Writing a novel is a supreme effort of imagination, creativity, and discipline. Building a world with words and inhabiting it with characters readers care about is an amazing achievement. The mental effort is so exacting, in fact, that some of the best writers in history have produced novels that feature at least one tremendous flaw. You may not have noticed these mistakes when you read these books, but once you see them, they can’t be unseen. Here are five books that contain huge mistakes—proving that even geniuses sometimes stumble.
The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
Chandler’s classic hardboiled detective novel—the gold standard for stories of world-weary private investigators—has a plot so famously dense and twisty that an entire murder not only goes unsolved, but completely ignored. At one point, a chauffeur is found murdered in the car. The reader is given the details of the crime scene, implying it’s going to be important, and then it’s never mentioned again. When Hollywood made a film version a few years later the producers contacted Chandler to ask who killed the chauffeur, and Chandler’s response has become the stuff of legend: “Damned if I know!”
Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein
There’s this concept writers must deal with known as editing. This is the process in which people read through your glorious manuscript and fix typos, grammatical errors, and plot or continuity problems. So how in the world Heinlein published a novel with a character whose name flips between Alice and Agnes on several occasions is a mystery. There’s little reason to believe there’s some esoteric explanation for the name change, so it’s most likely a simple editing mistake—one that persists to this day.
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
One of the earliest examples of a mistake in an otherwise great book occurs when the most famous castaway in literature first finds himself on the Island of Despair. Seeing that the ship whose wreck he has just survived is going down, he strips naked and swims out to retrieve supplies…which he carries back to shore by shoving them into his pockets. This mistake doesn’t really ruin the story, but it’s still amusing to think that novels have been exporting mistakes into the world for nearly three centuries.
The Black Company, by Glen Cook
Cook’s popular fantasy series has been praised for its realistic approach to the soldiering inherent to the story, its darkly funny sense of humor, and its intricate plotting. There is, however, a looming mistake that, once seen, changes the way you’ll look at the story: in Cook’s universe, powerful sorcerers can be stripped of their powers if you happen to know their real names. As a result, most sorcerers go to great lengths to obscure their names—sometimes by killing off everyone who could possibly know them. One sorceress, The Lady, almost certainly knows the real names of several key antagonists (especially considering one is her own sister) and yet she never once uses the knowledge to defeat them—possibly because doing so would resolve the plot after about three pages.
Dracula, by Bram Stoker
Stoker’s classic vampire novel remains a bestseller despite its stodgy Victorian nature—and the fact that, in many ways, its plot makes no sense. While the human protagonists can be forgiven for not reacting coherently to the discovery that vampires exist, and that one of them is in England and actively stealing their women, the centuries-old vampire doesn’t enjoy such latitude. Dracula breaks into the house where all of his enemies are sleeping several times in order to turn the woman he’s selected as his new bride, and doesn’t once consider the possibility of simply murdering them all, thus solving all his problems—since they’re the only people aware of his nature and presence. It’s not like Dracula was averse to murder, right?