Great art takes careful thought, a lot of time and consideration, talent, dedication and, of course, a flash of inspiration. Where this inspiration comes from may be the most unexpected of sources and whilst most writing takes a lot of grinding away before it comes to fruition, sometimes it is by pure accident that a well-known novel has come about.
Here we look at a few absolute classics that were written thanks to their completely accidental origins, and we are extremely glad for these happy little accidents.
1. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi Longstocking is such an iconic children's character that she has her own theme park and even graces the back of the 20 krona note in Sweden but both the idea behind her and her eventually being committed to the page were by accident.
One day, Astrid Lindgren was caring for her younger daughter who was sick, who looked up at her mother and asked her to tell her about Pippi Longstocking. Not knowing a character or person by that name, Lindgren made up Pippi on the spot and regaled her daughter with her fantastic tales.
It wasn't until Lindgren herself was injured that Pippi was committed to the page as the author sprained her ankle and spent the time writing down the stories she had been telling her ten-year-old daughter. The rest, as they say, is history.
2. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Another classic piece of literature that came about due to an ankle injury, apparently Margaret Mitchell (who went by the nickname of 'Peggy') was incredibly accident prone and had broken her ankle and so was laid up for quite some time. Trying to stave off the boredom, she would ask her husband to go to the library often to pick up more books for her voracious reading appetite.
One day, so exasperated at having to bring yet more heavy books home, the husband exclaimed, “For God’s sake, Peggy, can’t you write a book instead of reading thousands of them?” And as such she did.
Not only did the book become an absolute classic but so did the subsequent film of it and so that broken ankle had a massive influence on pop culture.
3. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
It would seem that ankle injuries are the way to creating great literature as Anna Sewell also suffered two broken ankles at the age of fourteen. Unfortunately for her, she was never treated properly and so was crippled and could not walk very far leading her to a lifetime of being transported around in horse-drawn carts. This led to an enduring love of the animals.
Later in life she would suffer another great misfortune and contract either hepatitis or tuberculosis which would leave her bedridden. She wrote the book from her sickbed and lived just long enough to see it become successful.
4. Pamela by Samuel Richardson
Samuel Richardson never set out to write a novel but rather embellished his work into one. After apprenticing to a printer, he became one himself and owned his own printing press where he started writing example letters as a sort of etiquette manual for others to use.
He was asked to put this manual together in 1739 when he was 50, and some of these correspondents were didactic letters he hoped might help servant girls deal with lecherous employers.
He developed these into Pamela which became a bestseller at the time and is largely considered the first example of the modern English novel.
5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The story of how Frankenstein came into creation is almost as famous as the novel itself as Mary Shelley accompanied her husband and poet Percy Shelley to an evening with poet Lord Byron and writer John Polidori.
Whilst around a campfire, Byron suggested they all come up with a ghost story and tell each other, but Mary initially struggled, saying of the ordeal, “I busied myself to think of a story. A story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name. I thought and pondered—vainly. I felt that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship, when dull Nothing replies to our anxious invocations. Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.”
She would later return to the group with the idea of Frankenstein in which Mary had not only invented an iconic story but essentially the whole genre of gothic horror.
6. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Bennet Cerf was the CEO of Random House publishing and was also Dr. Seuss's editor at the time he bet him he couldn't write a book using only 50 unique words. The bet was for $50, and Seuss did it, and it became Green Eggs and Ham.
He never received his $50, but it did go on to become one of the best-selling picture books of all time, so it is likely Seuss was unfazed by this debt never being paid.
The 50 unique words, by the way, are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, & you.
7. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
When creating his classic children's book, Sendak had set out to write a book, just not this one as it was originally titled 'Where The Wild Horses Are' but it became evident to his editor that Sendak could not draw horses very well so she kindly changed the title to ‘Wild Things,’ suggesting he could at least draw a 'thing'.
These things became monsters that were based on Sendak's family, and soon the classic story became a worldwide bestseller. It was also made into a film by Spike Jonze.
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien had the idea for The Hobbit dating as far back as 1930, and he had the opening line for many years but never did anything with it. He would later doodle Thror's map and write up the story for his own children to read.
He then lent it to the then Rev. Mother of Cherwell Edge when she had the flu, and it was seen by a former student who was at that time in the office of publisher's Allen and Unwin. He passed it on to his ten-year-old son and paid him a shilling to read it and report back to him. The subsequent report read:
Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exciting time fighting goblins and wargs. At last, they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed, and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!
This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.
The book was published the next year.