

When did it happen?

Where did it happen?

Why did it happen?

How did it happen?

Today’s Challenge:  Searching for Sense with Six Question

What are some examples of the most important events in world history?  Brainstorm a list of significant events from world history.  Then, select one specific event and begin researching the event by asking and answering the 5 Ws and H. Put together a brief report that includes answers to all six questions.  Write for an audience who knows little about the event.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Miller, John J. “Writing Up a Storm” Wall Street Journal 13 August 2011.

2-Defoe, Daniel. The Storm. Project Gutenberg. Public Domain. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42234/42234-h/42234-h.htm.

October 30: All I Really Need to Know Day

On this day in 1989, Robert Fulghum published his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The book, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for almost two years, is a collection of short essays, subtitled “Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.”

Fulghum grew up in Waco, Texas, and before he began writing full time, he was a Unitarian minister and an art and philosophy teacher.

Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.jpgThe first essay in Fulghum’s book, called “Credo,” explains the origin of his book’s title.  Fulghum explains that each spring throughout his life he would sit down and write a personal credo, a list of statements of personal belief.  This list evolved over the years with statements that were sometimes comical, sometimes bland, sometimes cynical, and sometimes over-complicated.  The final version of his credo came to him, however, when he realized that true meaning in life did not need to be complicated.  In fact, he already knew what he needed to know; he had learned it a long time ago in kindergarten. The basic rules he learned like “Share everything,” “Play fair,” and “Clear up your own mess” served him throughout life (1).

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten has spawned numerous imitations, spinoffs, and parodies based on television shows, movies, books, etc.  These imitations adopt Fulghum’s title and list as their template, beginning with “All I Really Need to Know I Learned From ______,” followed by a list of principles based on the source of inspiration.

For example:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from My Dog

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Fairy Tales

A further adaptation narrows the learning a bit to a single specific area, as in:

All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned from ___________

One example of this kind of spinoff is a book, published in 2014 by Paul Oyer, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating.

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Credo

How would you finish the following titles, and what principles would you include in your personal credo?  “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in/from ______.”  And “All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned in/from ___________.”

Create your own spin-off of Fulghum’s credo.  Brainstorm some ideas based on books, movies, television shows, the internet, or some other aspect of life that you know well.  Once you have selected a single focus, generate a list of principles that spring from your selected area.  Your list may contain serious insights or humorous insights.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. New York:  Ballantine Books, 1989.

October 9:  Imaginary Places Day

On this day in 1899, L. Frank Baum (1856-1918) finished the manuscript of his finest work called The Emerald City, a work that would later bear a more familiar title: The Wonderful World of Oz.  To commemorate the occasion, Baum framed his pencil with the following note:  “With this pencil I wrote the manuscript of The Emerald City.”

For the name of his imaginary setting, Baum claimed his inspiration came from the label on the third drawer of his filing cabinet which read O-Z.   Other inspiration came from his boyhood home of Peerskill, New York, which had roads paved with bright yellow bricks imported from Holland.

Unfortunately, Baum’s book was not the Harry Potter of its day, and although he wrote 13 sequels, he never earned a lot of money.  When he died of heart disease in 1918, he left just $1,072.96 in his will.

Even the film version of the book, The Wizard of Oz, lost money when it was released in 1939, 21 years after Baum’s death. The film did not begin its journey to becoming an iconic classic until the 1950s when it was shown on television.  Forty-five million people watched it the first time is was broadcasted on November 3, 1956 (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Go to Your Imaginary Happy Place

What imaginary place would you rate as the greatest of all, either from books, television, or movies?  What makes this place so special?  Brainstorm a list of all the imaginary places you can think of.  If you’re having trouble remembering, use the list of imaginary places below to get you started.  Then, select one and explain what makes it your top fictional setting.

Camelot, Xanadu, Vanity Fair, El Dorado, Atlantis, Utopia, Shangri-La, Valhalla, Gotham City, Springfield, Hogwarts, Wonderland  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-The Telegram. L. Frank Baum: The Real Wizard of Oz. 6 May 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/5949617/L-Frank-Baum-the-real-Wizard-of-Oz.html

October 1:  A Book Can Save a Life Day

On this day in 1901, Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim was published.  The novel is an adventure story set in 19th century India, a time of British colonial rule.  The adventure in the book, however, pales when compared to the adventure surrounding what happened when a soldier in the French Foreign Legion acquired a French edition of the novel.

The soldier’s name was Maurice Hamonneau, and his decision to take Kipling’s book into combat during World War I saved his life.  Shot in battle near Verdun, Hamonneu lay unconscious for hours.  When he regained consciousness, he realized that the book which he was carrying in his breast pocket had shielded him from the bullet. Piercing the book, the bullet left a hole that stopped 330 pages into the book, leaving only 20 intact pages between the bullet and Hamonneu’s heart.

KimKipling.jpgIn gratitude, Hamonneu sent the bullet-pierced book to Kipling along with the medal he had been awarded in the battle. Kipling was moved by the gesture, but later when he learned that Hamonneu had become a father, he returned the book and the medal with a note to Hamonneu’s son, advising him to always carry a book of at least 350 pages in his breast pocket.

Today the book and Hamonneu’s medal are preserved in the rare book section of the United States Library of Congress (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Books Not Bullets

What one book is so good that it’s worth taking into battle — a book that everyone should read as if his or her life depended on it?  What makes the book so special, so inspirational?  Explain your choice, and assume you are writing to an audience who has not read the book. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-History.com. The Book That Saved a Life.

September 21:  Compose a Novel First Line Day

On this day in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published. Tolkien began the book in a rather unexpected way.  As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, Tolkien would augment his salary in the summers by marking School Certificate exams, a test taken by 16 year-olds in the United Kingdom.  In a 1955 letter to the poet W.H. Auden, Tolkien recounted the moment that launched what was to become a classic in fantasy and children’s literature.  Taking a small break from correcting student papers, he scribbled the following sentence on a blank sheet of paper:

‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ (1).

The opening line that Tolkien scribbled on a blank page that fateful day remained intact in the published final draft.

Today’s Challenge:  From Blank Page to Page Turner

What character and setting would you introduce in the first two sentences of a story?  Grab your own blank piece of paper, and draft at least two sentences that introduce a character and a setting for a story.  Hold a contest to see whose novel first lines resonate the most with readers. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Flood, Alison. JRR Tolkien Called Teaching ‘Exhausting and Depressing’ in Unseen Letter.