Posts Tagged memory

The Impression of a Great Story

My sister and I like to swap conspiracy theories. It’s a favorite activity at family gatherings, and this past Christmas, after we established that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle probably aren’t robotic clones, we got onto the subject of the Mandela Effect.

The Mandela effect was coined by paranormal researcher Fiona Broome in 2009. The name comes from her discovery of a commonly held belief that former South African president Nelson Mandela died as a political prisoner in the 1980’s. In reality, he passed away in 2013 at the age of 95. Nonetheless, countless people seem to share a false memory of Mandela’s death in the 80’s and his subsequent funeral.

Thanks to the marvels of the internet, there are now dozens of places to find lists of other, similar phenomena (starting with Broome’s own website, which documents the history of this discovery), and the name “Mandela Effect” serves as an umbrella term to describe these commonly held false memories.

Any amount of research on the subject leads to the inevitable question of “why?”.

Why do we misremember things so easily?

Or maybe…why are we so quick to dismiss our memories when they’re challenged?

I’m not particularly interested in solving this problem. Like most writers, I’m happier opening doors and asking questions. And since I’m especially interested in how this phenomenon ties into the kidlit corner of the world, I’ve sifted through the lists to find the three best literary examples of the Mandela Effect. Ready to do some head scratching?

There are no Berenstein Bears

Even as I write that title, Google is telling me I’ve got it wrong. But if it wasn’t for spell check, I’d challenge anyone who questioned my spelling. I mean, hey, I have two little kids. I read books about a lovable family of anthropomorphized bears on the regular. So how could I have it so wrong? What about you? And be honest. The Berenstain Bears would want you to be honest.

A Tale of No Tail

This is one I had to personally check for myself, which isn’t a great sign for my overall sanity. It’s true, though — despite all taxonomical evidence to the contrary, George is a good little monkey who’s always very curious…and inexplicably lacks a tail. Some devoted fans point to the tendency in the 1930’s to group smaller apes (who do not have tails) with monkeys, hence the confusion. Others have proposed the equally reasonable suggestion that in an alternate reality, George does have a tail, and several parallel timelines have actually merged together to create this memory conundrum. Maybe in that other universe George does take the chocolates at the end of the book. I get that he was full, but I never understood why he didn’t just hang onto them for later.

Down or In?

Here’s another one I had to go digging for on my kids’ bookshelf. The Big Bad Wolf tells the pigs he’ll huff and he’ll puff and he’ll blow their house down, right? 


Maybe you’re faring better than I did in this exploration of collective recollection, but I was 0/3 in my research. The wolf does, in fact, promise to blow the pigs’ houses in. To be fair, there are a hundred spinoffs of this story, and I’m fully confident that in one of them, I’ve got the wording right. Have I personally checked this? Nope! This is as far down the rabbit hole as I’m willing to go, but be my guest and let me know in the comments.

One of the inevitable questions when we do this sort of thing is what really makes a book memorable? Is it these little details, which we apparently have a tendency to muddle, or is it something less tangible? As a kid, my favorite book was James and the Giant Peach, but until I reread it as a young adult, I couldn’t really tell anyone the plot. I just knew that I loved it. I remember a strange sadness when the stack of pages in my right hand grew thin, and I knew it was almost over.

As authors, those are the feelings we dream of conjuring up in people, and it goes far beyond a title or a memorable line or an artistic decision. So whether you’re a reader, a writer, or a little of both, we can probably all agree that the impression of a great story lasts a lot longer than the details, no matter which reality you’ve merged from.