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10 Crazy Literary Conspiracy Theories

by Nolan Moore
fact checked by Jamie Frater

If you read between the lines of your favorite novel, you might discover a crazy conspiracy theory. From Elizabethan England to the 21st century, people have made some pretty weird claims about books and the folks who wrote them, ranging from secret identities to dastardly deeds.

10 Is J.K. Rowling Real?

J.K. Rowling was just an average working mom who became a world-renowned, uber-wealthy author. At least, that’s what the Bloomsbury publishing company wants you to believe. According to Norwegian filmmaker Nine Grunfeld, there is no J.K. Rowling. The author never existed.

Grunfeld believes the Harry Potter books are just too successful to be the work of one woman. She’s suspicious of how Rowling can churn out seven Potter novels in 10 years, and how those books, written by a nobody, can sell more than 250 million copies worldwide. Grunfeld claims this whole operation is too professional, too slick to be the result of a single author. Instead, Harry Potter is a corporate creation, written by a team of writers a la the Nancy Drew series. The woman we know and love as J.K. Rowling is actually an actress paid to fool readers. Anybody else think Grunfeld is just a tiny bit jealous?

9 Did Charlotte Bronte Kill Her Sisters?

The Brontes were a pretty special family. Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre, Emily wrote Wuthering Heights, and Anne wrote the lesser-known The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Only Charlotte’s and Anne’s novels were successful in their day, but all three have since become classics of English literature. Sadly, none of the Brontes made it past their thirties, thanks to tuberculosis. But . . . was it really TB?

Criminologist James Tully, author of The Crimes of Charlotte Bronte, has a much more sinister theory. According to Tully, Charlotte was jealous of her sisters’ fame, so she teamed up with her father’s curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls, and poisoned Anne and Emily along with their brother Branwell. Thanks to their scheme, Emily and Branwell died in 1848, and Anne passed away in 1849, allowing the deadly duo to cash all their royalty checks. After the murders, Arthur and Charlotte were married, but Tully claims Nicholls double-crossed his wife. He poisoned Charlotte, thus eliminating all the Brontes, and kept all those fat checks for himself.

Tully tried to have his theories published as a nonfiction book, but couldn’t find a willing publisher. So he rewrote the whole thing as a novel, proving that sometimes truth isn’t necessarily stranger than fiction.

8 Were J.R.R. Tolkien And C.S. Lewis Occultists?

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are two of the most influential fantasy authors of all time, and their novels are beloved across the world. However, several conspiracy theorists claim these two men were heavily involved in the occult and were priming their readers for a New World Order—the one conspiracy to rule them all.

For example, in The Lord of the Rings, the eye of Sauron supposedly represents the all-seeing eye of the Illuminati. Some theorists claim Gandalf symbolizes famous magician Aleister Crowley, and that Frodo is an “aspirant,” someone hoping to be initiated into Gandalf’s illuminated brotherhood of black magic. The infamous John Todd preached that Tolkien actually copied his novels from The Book of Shadows, a Wiccan text, and that his runes are really the witches’ alphabet.

To top it off, some claim the Illuminati uses rings to enslave people! In fact, the “One Ring” poem is allegedly an incantation used to control brainwashed servants. As proof, conspiracy theorists note that Tolkien taught at Oxford, a college obviously run by the Illuminati. They claim Tolkien was softening his readers’ resistance to the occult, preparing them for the coming Illuminati kingdom.

And what about Lewis? His novels are really Christian allegories, right? Well, conspiracy theorist Mary van Nattan says Aslan actually represents pagan solar deities. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe focuses on a land plunged into eternal winter. However, the wintry curse is broken by the return of Aslan, so he’s like the mid-winter solstice breaking through the winter nights. Van Hattan also points out that Aslan has golden fur, a golden face, and golden eyes. Guess what else is golden? The sun!

And going back to John Todd, he claims that Lewis is required reading if you ever want to join a coven of witches. So anyone wanting to practice witchcraft better head down to their local Christian bookstore.

7 Was Edgar Allan Poe Murdered?

As the father of the detective genre, it’s appropriate that Edgar Allan Poe’s death is a mystery. On October 3, 1849, Poe showed up in Baltimore, delirious and wearing someone else’s clothes. He died four days later, though no one is sure how. Some think he overdosed, some say he had diabetes, and some even blame rabies. It should come as no surprise that some say Poe was murdered.

One of the more prominent theories suggests that Poe was “cooped.” In the 1800s, when election season came around, gangs would round up men wandering the streets, beat them up, and get them drunk. The men would then be taken to polling booths and forced to vote for a particular candidate multiple times, rigging the election. To make sure their captives weren’t recognized, the kidnappers would force them to wear different clothes every time they cast a ballot. Some think this is why Poe showed up unhinged and wearing clothes that weren’t his.

Others suspect the murder was personal. As the story goes, Poe was involved with a woman who had some pretty possessive brothers. When they learned Poe was an alcoholic, they had a nice, long talk with the author and encouraged him to see other people. Evidently, they convinced him a little too thoroughly.

The most bizarre theory has Poe being murdered by the Masons. By exposing their evil deeds through short stories such as “The Cask of Amontillado” and “Never Bet the Devil Your Head,” Poe incurred their wrath and was murdered on his trip to Baltimore. However, most historians put little stock in this theory as it’s stark raven mad (sorry).

6 Who Wrote Shakespeare’s Plays?

Shakespeare’s authorship has been questioned by crazies and scholars alike. Those who believe the man from Stratford-Upon-Avon was the sole author of works like Hamlet are known as Stratfordians. All those opposed are anti-Stratfordians, and this camp has attracted a surprising number of notable figures, such as Charlie Chaplin, Vanessa Redgrave, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens, and Orson Welles.

Conspiracy theorists have a problem believing the Bard penned his own poetry because he was a commoner. The son of a glover and wool-smuggler, Shakespeare was just an actor who didn’t even go to college. How could this guy write some of the most beautiful prose in the English language? He didn’t hang out with royalty, and he’d never traveled outside of England, so how could he write about those topics with such depth and precision? Anti-Stratfordians think Shakespeare was just too ignorant to write a play like King Lear. Instead, the author had to be someone with education and class. So who was the man behind the man?

Anti-Stratfordians have several candidates, the most popular being Christopher Marlowe, Edward de Vere, and Sir Francis Bacon. Marlowe was a famous playwright who was murdered in a bar fight before many of Shakespeare’s plays were written, but according to conspiracy theorists, he actually survived. As he was a spy for the Crown, Marlowe was smuggled into France where he spent the rest of his life writing Shakespeare’s canon.

The second candidate, de Vere, was the 17th Earl of Oxford and has the support of the Roland Emmerich film Anonymous. However, de Vere also died before plays like Macbeth and The Tempest were even written.

The Francis Bacon theory is the most plausible, mostly because he wasn’t dead at the time. Some believe he was the sole author of Shakespeare’s plays while others think he was one member of a dramatist conspiracy. Mark Twain favored the Bacon hypothesis and believed you could find the words “Francisco Bacono” hidden in Shakespeare’s First Folio. But if you think these suspects are just a little too usual, then how about Queen Elizabeth I? Some actually believe the Virgin Queen penned Shakespeare’s words. It seems some will always wonder if Shakespeare achieved greatness or had it thrust upon him.

5 Is The Count Of Monte Cristo A Jesuit Allegory?

The Jesuits are one of the most feared organizations in conspiracy theory lore, and Eric Phelps, author of Vatican Assassins, thinks they’re responsible for pretty much everything that’s ever happened. He sees their shadow everywhere, including in classic literature. According to Phelps, Alexandre Dumas also knew the truth about the Society of Jesus and exposed them in The Count of Monte Cristo.

Phelps believes the Count is symbolic of the Jesuit General. The General is the guy in charge of the Jesuit order, the man who supposedly starts wars and political upheavals. Evidently, the kings and queens of Europe got tired of the Jesuits starting revolutions so they banished them to an island off the coast of Portugal, which is essentially what happens to the Count—some jealous guys set him up and have him imprisoned on an island. In Dumas’ novel, the Count escapes from his watery prison and takes revenge on those who conspired against him.

Similarly, the Jesuit General took revenge on Europe by setting up and unleashing Napoleon Bonaparte. Still not convinced? Just look at the title. Monte means “Mount,” and Cristo means “Christ” so the book is really called “The Count of the Mount of Christ.” Case closed. (Detective work is so easy.)

4 Was Tom Clancy Part Of A 9/11 Conspiracy?

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Carol Valentine has a problem with the standard 9/11 story. She thinks it’s too “unbelievable.” She says there’s no way a group of terrorists armed with knives could hijack four planes and successfully crash three of them into their intended targets. The timing was too perfect, the execution too smooth, and she has a hard time accepting only the Flight 93 passengers would fight back.

Instead, Valentine blames the world’s oldest scapegoats, the Jews. She thinks Israel, and loyalists in the American government, used remote-controlled planes to attack New York and D.C. The terrorists never existed. They were just part of the smoke screen.

However, according to Valentine, the American government was worried no one would fall for the outlandish hijacking story so they hired Tom Clancy to help with the cover-up. Valentine doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Clancy’s 1994 novel Debt of Honor features a terrorist crashing a plane into the Capitol building. Instead, she says the Pentagon helped Clancy write his book in order to convince the world a 9/11 scenario was actually possible. After all, if Clancy hadn’t written Debt of Honor, we’d all naturally suspect robot-controlled Zionist planes because it’s just so obvious.

3 Was Lewis Carroll Really Jack The Ripper?

Jack the Ripper has inspired books, movies, and endless speculation about his identity. Conspiracy theorist Richard Wallace believes the man responsible for the Whitechapel murders was none other than Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. This is a theory that really goes down the rabbit hole.

In his book, Jack the Ripper, Light-Hearted Friend, Wallace claims that Carroll teamed up with his buddy, Thomas Vere Bayne, to make a dent in the local prostitute population. Wallace’s theory is a bit shaky though, as it’s based on anagrams found in Carroll’s books. For example, while reading through The Nursery Alice (a Carroll-approved abridgment of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), Wallace discovered this passage:

“So she wandered away, through the wood, carrying the ugly little thing with her. And a great job it was to keep hold of it, it wriggled about so. But at least she found out that the proper way to keep tight hold of its foot and its right ear.”

Wallace shifted some letters around and eventually came up with something darker:

“She wriggled about so! But at last Dodgson and Bayne found a way to keep hold of the fat little whore. I got a tight hold of her and slit her throat, left ear to right. It was tough, wet, disgusting, too. So weary of it, they threw up—Jack the Ripper.”

Of course, Wallace had to drop a few letters and turn an “o” into an “i” to discover Carroll’s “secret.” But Wallace also points to Carroll’s obsession with the number 42. It appears in several of Carroll’s works such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and “The Hunting of the Snark,” and Wallace theorizes all the murder victims are connected to this number. For example, Emma Smith was 45 when she was murdered. Forty-five is three more than 42. Martha Tabram was stabbed 39 times and was 39 years old. Thirty-nine is three less than 42. Of course, it gets a bit messy thanks to Mary Kelley. She was 25 when she was murdered, but Wallace suspects Carroll believed she was 24. Twenty-four, after all, is 42 backward. Well, maybe 42 isn’t the answer to everything after all.

2 Is The Catcher In The Rye A CIA Brainwashing Tool?

Lennon_and_ChapmanThe Catcher in the Rye is one of the most controversial novels of all time. From 1961 to 1982, J.D. Salinger’s tale of teen angst was the most censored book in American schools and libraries. While parents have objected to the novel’s profanity and sexual content, conspiracy theorists think Catcher poses a much bigger threat than a few curse words. Some people are worried that the story of Holden Caulfield can drive people to murder.

We recently talked about Mark David Chapman’s 1980 murder of John Lennon, but just a year later, John Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. What did these two guys have in common? They were both fans of The Catcher in the Rye. Remember, Chapman was so obsessed with the book that after he killed Lennon, he started reading the novel right there on the street, just a few feet away from the rocker’s body.

Were these the actions of your everyday assassin? Or were Chapman and Hinckley both brainwashed CIA stooges? Conspiracy theorists suggest that Salinger was a CIA operative, and that his book is a “mechanism of control.” In an article submitted to Paranoia Magazine, Adam Gorightly theorized that the novel is “a triggering device, which sets off a post-hypnotic suggestion, much like the queen of hearts in Richard Condon’s Manchurian Candidate, unleashing within its mind-controlled subjects the command to kill.” So basically, once the sleeper agent pages through Catcher, he’s activated to kill a prearranged target like a musician or a president. So is The Catcher in the Rye a threat to celebrities everywhere, or is the whole theory phony?

1 Did Stephen King Kill John Lennon?

The problem with the “CIA brainwashed Chapman to kill John Lennon” theory is the possibility that maybe Chapman didn’t do it. Maybe he was just a patsy, and the real murderer was the King of Horror himself, Stephen King. At least that’s what Steve Lightfoot, author of Stephen King Shot John Lennon, thinks. Hard to imagine? It’s easy if you try.

According to Lightfoot, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan wanted Lennon and his peace protests out of the picture. (Lightfoot stumbled upon this information by ciphering hidden codes in the headlines of magazines such as Time and Newsweek.) So Nixon and Reagan hired Stephen King to be the triggerman. It turns out Chapman was just an actor paid to take the fall. As proof, Lightfoot points to the famous photo of Lennon giving his autograph to Chapman just hours before the Beatle’s death. Obviously, that’s not Chapman in the photo. His glasses, hair, and dimples are all wrong. It’s actually King!

Further proof of King’s involvement can be found in his novels Salem’s Lot and The Dead Zone where he’s hidden clues to taunt truthers about his crimes. Lightfoot even claims he’s received letters from King, threatening him to keep quiet about the conspiracy.

Lightfoot is very passionate about his theory. On his van, Lightfoot has written his web address and the bold claim, “Author Stephen King, not Chapman, murdered Lennon. It’s true, or he’d sue.” And since King has a home in Florida, Lightfoot showed up at a city council meeting in Sarasota armed with homemade signs to warn the town about King’s murderous activities. Lightfoot is definitely not King’s top fan.

Nolan Moore is an ESL teacher whose name is secretly an anagram for “A Lone Moron.”

fact checked by Jamie Frater