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15 Things You Might Not Know About Brave New World

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Aldous Huxley’s 1932 classic Brave New World is arguably one of the most inventive novels published in the 20th century. In case you haven’t taken a trip to Huxley’s World State in quite some time, here are a few interesting facts about the novel’s inspiration and the legacy it spawned.

1. IT STARTED OUT AS A PARODY.

Before creating his most famous work, Huxley was mostly known as a satirist. His early novels Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, and Those Barren Leaves had served as send-ups of the avant-garde communities of the 1920s. When he began work on the project that would ultimately become Brave New World, Huxley was envisioning a loose and affectionate parody of the Wellsian utopia in the science fiction works of H. G. Wells, notably A Modern Utopia, Men Like Gods, and The Sleeper Awakes.

2. HINTS OF BRAVE NEW WORLD CAN BE SEEN IN HUXLEY’S FIRST NOVEL.

While the author’s debut novel Crome Yellow was by no means a dystopian parable, the satire gave Huxley a chance to form the ideology he would later explore. At one point in Crome Yellow, the story’s resident cynic, Mr. Scogan, enchants his company with a diatribe about a future strikingly similar to that which Huxley would come to create for Brave New World:

An impersonal generation will take the place of Nature's hideous system. In vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society, sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower through a sunlit world.

3. A BOAT TRIP SHOWED HUXLEY A KEY CREATIVE INFLUENCE.

Sheer luck led Huxley to a major inspiration for Brave New World. On a boat traveling between Singapore and the Philippines, Huxley happened upon a copy of Henry Ford’s 1922 manifesto My Life and Work. Ford would go on to be a major character—something of a deity—in the society Huxley created in Brave New World.

4. SAN FRANCISCO PROVIDED FURTHER INSPIRATION.

Though he was born and raised in a small market town in Surrey, Huxley was affected by a visit to the United States in the 1920s. San Francisco’s youth culture made an especially large impact on the author. His indignation over what he saw as epidemics of consumerism and promiscuity in the city would inform Brave New World’s key themes. Disapproval of the California lifestyle notwithstanding, Huxley ended up moving to Hollywood in 1937.

5. AN ENGLISH CHEMICAL PLANT MADE ITS MARK ON THE NOVEL.

Along with the philosophies of Ford and the freewheeling lifestyle of San Francisco, Huxley found an unlikely muse in the Billingham Manufacturing Plant in Stockton-on-Tees, North East England. The author visited this industrial giant and was struck by how it was an "anomalous [oasis] of pure logic in the midst of the larger world of planless incoherence." The factory was set up by a businessman and politician named Sir Alfred Mond, 1st Baron Melchett, who would lend his name to the story’s Resident World Controller of Western Europe, Mustapha Mond.

6. AN INDIAN SCIENTIST HAS BEEN CREDITED WITH INFLUENCING BRAVE NEW WORLD'S SETTING.

While Huxley considered his principal literary influences to be H. G. Wells and D. H. Lawrence, many scholars agree that the writer’s scientific leanings can be traced to Indian-British physicist, geneticist, and biologist J. B. S. Haldane. One can find specific forerunners to the science fiction concepts of Brave New World in Haldane’s 1924 text Daedalus; or, Science and the Future, which engages topics like transhumanism (that is, the synthetic control of human genetics and evolution) and in vitro fertilization.

7. HUXLEY WROTE THE BOOK QUICKLY.

After interacting with all of these influences that went into Brave New World, Huxley set to work writing his story in 1931. He completed the novel in just four months.

8. GEORGE ORWELL ACCUSED HUXLEY OF PLAGIARISM ...

Orwell, known best for Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, opened this discussion in his Tribune magazine review of the 1923 novel We by Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin. Orwell penned the review in 1946, stating that, "Aldous Huxley's Brave New World must be partly derived from [We]. Both books deal with the rebellion of the primitive human spirit against a rationalised, mechanised, painless world, and both stories are supposed to take place about six hundred years hence." Huxley claimed to have had never even heard of We until long after he had finished writing Brave New World.

9. ... AS DID KURT VONNEGUT, THOUGH IN A MUCH FRIENDLIER WAY.

Condemning the originality of his own 1952 debut novel Player Piano, Vonnegut admitted to casually swiping the general premise from Brave New World. He softened the blow of his self-directed castigations, however, by asserting that Huxley had done the very same with Zamyatin’s We. As Vonnegut told Playboy in 1973, "I cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."

10. THE BOOK HAS BEEN BANNED IN MULTIPLE COUNTRIES.

The prevalence of casual sex in Brave New World has earned the wrath of many conservative governments. The novel was banned in Ireland and Australia in 1932, with the latter maintaining its censorship for five years. In 1967, India banned Brave New World, likening the work to pornography.

11. IT SPARKED A LAWSUIT IN MARYLAND.

In 1963, Maryland public school teacher Ray Elbert Parker was fired from his job following—and, he believed, as a result of—his inclusion of Brave New World in his class curriculum. Believing his sudden dismissal to be a violation of his rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment, Parker took the issue to district and later circuit courts. The untenured teacher’s efforts were to little avail, however, as both courts wound up ruling in favor of the Board of Education.

12. BRAVE NEW WORLD CAME UNDER RENEWED FIRE IN 2010.

Although a controversial text in the years following its publication, Brave New World gradually escaped public heat, dropping out of the top tier of the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books list throughout the 1990s. In 2010, however, the novel reclaimed its contentious place when a Seattle family objected to its depiction of Native Americans. Brave New World ranked as No. 3 on the ALA’s Top 10 Challenged Books that year, and No. 7 on the following year’s list. By 2012, it had dropped from the Top 10 altogether once more.

13. AS TIME WENT ON, HUXLEY BECAME MORE AND MORE AFRAID OF HIS PROPHECIES COMING TRUE.

Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, published in 1958 following an upswing in American counterculture and the author’s own attraction to Hindu Vedanta, was a work of nonfiction detailing Huxley’s apprehensions over a rapidly approaching overhaul of society by the values and practices illustrated in his 1932 original. Huxley even attempted to propose a de facto "call to arms" to reduce the likelihood of a dystopian reality.

14. THE 1980 FILM EMPLOYED AN INTERESTING NAME CHANGE.

The central female character in Huxley’s novel is named Lenina Crowne, an allusion to Vladimir Lenin and romantic dramatist John Crowne. In the first TV movie adaptation of the book, broadcast on NBC in 1980, Lenina’s last name is changed to "Disney."

15. BRAVE NEW WORLD HAS INSPIRED SEVERAL UNIMAGINATIVELY TITLED TELEVISION EPISODES.

Looking for an easy title for an episode of TV? Huxley wrote your book. The title "Brave New World" has been applied to a number of popular series’ individual television episodes, with varying degrees of thematic appropriateness. Shows to use the phrase at one point or another include seaQuest 2032, Boy Meets World (for its series finale), One Tree Hill, Grey’s Anatomy, Heroes, The Vampire Diaries, and Fringe.

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
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In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
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Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
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A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
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With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
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The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

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