Where once delirious theorizing about novels was the province of English professors and their students, safely locked away in the ivory tower of academia, in the modern age the democratizing force of the internet has made it everyone’s business to think way too hard about what they watch, read, or listen to, and then type up Tumblr posts about their new theory.
Most of these theories are pure bosh, of course, and are quickly swept aside by the rising tide of the next day’s theories—and none of them can be “proved” anyway, at least not in any real sense. But some of these fan theories are a lot of fun—and some have more staying power than others. These five may not hold up in a court of literary law, but they will mess with your mind.
Theory: There is no Mr. Hyde
Book: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Did you ever notice that in Stevenson’s classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we never get a glimpse of Mr. Hyde’s point of view? While most of the usual discussion about the story takes for granted that Mr. Hyde is literally a separate personality that Jekyll has unleashed—younger, different in appearance, and of a completely different, er, temperament—the fact is we only have Jekyll’s unreliable evidence to back this up. A lot of readers speculate that Hyde is just an excuse for Jekyll to go ham on some really unacceptable behavior he has always wanted to get into. Readers have been fooled because we take Jekyll’s words at face value, and Jekyll believes himself to be a good man who couldn’t possibly do such terrible things. But if Jekyll is unreliable—as he clearly is—then why take him at his word on that?
Theory: Jane Austen’s novels are about sociopaths and Game Theory
Book: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
This one will really get at Austen fans: there’s a prevalent theory that you can use Austen’s novels (not just Pride and Prejudice) as a guidebook to Game Theory, because all of Austen’s characters are basically sociopaths who manipulate everyone around them like game pieces on a board. If you think about it, this is blood-chillingly obvious: Just about every major character in Austen’s stories is playing a cold-blooded game, breaking down their opponents’ weaknesses, deceiving them, and then using their mistakes against them, all to gain social ascendancy. Put in that light, Austen’s work is some Game of Thrones–level stuff.
Over on Reddit last year, this theory popped up and took root due to its plausibility—especially when you consider how hard Stephen King has worked to connect his books into one sprawling multiverse. It boils down to a few simple facts: Jack Torrance in The Shining is a frustrated writer who has lost a teaching job because of a violent run-in with a student, and he’s working on a story featuring a character named Denker. Apt Pupil also features a character named Denker, who meets a student who’s a much worse version of the kid Jack attacked. There’s not much more to the theory, but the idea that Jack might have been writing Apt Pupil while going insane in the Overlook Hotel is so exciting we’d like to suggest King go back and revise his books slightly to make the connection overt.
Theory: George is homosexual
Book: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men was published in 1937, way before homosexuality was something discussed freely in public, much less accepted in everyday life. There are some references to homosexuality in the book, but they serve to underscore how bad it would be to be outed back in those days. And there is some evidence that Steinbeck may have intended George to be gay. When he sees Curly’s wife, the only woman in the book and a woman who is clearly reveling in her sex appeal among the men working the ranch, George barely looks at her and doesn’t have much reaction. But when George spies Slim—or any other man—his descriptions become far more effusive. It’s subtle—but it adds an unexpected dimension to the story.
Theory: Heathcliff is a werewolf
Book: Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is an amazing book, very dark, centering on a romantic duo that’s deeply polarizing. Heathcliff’s story is certainly tragic and deserving of sympathy, but he’s also a destructive, vengeful force, and a malevolent one, at that. When you consider how easy it is to imagine Brontë wrote an early supernatural romance and just made all the references super subtle for plausible deniability, however, it all changes. Cathy? Totally a vampire. And Heathcliff, a man repeatedly described as “savage,” a man who lives in a house with a pack of dogs, a man with “sharp cannibal teeth”? A werewolf. In fact, turning Wuthering Heights into the first-ever Twilight requires you to squint just a little bit.