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12 Ruthless Facts About Wolf Hall

Before the hit Broadway play and BBC miniseries, there was Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novel. Spanning more than 600 pages, yet written in terse, razor-sharp prose that mirrors the cunning mind of its protagonist, Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall details Cromwell’s rise from blacksmith’s son to right-hand man of Henry VIII. It’s an unforgiving tale about the mechanics of power, filtered through the mind of a man who for centuries has lived in the shadows. Here, we shed some light on Cromwell and the woman who brought him (back) to life.

1. MANTEL WAS SUPPOSED TO BE WRITING A DIFFERENT BOOK.

She signed a contract for two books—one, a novel about Thomas Cromwell, and the other a semi-autobiographical book about a woman living in Africa in the '70s. Mantel began writing the latter but found herself disturbed by memories of her own experiences in Botswana, where her husband worked as a geologist, and where she suffered through a miscarriage, a close friend’s suicide and the pains of what would later be diagnosed as endometriosis. So she turned to Wolf Hall and felt immediately better. “I know the subject matter’s dire, but I was filled with a sense of glee and power,” she told The New Yorker.

2. THE OPENING LINE BEGAN AS A COMMAND TO HERSELF. 

“So now get up.” The line came to Mantel as she was lying in bed one morning, and at first she took it as a command: Get up, get writing. But then she realized this was Walter Cromwell speaking to his son, Thomas, after knocking him down. It established the brutality of the young Cromwell’s childhood and resonated thematically for a man who would not only get up but rise through the ranks of society. And with that, Mantel was off and running.

3. SHE STUCK TO THE FACTS.

Although she was writing historical fiction, Mantel wanted to hew as closely as possible to the “historical” part. As she told NPR in a 2012 interview: “I make up as little as possible … I try to run up all the accounts side by side to see where the contradictions are and to look where things have gone missing. And it's really in the gap—it's in the erasures—that I think the novelist can best go to work, because inevitably in history in any period, we know a lot about what happened, but we may be far hazier on why it happened.”

4. THOMAS CROMWELL LEFT BEHIND A PAPER TRAIL, BUT NOT A PERSONAL LIFE.

As the historical record goes, Cromwell’s public life is well documented, but the man himself is a mystery. This left ample room for Mantel to interpret him personally, and to give him back some of the humanity that’s been lost over the centuries. “He is a nightmare for biographers and a gift for a novelist,” Mantel has said.

5. SHE HAD A THOMAS CROMWELL SCHOLAR ON CALL.

In 2005, an acquaintance introduced Mantel to Mary Robertson, the curator of English historical manuscripts at The Huntington Library. Robertson had written her doctoral dissertation on Cromwell, and provided Mantel a copy. The author soon began emailing questions to Robertson, and would bounce ideas off her throughout the writing process. So grateful was Mantel that she dedicated the book to Robertson: “To my singular friend Mary Robertson this book be given.”

6. SHE RESEARCHED MUCH OF THE BOOK WHILE SHE WAS WRITING.

Research, Mantel has noted, is a creative process unto itself; one that thrives off the writing process, and vice versa. “I don’t do a block of research and then write,” she told The Paris Review. “It’s a fluid movement between one thing and another."

7. SHE KNEW SHE HAD TO FINISH THE BOOK BY 2009.

That was the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s coronation, which was a big deal in England. After all the Henry hoopla, Mantel knew, people would not be very receptive to another book about his life.

8. THE PRONOUN USAGE FRUSTRATED READERS.

Because the novel is filtered through Cromwell’s perspective—Mantel says she envisioned a camera behind his eyes—he often appears as “he” rather than “Cromwell.” “It didn’t make sense to call him ‘Cromwell,' as if he were somewhere across the room,” Mantel wrote in the Guardian. Nevertheless, some readers expressed frustration with the indistinctness of “he” in scenes with more than one male character. Mantel seemed to acknowledge the confusion (or perhaps poke fun at it?) in the series’ next book, Bring Up the Bodies, with an early reference to “he, Thomas Cromwell.”

9. THE TITLE IS HEAVY WITH SYMBOLIC MEANING.

Wolf Hall refers to the home of the Seymour family—a place Henry visits only at the very end of the novel—yet Mantel thought it was an appropriate name for Henry’s court. In a story steeped in treachery, the title also alludes to the Latin saying “homo homini lupus”: Man is a wolf to his fellow man.

10. IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE PART OF A TRILOGY.

Not until she started exploring Cromwell’s protracted duel with the pious-to-a-fault Thomas More did Mantel realize she had more than one book on her hands.

11. THE DIFFICULTY OF CROMWELL'S RISE TO POWER CANNOT BE OVERSTATED.

Rags-to-riches stories are so commonplace now that it’s easy to discount Thomas Cromwell’s ascendance. But in 16th century England, this sort of thing did not happen, period. The layers of society were rigid, and success was frequently a matter of birthright. “No one of Cromwell’s background had attained the heights of power in this way before,” Mantel said in a recent interview. “And I wondered, what did that take? What unique combination of personal qualities?”

12. PRINCE CHARLES IS A BIG FAN.

Well, of the BBC miniseries at least. He said as much to Mantel when he made her a Dame earlier this year. Which is interesting, given that a royal biographer recently likened Charles’ household to Wolf Hall.

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An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
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Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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12 Smart Book Ideas for Everyone in Your Life
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Books make the perfect gift: they're durable, transportable, and they promise some (hopefully) quality alone time. But what do you get the aunt who loves mystery novels if you're not familiar with the genre? Or the nephew who devours travelogues and goes backpacking around the world? Look no further—we've got them covered, plus 10 other very specific categories.

1. FOR THE VINTAGE COOKBOOK LOVER: LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES: THE LIFE, ART, AND COOKBOOK OF CIPE PINELES, EDITED BY SARAH RICH,‎ WENDY MACNAUGHTON, DEBBIE MILLMAN, AND MARIA POPOVA; $27

Book cover for Leave Me Alone With the Recipes
Amazon

Author Sarah Rich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton fell in love with the work of Cipe Pineles, the first female art director at Condé Nast, after discovering her recipes at a San Francisco antiquarian book fair. Filled with vibrantly colored illustrations, Leave Me Alone With the Recipes shows the joyful spirit and homespun flair that made Pineles’s work so influential. Alongside the recipes, the book includes contributions from luminaries in the worlds of food and illustration, including artist Maira Kalman and Maria Popova of Brain Pickings renown.

Find It: Amazon

2. FOR ANYONE HAVING SURGERY THIS YEAR: THE BUTCHERING ART: JOSEPH LISTER’S QUEST TO TRANSFORM THE GRISLY WORLD OF VICTORIAN MEDICINE BY LINDSEY FITZHARRIS; $27

Cover of The Butchering Art
Amazon

Back in the bad old days of medicine, a consistently blood-soaked apron was a sign of pride. Surgeons rarely washed them—or their hands, or their operating tools. Joseph Lister, the somewhat reluctant hero of Lindsey Fitzharris's new book The Butchering Art, was the genius who convinced the medical world that germs were not only real but a major cause of mortality in their hospitals. With an eye for vivid details and the colorful characters of 19th century medicine, Fitzharris has crafted a book that will make you thank Lister for his foresight—and make you glad you weren't alive back then.

Find It: Amazon

3. FOR THE GENEALOGY OBSESSIVE: IT’S ALL RELATIVE: ADVENTURES UP AND DOWN THE WORLD’S FAMILY TREE BY A.J. JACOBS; $27

Cover of Its All Relative
Simon & Schuster

What constitutes a "family"? In his latest book, A.J. Jacobs (famed for lifestyle experiments like trying to live an entire year in accordance with the Bible) delves into the world of genetics and genealogy to try and orchestrate the world's largest family reunion. With his trademark humor and insight, he ends up exploring the interconnectedness of all of humankind.

Find It: Amazon

4. FOR THE SOCIALLY AWARE YOUNG ADULT: THE HATE U GIVE BY ANGIE THOMAS; $18

Cover of The Hate U Give
Amazon

Already caught between the conflicting worlds of the poor neighborhood where she lives and her fancy prep school, 16-year-old Starr Carter finds herself in the middle of a tragedy when her childhood best friend is shot and killed by a police officer. As his death becomes a national flashpoint, it becomes clear that she may be the only person alive who can explain what really happened that night. Angie Thomas's writing has earned praise for being gut-wrenching, searing, and deftly crafted; Publishers Weekly called the book "heartbreakingly topical."

Find It: Amazon

5. FOR FANS OF PRESIDENTIAL HISTORY THAT READS LIKE A NOVEL: THE WARS OF THE ROOSEVELTS: THE RUTHLESS RISE OF AMERICA'S GREATEST POLITICAL FAMILY BY WILLIAM J. MANN; $35

You might think you know the Roosevelts, but historian William J. Mann looks beyond the well-worn stories to expose the bitter rivalries that drove its most famous members' quest for power. Along the way, he examines the Roosevelts who were kept away from the limelight, and the secrets they hold—all told in dramatic style.

Find It: Amazon

6. FOR THE INTREPID TRAVELER: ATLAS OBSCURA: AN EXPLORER'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD'S HIDDEN WONDERS, BY JOSHIA FOER, DYLAN THURAS, AND ELLA MORTON; $35

The book cover for Atlas Obscura's book
Amazon.com

An amusement park in a salt mine? Check. A tree so big it has its own pub? Check. A giant hole that's been spouting flames for 40 years? Check. This guidebook is a compendium of the world's strangest and most wonderful places, and it's guaranteed to inspire some serious wanderlust, especially in more adventurous travelers. For the complete experience, you can also get an awesome wall calendar featuring destinations from the book designed as vintage travel posters; there's a page-a-day desk calendar and explorers' journal too.

Find it: Amazon

7. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES WEIRD HISTORY: THE PUBLIC DOMAIN REVIEW SELECTED ESSAYS; $20

The Public Domain Review is one of the premier online destination for fans of curious history. If you know someone who enjoys stories about weird medieval medicine treaties, ancient automata, deranged 18th century scientists, and other odd subjects well off the beaten historical path, look no further than this book of essays (the site's fourth).

Find It: The Public Domain Review

8. FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE A GOOD MYSTERY: THE BIG BOOK OF ROGUES AND VILLAINS, EDITED BY OTTO PENZLER; $25

Cover of the Big Book of Rogues and Villains
Amazon

At the heart of every good mystery is a (usually dastardly) perpetrator, whether it's a Count Dracula or a Jimmy Valentine. With this anthology, Edgar Award winner Otto Penzler has combed through 150 years of literary history to find 72 stories featuring the most famous and entertaining antiheroes authors have ever been able to dream up.

Find It: Amazon

9. FOR PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT THE BORSCHT BELT IS: JEWISH COMEDY: A SERIOUS HISTORY BY JEREMY DAUBER; $28.95

Jews and humor go together like challah and Manischewitz (after all, as my bubbie says, if you don't laugh, you'll cry). In this "serious history," Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber considers the origins of Jewish humor in Biblical times through its life on Twitter today; how it's reflected—and even influenced—Jewish history; the production of major archetypes like the Jewish mother; and the prominence of Jewish comedians like Sarah Silverman and Larry David. You don't have to be Jewish to love it, but it may help you understand the in-jokes.

Find It: Amazon

10. FOR YOUR FRIEND WHO LOVES DARK SHORT STORIES: HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES, BY CARMEN MARIA MACHADO; $16

Book cover for Her Body and Other Parties
Amazon

A story told in the form of Law & Order episode summaries. A strange plague that makes girls go invisible, as narrated by a mall worker. A recollection of romantic encounters with the last of humanity’s survivors. In this collection, Carmen Maria Machado fuses urban legends, dystopian tropes, and heavy helpings of sexuality to create a new kind of magical realism strangely appropriate to our era. The images will haunt you long after you put the book down, if you let them.

Find It: Amazon

11. FOR THE PERSON WHO LOVES BIG-DEAL LITERARY NOVELS AND ALSO ABRAHAM LINCOLN: LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, BY GEORGE SAUNDERS; $18

A meditation on sorrow and the Civil War populated by a rag-tag group of ghosts, Lincoln in the Bardo starts with the real-life death of 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, Abraham's son. In the book, Willie has entered the Bardo—a Tibetan Buddhist term for a transitional limbo—where there's a fierce struggle underway for his soul.

Find It: Amazon

12. FOR THE GENERALIST: A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH SUBSCRIPTION; $45 FOR THREE MONTHS

A book of the month club subscription box with gift trappings nearby
Book of the Month Club

Can’t decide what to get, but feeling generous? Give your friend who loves to read a new hardcover book of their choice every month. Literary fans who are short on time will love having someone else do the legwork to find the best new novels; plus, there’s early access to new releases. Prices vary depending on the length of the subscription, and there’s a deal right now where you can get a month free when you give a subscription as a gift.

Find It: Book of the Month

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