Most of the time, I think that people who think of books as dangerous are a little … off. As a bit of a free speech nut, there is little that disgusts me more than book bans, book burnings, and people protesting books they disagree with. Certainly, ideas from books can be dangerous in the hands of some people – look at Mein Kampf, or some governments’ interpretation of the Communist Manifesto. But books themselves, they generally don’t hurt anyone unless used as a blunt weapon.
In the world of fiction, there are some books that will, in fact, seriously hurt the reader. Madness is a popular effect from these evil tomes, and instant death is the result in at least one case. I’ve come up with a list of some of the better-known killer books, stories, and poems. While it hopefully won’t scare you off from reading in general, you might look at your bookshelves with a little more caution.
I also included is one fictional film, which is in such an important (and frightening) book it deserves a mention.
Poems and Rhymes Around the World, from Chuck Palahnuik’s Lullaby
Method: Death by nursery rhyme
One of the poems contained in Lullaby‘s fictional Poems and Rhymes Around the World is an African culling song (or nursery rhyme). When the poem is spoken, it instantly kills whomever it is directed at. The story of Lullaby revolves around journalist Carl Sleator learning that the culling song is behind a rash of supposed SIDS deaths, and attempting to track down and destroy every copy of Poems and Rhymes. Complicating things is the fact that Carl is under such great stress that he can kill someone – accidentally or voluntarily – simply by thinking the culling song at them.
If you’ve ever actively tried not to think about something, you’ll understand why Carl quickly became an involuntary serial killer.
Infinite Jest, from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
Method: Causes viewers to become terminal couch potatoes.
The film Infinite Jest in David Foster Wallace’s opus of the same name is a movie so entertaining that viewers lose the desire to do anything but watch the film over and over again. Food, rest, social interaction and even bathroom breaks take the backseat to watching Infinite Jest. Viewers are essentially catatonic, and (if “saved”) will even cut off body parts in order to be allowed to go back to watching the movie. Much of the plot of the book revolves around people trying to find the film either to weaponize or destroy it. The film is perhaps the most pointed of the many ways Wallace examines the US obsession with (and addiction to) entertainment in his novel.
Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, from Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series
Methods: Raising armies of darkness, slap-sticky face stretching
Made from the flesh of the tortured and the damned and inked with human blood, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis ain’t a kiddie book. Speaking the words in the book (or a translation of the words) leads to all kinds of bad mojo. Recitation of the words leads to evil manifesting itself, doing everything from possessing objects to opening inter-dimensional portals to summoning armies of the dead. While boomstick-wielding, catchphrase-spouting Ash Williams has taken on the book many times, it always seems to find a way back into existence. Which sucks for the rest of us.
The King in Yellow, Act II, from Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow
Method: Drives reader mad … with truth!
If you just read the first act of The King in Yellow, you’re safe. Act I is described as innocent, ordinary, and pretty banal. However, even skimming the opening words of the second act draws the reader in, and after that it’s game over – the “irresistible” truths within drive them insane. Needless to say, the chances of a troupe getting through enough rehearsals to ever perform the play are pretty slim.
The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, from George Orwell’s 1984
Method: Acts as bait for party opposition
OK, this one is a little more conceptual. The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism doesn’t directly harm the reader, at least in the same way the books in Lullaby and The King in Yellow do. Instead, possessing and reading the book is a sure way to get a visit from 1984‘s Thought Police. The book may have been written by a Party dissident named Goldstein, or may be a carefully constructed piece of propaganda from antagonist O’Brien. Either way, if you oppose the party enough to seek out a copy of the book, you’re in for a bad time. Specifically, you can expect a luxury stay in Room 101 with your worst nightmare.
If I don’t post again, don’t read whatever book I have in my cold, dead fingers.