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Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

11 Things You Didn't Know About Black Beauty

Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

Happy anniversary to Black Beauty, which turns 138 today. Though it was written during a time when horses were beasts of burden far more than they are today, the animal cruelty issue still resonates—which is why Black Beauty is one of the best selling books in history. Read on to learn more about the classic tale.

1. BLACK BEAUTY ISN'T THE FULL TITLE.

It’s actually Black Beauty, his grooms and companions; the autobiography of a horse, 'Translated from the original equine by Anna Sewell'. You can see why everyone shortens it.

2. AUTHOR ANNA SEWELL'S MOTHER WAS THE WRITER OF THE FAMILY.

Though Anna would eventually eclipse her mother in both fame and book sales, Mary Wright Sewell was the more successful author for most of her life. The elder Sewell wrote several books, including Mother’s Last Words and Other Ballads and Homely Ballads for The Working Man’s Fireside.

3. SEWELL WASN'T PUBLISHED UNTIL SHE WAS 57 YEARS OLD.

Anna honed her writing skills by helping her mother edit her books, but she didn't get her own book published until she was 57. She started Black Beauty when she was 51, and it was her first and only publication.

4. BLACK BEAUTY WAS INSPIRED BY A PET.

Sewell biographers believe that the title character was based on Bess, a spunky horse owned by her family. Though she was spirited, the Sewells loved her and considered her one of the family.

5. SHE WAS PAID JUST £20 FOR THE BOOK.

Sewell sold her masterpiece to Jarrold and Sons in 1877 for a single payment of £20. They published it the same year, and it became an instant success.

6. SEWELL DIED JUST FIVE MONTHS AFTER IT WAS PUBLISHED.

It’s possible that Sewell could have made more money off of the book once it proved to be popular, but she never got the chance to negotiate with her publisher. She died of hepatitis in April 1878, just five months after the book came out.

7. A SIGNED COPY WILL SET YOU BACK.

The green, cloth-bound first editions of Black Beauty are rare, but even rarer is a signed copy. Because Sewell died so soon after the book’s publication, she wasn’t around to make out a lot of inscriptions. She did manage to sign one for her cousins that read: “Mary and Catherine Sewell from their affectionate cousin the author Christmas 1877.” This copy sold for £11,875 ($18,133) at a Christie’s auction in June 2015—and that’s nothing. In 2006, the copy she signed for her mother (“Mary Sewell, from her loving child A.S.”) went for £33,000 ($50,693).

8. THE BOOK WASN'T INTENDED FOR CHILDREN.

Anna was an animal lover in general, but she was particularly fond of horses after she sprained her ankle as a child and was forced her to rely on them for transportation. When she wrote Black Beauty decades later, it was intended not to amuse children, but to make adults think about what they were putting horses through.

9. IT HAD A VERY REAL IMPACT ON THE TREATMENT OF HORSES.

According to NPR, “There is little doubt” that the book was responsible for the death of the “bearing rein,” a strap that pulled the horse’s head down toward its chest to create an arch. The position was painful for the horse, causing great pain and respiratory problems.

10. IT INSPIRED OTHER BOOKS ABOUT ANIMAL CRUELTY.

Among them was Beautiful Joe, a tale written from the point of view of a dog whose ears and tail were cut off by his master. Though it hasn’t turned out to be quite as classic as Black Beauty, Joe was quite popular in the 1930s, becoming the first Canadian children’s book to sell more than 7 million copies.

11. IT'S ONE OF THE BEST SELLING BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

With more than 50 million copies sold in 50 languages, Black Beauty is one of the most popular books in history. For reference, other books in the 50 million range include The Catcher in the Rye, Charlotte’s Web, The Da Vinci Code, Anne of Green Gables, and all of the Harry Potters (except Philosopher’s Stone, which is up to 107 million).

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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