Frequently Asked Questions

1- How do imaginary characters affect anything in real life?

            We think in terms of the movies we've seen, the TV we've watched, they form our ideas of good and evil, personality types, from Law and Order's Arthur Branch to Uncle Tom's Cabin inflaming the anti-slavery movement in the 1850s.  Sherlock Holmes changed our ideas of evidence.  Rosie the Riveter made work a heroic deed, and created the first practical feminism -- the industrial paycheck.  Dick Tracy's wrist-radio was fiction many years ago, but now, even children have cell phones.   


2- Do you know Eileen Watkins?

            We're big fans of hers.  Eileen is part of a writers' workshop, and her novels are often the high point of the session -- and each chapter makes you want the next chapter.  We've heard  "Paragon" from beginning to end (available here), and large parts of other novels (for example, Ride a Dancing Horse).  She's been generous with comments that have improved our work, and several other writers'.  Most of her books are available through Amberquill press,


3-  What problems did you have with the book?

            We cross so many categories, you have to ask for it in the bookstore, or buy it on line.  And describing it has been just as hard- it's an encyclopedia with a sense of humor, a list book with depth.  Something between James Thurber and Margaret Mead.  We put a lot of thought - and work - into the preparation.  And we read everything before an audience, sometimes several times.  


4-  What was the hardest topic you had to work on?

            The longer series are the toughest to deal with, because there are so many complicated plotlines.  Most TV series have so many seasons, we'd be a year watching it all.  Comic books go on for decades, sometimes restarting in different variations.  And most successful works reemerge in other forms -- an Opera version of "The Grapes of Wrath," the Broadway version of "Tarzan," three silent films of Uncle Tom's Cabin... We tried to focus on one work, and avoid the limiting words "never," "always," "first," and "only." 


5-  Have you found any mistakes?

            Write to us through the e-mail link here, and we'll not only check it out, we'll get back to you. We think we've corrected them all, and if you'd like to see our troubles, click here for a full list of corrections, things we've fixed in the 5th printing, the 7th, the 12th, etc. Plus a little extra material and background - like the role of Martin Nodell in the original Green Lantern, and Wayne Allwine's work at Disney. And that paragraph accidentally deleted from the 12th printing (and only the 12th).

            The publisher has been great about making changes.  Whenever a point is disputed, we look into it right away, and the publisher puts in the change in the next printing. 


6- You list Robin Hood as fictional -- and William Tell, King Arthur, St. Valentine, even the Loch Ness monster.  How do you justify that?

            You can add Achilles, Ulysses, Hamlet, JR Ewing, Atticus Finch, Moby Dick, and dozens more.  We cover that on page 257 -- "Who's Fictional?"  Many are so entwined with their legends that almost everything we know is made up.  King Arthur may be a historical figure, but his name was Artorius, and nothing is known about him. On the opposite side of the coin, the fascinating life of Josiah Henson was the basis of Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom."  St. Valentine was not one real person, but two or three, and his story doesn't belong to any of them. William Tell wasn't mentioned at all for more than a century after the Swiss revolution, and the Swiss were giving up on him even in 1901.  Robin Hood had good reason to keep his identity and location secret, so we may never know if he was real.  And we wish the Royal Navy would stop scaring the Nessies away with their sonar.  Maybe that's for the good.  You've seen the "So Easy a Caveman could do it" commercials -- Can you imagine getting 3000 sea monsters into therapy?         


7 – The title of the book says “People” but you list Bambi, The Little Engine that Could, and HAL9000, and others that are certainly not people. What gives?

            Hey, dogs are people too – why stop there? The subtitle makes it clear that the title is to be interpreted generously, to include non-humans who are also influential. The Greek gods weren’t necessarily human. Even though Venus is the ideal of human beauty, the Greek legends included satyrs and centaurs, and they weren’t human, but they certainly affected human culture. We include machines (HAL9000), sea monsters (Nessie), puppets (Kermit the Frog), and bears (Smokey). One of the most influential characters, Big Brother – the caution against invasive government – isn’t even a creature at all. Within the novel, he was just a figurehead and we never find out if he even existed.


FAQ Page last updated October 3, 2011