This Day in History (January 4)

Jan 4, 1785: Jacob Grimm is born

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On this day, the older of the two Grimm brothers, Jacob, is born in Hanau, Germany. His brother Wilhelm is born the following year.

As young men, the two brothers assisted some friends with research for an important collection of folk lyrics. One of the authors, impressed by the brothers’ work, suggested they publish some of the oral folktales they’d collected. The collection appeared as Children’s and Household Tales, later known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in several volumes between 1812 and 1822.

Tales in the Grimm brothers’ collection include “Hansel and Gretel,” “Snow White,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Rapunzel,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.” The brothers developed the tales by listening to storytellers and attempting to reproduce their words and techniques as faithfully as possible. Their methods helped establish the scientific approach to the documentation of folklore. The collection became a worldwide classic.

Jacob continued researching stories and language, and published an influential book of German grammar. He also did important work in language study and developed a principle, called Grimm’s Law, regarding the relation of languages to each other. In 1829, Jacob and Wilhelm became librarians and professors at the University of Gottingen, and Jacob published another important work, German Mythologies, exploring the beliefs of pre-Christian Germans. In 1840, King Frederick William IV of Prussia invited the brothers to Berlin, where they became members of the Royal Academy of Science. They began work on an enormous dictionary, but Wilhelm died in 1859, before entries for the letter D were completed. Jacob followed four years later, having only gotten as far as F. Subsequent researchers finished the dictionary many years later.

This Day in History (November 26)

Nov 26, 1862: Alice in Wonderland manuscript is sent as a Christmas present

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On this day in 1862, Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson sends a handwritten manuscript called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground to 10-year-old Alice Liddell.

The 30-year-old Dodgson, better known by his nom de plume Lewis Carroll, made up the story one day on a picnic with young Alice and her two sisters, the children of one of Dodgson’s colleagues. Dodgson, the son of a country parson, had been brilliant at both mathematics and wordplay since childhood, when he enjoyed making up games. However, he suffered from a severe stammer, except when he spoke with children. He had many young friends who enjoyed his fantastic stories: The Liddell children thought his tale of a girl who falls down a rabbit hole was one of his best efforts, and Alice insisted he write it down.

During a visit to the Liddells, English novelist Henry Kingsley happened to notice the manuscript. After reading it, he suggested to Mrs. Liddell that it be published. Dodgson published the book at his own expense, under the name Lewis Carroll, in 1865. The story is one of the earliest children’s books written simply to amuse children, not to teach them. The book’s sequel, Through the Looking Glass, was published in 1871. Dodgson’s other works, including a poetry collection called Phantasmagoria and Other Poems, and another children’s book, Sylvia and Bruno, did not gain the same enduring popularity as the Alice books. Dodgson died in 1898.

This Day in History (November 8)

Nov 8, 1847: Dracula creator Bram Stoker born

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On this day in 1847, Bram Stoker, author of the horror novel “Dracula,” is born in Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland. Stoker’s villainous, blood-sucking creation, the vampire Count Dracula, became a pop-culture icon and has been featured in hundreds of movies, books, plays and other forms of entertainment.

After overcoming a childhood filled with health problems that frequently left him bedridden, Stoker graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He then worked for the Irish Civil Service while writing theater reviews for a Dublin newspaper on the side. His drama reviews brought him to the attention of Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), a tall, dark and well-regarded actor of the Victorian era who was said to have served as an influence for Stoker’s Count Dracula. Stoker eventually became Irving’s manager and also worked as a manager for the Lyceum Theater in London. He published several horror novels in the 1890s before the debut of his most famous work, “Dracula,” in 1897.

Set in Victorian England, “Dracula” is the story of a centuries-old vampire and Transylvania nobleman, Count Dracula, who roams around at night biting the throats of human victims, whose blood he needs to survive. The concept of vampires didn’t originate with Stoker: These mythical creatures, who cast no shadows, have no reflections in mirrors and can be killed with a stake through their hearts, actually first appeared in ancient folklore. English writer John William Polidori’s 1819 short story “The Vampyre” is credited with kick-starting modern literature’s vampire genre.

Stoker’s novel has been adapted for the big screen several times. An unauthorized version of the book was made into a 1922 German film, “Nosferatu.” In 1931, Universal Pictures released the well-received “Dracula,” which starred Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) in the title role. (The Library of Congress later labeled the movie culturally significant and added it to the National Film Registry.) Universal went on to release such related films as “Dracula’s Daughter” (1936), “Son of Dracula” (1943) and “House of Dracula” (1945). In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, English actor Christopher Lee (1922-) starred in a series of Dracula productions from Hammer Films, including “Horror of Dracula” (1958), “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” (1966) and “Scars of Dracula” (1970). In 1992, director Francis Ford Coppola (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now”) had a blockbuster hit with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” which featured English actor Gary Oldman (1958-) in the lead. The Dracula oeuvre also includes such productions as the 1972 blaxploitation film “Blacula” and director Mel Brooks’ 1995 parody, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” starring Leslie Nielsen (1926-).

The vampire genre as a whole has proved to be box-office gold in Hollywood. In 1994, Anne Rice’s 1976 novel “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” was made into a hit movie starring Tom Cruise (1962-) as the vampire Lestat. In 2008, the big-screen adaptation of “Twilight,” author Stephenie Meyer’s 2005 best-selling vampire novel for young adults, scored big at the box office.

Bram Stoker died at the age of 64 on April 20, 1912, in London. He published other novels after “Dracula,” but none achieved the same level of success.

This Day in History (September 24)

Sep 24, 1996: Stephen King releases two books at once

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On this day in 1996, blockbusting bestselling author Stephen King releases two new novels at once. The first, Desperation, was released under King’s name, while the second, The Regulators, was published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.

King was born in Portland, Maine, in 1947. His father abandoned the family when King was two, and his mother struggled to support her two children. King was sickly as a child and developed a love for books. He studied English at the University of Maine, where he met his wife, Tabitha.

After college, the couple lived in a trailer while King taught school, worked in a laundry, and churned out four novels, which were rejected. Discouraged, he gave up on his fifth novel until his wife encouraged him to try again. In 1973, Doubleday paid him $2,500 for the book Carrie, about the bloody revenge of a high school outcast. A few months later, he earned $420,000 for the paperback rights. The book was a huge bestseller, as were his subsequent 30 novels. He also wrote six novels under the name Richard Bachman, and 14 collections of short stories or nonfiction. King’s books have sold 300 million copies to date.

Despite his success, King has struggled with his own demons. In 1988, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, stating “I never met a drink or drug I don’t like.” In June 1999, he was taking a walk near his Maine home when he was hit and critically injured by a car. Six operations were required to repair his hips, pelvis, ribs, and other broken bones. Meanwhile, he managed to write a novella, several short stories, and a memoir. In March 2000, he released a new novel, Riding the Bullet and the The Plant available over the Internet. Since that time, King continues to write fiction and non-fiction books.

This Day in History (August 12)

Aug 12, 1964: James Bond creator Ian Fleming dies

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On this day in 1964, the British author and journalist Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, the world’s most famous fictional spy, dies of a heart attack at age 56 in Kent, England. Fleming’s series of novels about the debonair Agent 007, based in part on their dashing author’s real-life experiences, spawned one of the most lucrative film franchises in history.

Ian Lancaster Fleming was born into a well-to-do family in London on May 29, 1908. As an adult, he worked as a foreign correspondent, a stockbroker and a personal assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence during World War II–experiences that would all provide fodder for his Bond novels.

The first Bond book, Casino Royale, was published in 1953. In all, Fleming wrote 12 novels and two short story collections about Agent 007, which together sold more than 18 million copies. According to The New York Times: “Bond himself, Fleming said, was ‘a compound of all the secret agents and commandos I met during the war,’ but his tastes– in blondes, martinis ‘shaken, not stirred,’ expensively tailored suits, scrambled eggs, short-sleeved shirts and Rolex watches–were Fleming’s own. But not all the comparisons were ones the author liked to encourage. Bond, he said, had ‘more guts than I have’ as well as being ‘more handsome.’”

The first Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1962; it starred the Scottish actor Sean Connery in the title role. Connery played Bond in six films altogether; From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) were the only ones made during Fleming’s lifetime. Since that time, five other actors–George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig–have played the superspy in some two dozen films from EON Productions.

Fleming, who did much of his writing at his Jamaican home, Goldeneye, also penned a children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and several works of non-fiction. Following Fleming’s death, a string of other authors were commissioned to write Bond novels.

This Day in History (July 31)

Jul 31, 1965: J.K. Rowling born

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On this day in 1965, Joanne Rowling, better known the world over as J.K. Rowling, the author and creator of the celebrated Harry Potter book series, is born near Bristol, England. Beginning in the late 1990s, Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels became international blockbusters, selling over 400 million copies and being translated into more than 60 languages. The books also spawned a series of movies, video games and other merchandise that made Rowling one of the wealthiest people in the entertainment industry.

Rowling attended England’s University of Exeter, where she studied French, and later worked for human-rights organization Amnesty International in London and as a language instructor in Portugal. The idea for Harry Potter came to Rowling when she was riding a train from Manchester, England, to London in 1990. She began writing the first book that night. Rowling finished the book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she struggled financially as a single mother and battled depression. Her completed manuscript was turned down by a number of publishers before she got a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing in August 1996.

The first Harry Potter book debuted in Great Britain in 1997 under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The book was released in the United States the following year and renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Children and adults alike were captivated by the story of the bespectacled boy wizard Harry, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, their adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry’s struggles against his enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort.

On November 16, 2001, the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opened in America and was a huge box-office success. It was directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and starred British child actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson in the role of Hermione. A roster of celebrated actors took supporting roles in the film and its various sequels, including Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Richard Harris and Gary Oldman.

The seventh and final (according to Rowling’s predetermined plan) Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, debuted in U.S. bookstores on July 21, 2007. Like all the previous Harry Potter books, it is slated to become a movie, to be released in 2010. To date, the Harry Potter films are the most financially successful series in history, having surpassed both the Star Wars and James Bond franchises.

This Day in History (July 21)

Jul 21, 2007: Final Harry Potter book released

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On this day in 2007, the seventh and final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is released, with an initial print run of 12 million copies in the United States alone. Like each of the previous Harry Potter novels, Deathly Hallows was slated to be made into a major Hollywood film.

The bespectacled boy wizard Harry Potter is the brainchild of the British author J.K. Rowling, who was born July 31, 1965. Rowling’s first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, debuted in Britain in 1997 (it was retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when it was released in America the next year) and went on to become an international bestseller. Children and adults alike were captivated by Harry, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and their adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The books, which chronicled Harry’s struggles against his enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort, have sold over 400 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages. The series is also credited with boosting childhood literacy around the globe.

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Spawning a series of blockbuster films, video games and other merchandise, the Harry Potter series transformed J.K. Rowling, a broke single mother when she penned the first book, into the highest-earning author in history. The first movie in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opened in America on November 16, 2001. Directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire), the film starred British actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson in the role of Hermione. Columbus also directed the second film in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which premiered in the United States on November 14, 2002.

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The Mexican director Alfonso Cuaran (Y tu mama tambien) helmed the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which opened in America on June 4, 2004. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was directed by Mike Newell, the first Brit to helm the series, and released in the United States on November 18, 2005. The fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was directed by David Yates and opened in America on July 11, 2007. Yates also directed the next film in the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2008) and is scheduled to helm the adaptation of the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which is planned as two separate films.