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In the Market for Monster Supplies?

If you've ever been to 826 Valencia (aka The Pirate Store) in San Francisco or The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store, then you're already familiar with the concept behind the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies Store in London. For the uninitiated, it basically involves delightfully strange stores that are actually fronts for a free writing workshop for children between 8-18. The storefronts offer a revenue source for the writing centers that are also inspirational for aspiring young writers.

The Monster Supplies Store calls their writing center the Ministry of Stories. The monster store carries such fun items as a canned "vague sense of unease," old fashioned brain jam, and the "thickest human snot." If you happen to be in the area, be sure to stop by to shop, but if you have kids in the area, take advantage of the writing center!

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These Vending Machines Dispense Short Stories Instead Of Snacks
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While many have lamented the lost art of reading in our social media-driven world, few have actually tried to do anything about it. Short Édition is the exception. In 2011, the Grenoble, France-based startup began installing short story-dispensing vending machines in some of the country's most popular public spaces, beginning with Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. And now they've made their way to America.

The screen-less contraptions, known as Short Story Dispensers, are the brainchild of Christophe Sibieude (the co-founder and head of Short Édition) and Grenoble's mayor, Éric Piolle, a noted environmentalist who agreed to fund the company's first eight prototypes. The pair hoped that commuters and bystanders would make use of these stories to expand and enrich their minds while waiting around, rather than tapping and swiping their way aimlessly through Facebook or Twitter.

“The idea came to us in front of a vending machine containing chocolate bars and drinks," Sibieude told Agence-France Presse in 2015. "We said to ourselves that we could do the same thing with good quality popular literature to occupy these little unproductive moments.”


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Stories are dispensed according to how much time you've got to spend reading (one-, three-, and five-minute options are all available), and the stories are printed out on long, receipt-like paper that is both eco-friendly and BPA-free. According to the company, "Thanks to innovative printing on demand, there is no waste, no ink, and no cartridge." But there is a rabid interest in what Short Édition is doing.

According to The Verge, the machines offer more than 13 million works by 6800 authors, and include classics from the likes of Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf.

Since that first machine made its airport debut, more than 150 others have popped up, mainly in France, but the U.S. has started to catch on. Francis Ford Coppola was an early fan of the concept; in addition to becoming an investor, the first U.S. machine was installed in his Café Zoetrope in San Francisco.

All told, there are currently about 20 machines spread across America—though something tells us that number will soon be on the rise. Short Édition is showing off its Short Story Dispenser at this year's CES, one of the world's biggest showcases for emerging consumer technologies, where it will undoubtedly attract new fans.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About J.R.R. Tolkien

There are plenty of things even the most ardent fans don't know about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, who was born on this day in 1892. Here are 10 of them.

1. HE HAD A FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC.

As a linguist and expert on Old English and Old Norse literature, Tolkien was a professor at Oxford University from 1925 until 1959. He was also a tireless instructor, teaching between 70 and 136 lectures a year (his contract only called for 36). But the best part is the way he taught those classes. Although quiet and unassuming in public, Tolkien wasn't the typical stodgy, reserved stereotype of an Oxford don in the classroom. He went to parties dressed as a polar bear, chased a neighbor dressed as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior, and was known to hand shopkeepers his false teeth as payment. As one of his students put it, "He could turn a lecture room into a mead hall."

2. HE FELT MANY OF HIS FANS WERE "LUNATICS."

Tolkien saw himself as a scholar first and a writer second. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were largely Tolkien's attempt to construct a body of myth, and their success caught him largely unaware. In fact, he spent years rejecting, criticizing, and shredding adaptations of his work that he didn't believe captured its epic scope and noble purpose. He was also utterly skeptical of most LOTR fans, who he believed were incapable of really appreciating the work, and he probably would have been horrified by movie fandom dressing up like Legolas.

3. HE LOVED HIS DAY JOB.

To Tolkien, writing fantasy fiction was simply a hobby. The works he considered most important were his scholarly works, which included Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, a modern translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and A Middle English Vocabulary.

4. HE WAS QUITE THE ROMANTIC (AND HE'S GOT THE NERDY GRAVESTONE TO PROVE IT).


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At age 16, Tolkien fell in love with Edith Bratt, three years his senior. His guardian, a Catholic priest, was horrified that his ward was seeing a Protestant and ordered the boy to have no contact with Edith until he turned 21. Tolkien obeyed, pining after Edith for years until that fateful birthday, when he met with her under a railroad viaduct. She broke off her engagement to another man, converted to Catholicism, and the two were married for the rest of their lives. At Tolkien's instructions, their shared gravestone has the names "Beren" and "Luthien" engraved on it, a reference to a famous pair of star-crossed lovers from the fictional world he created.

5. HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH C.S. LEWIS WAS NOT ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE.

Tolkien's fellow Oxford don C.S. Lewis (author of The Chronicles of Narnia) is often identified as his best friend and closest confidant. But the truth is, the pair had a much more troubled relationship. At first, the two authors were very close. In fact, Tolkien's wife Edith was reportedly jealous of their friendship. And it was Tolkien who convinced Lewis to return to Christianity. But their relationship cooled over what Tolkien perceived as Lewis's anti-Catholic leanings and scandalous personal life (he had been romancing an American divorcee at the time). Although they would never be as close as they were before, Tolkien regretted the separation. After Lewis died, Tolkien wrote in a letter to his daughter that, “So far I have felt ... like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: this feels like an axe-blow near the roots.”

6. HE ENJOYED CLUBBING.

Well, the extra-curricular, after-school sort. Wherever Tolkien went, he was intimately involved in the formation of literary and scholarly clubs. As a professor at Leeds University, for example, he formed the Viking Club. And during his stint at Oxford, he formed the Inklings, a literary discussion group.

7. HE WASN'T BLOWING SMOKE ABOUT THOSE WAR SCENES.

Tolkien was a veteran of the First World War, and served as a second lieutenant in the 11th (Service) Battalion of the British Expeditionary Force in France. He was also present for some of the most bloody trench fighting of the war, including the Battle of the Somme. The deprivations of Frodo and Sam on their road to Mordor may have had their origins in Tolkien's time in the trenches, during which he contracted a chronic fever from the lice that infested him and was forced to return home. He would later say that all but one of his close friends died in the war, giving him a keen awareness of its tragedy that shines through in his writing.

8. HE INVENTED LANGUAGES FOR FUN.

A philologist by trade, Tolkien kept his mind exercised by inventing new languages, many of which (like the Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin) he used extensively in his writing. He even wrote songs and poems in his fictional languages. In addition, Tolkien worked to reconstruct and write in extinct languages like Medieval Welsh and Lombardic. His poem "BagmÄ“ BlomÄ" ("Flower of the Trees") might be the first original work written in the Gothic language in over a millennium.

9. HE HAS BEEN PUBLISHED ALMOST AS PROLIFICALLY POSTHUMOUSLY AS WHEN HE WAS ALIVE.

Most authors have to be content with the works they produce during their lifetime, but not Tolkien. His scribblings and random notes, along with manuscripts he never bothered to publish, have been edited, revised, compiled, redacted, and published in dozens of volumes after his death, most of them produced by his son Christopher. While Tolkien's most famous posthumous publication is The Silmarillion, other works include The History of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Hurin, and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

10. HE WASN'T NEARLY AS FOND OF NAZIS AS THEY WERE OF HIM.

Tolkien's academic writings on Old Norse and Germanic history, language, and culture were extremely popular among the Nazi elite, who were obsessed with recreating ancient Germanic civilization. But Tolkien was disgusted by Hitler and the Nazi party, and made no secret of the fact. He considered forbidding a German translation of The Hobbit after the German publisher, in accordance with Nazi law, asked him to certify that he was an "Aryan." Instead, he wrote a scathing letter asserting, among other things, his regret that he had no Jewish ancestors. His feelings are also evidenced in a letter he wrote to his son: "I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler ... Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."

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