Harry Potter

RORY: I’ve dreamt of going to Harvard since I was a little girl.

CAROL: Yeah, a lot of four year olds dream of that. It comes right after meeting Harry Potter.

Harry Potter, the schoolboy wizard who is the protagonist of the popular Harry Potter book and film series, the novels written by English author J.K. Rowling, previously mentioned. In the films, he is played by English actor Daniel Radcliffe.

Rory was four years old in 1988-1989, and the first Harry Potter book was published in 1997, so Rory could hardly have been interested in him as a toddler anyway. Presumably Carol is thinking of her young clients in the present day.

There’s a little mistake in the writing here. Rory never actually tells Carol that she’s been dreaming of Harvard since she was four – only that she was a little girl. We know she was four because Lorelai told Max in Season 1, but somehow Carol knows about it too.


DARREN: Open question – which mythological figure has the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a scorpion? Here’s a hint – it’s also the title of a novel by Robertson Davies.

RORY: Oh, manticore.

The manticore is a Persian mythological creature with a human head, body of a lion, and a tail of venomous spines – some depict it as like porcupine quills, while others give it a scorpion tail, as Darren says. There are some accounts that the spines can be shot like arrows, making the manticore a lethal predator. It devours its prey whole, using its triple rows of teeth, leaving no traces of its victim behind. Its name comes from the Persian for “man eater”.

The Manticore is a 1972 novel by Canadian author Robertson Davies. It is the second volume in his Deptford Trilogy, three interrelated works set in the fictional town of Deptford, Ontario. The plot of The Manticore revolves around themes of Jungian psychology and psychoanalysis, and the journey towards becoming fully human.


DARREN: In which play does Falstaff appear?

JACK: That would be plays … Henry the Fourth, Part One and Two, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

DARREN: So that was a different Falstaff than Henry the Fifth?

Sir John Falstaff is a comic character created by William Shakespeare. A fat, vain, and boastful knight, he spends most of his time drinking with petty criminals, living on stolen or borrowed money. He is best known from Henry IV, Part 1, where he is the companion of Prince Hal. Although Falstaff is a drunken, corrupt lowlife, he has charisma and a zest for life that the prince enjoys. In Henry IV, Part 2, Prince Hal is on his path to kingship, and ultimately rejects Falstaff as a companion. They meet briefly only twice in the play, and Falstaff is ageing and unwell.

Darren is incorrect that Falstaff appears in Henry V – he dies offstage, but another character memorably describes his death.

Sir John Falstaff appears in the comedy, The Merry Wives of Windsor. He is vaguely recognisable as the same character, but there is otherwise no connection to the earlier plays, and it has been argued that it isn’t the same Sir John Falstaff. Although nominally set during the reign of either Henry IV or Henry V, everything in the play suggests that it actually takes place in Shakespeare’s own time, around the late 1500s. Tradition has it that the play was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I, who asked Shakespeare to write a play where Falstaff falls in love.

[Painting shown is Falstaff II by Eduard von Grützner, 1904]

“One fell swoop”

DARREN: One fell swoop, interesting phrase … Origin?

JACK: It was coined in Macbeth and derives from Middle English.

At one fell swoop means “suddenly, in a single action”. The fell part is an archaic word dating to the 13th century meaning “fierce, savage, cruel, ruthless”; it’s the root of the word felon and has gone out of use except for this one instance.

The phrase was first used, and most probably invented, by William Shakespeare, in his play Macbeth, previously discussed. In the play, it is said by Macduff when he hears that all his family and household have been killed:

All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?

The “kite” that Macduff refers to is the bird of prey, commonly used as a hunting bird in Tudor England. You can see that the “fell swoop” is the swoop of the kite as it quickly descends to catch its prey.

Somehow “at one fell swoop” went from meaning something terrible happening all at once, to just anything happening all at once. Darren uses it to mean good thing happening all at once, but I am unable to disassociate it from its original context, and to me it still suggests some fearsome unexpected blow from above. Maybe I read too much Shakespeare!

Jack’s answer is actually pretty inadequate, or even misleading. It’s not certain that Shakespeare coined it, although it’s likely – he should have said that it first appeared in Macbeth, and that Shakespeare has been credited with coining it. The phrase itself is not Middle English, and presumably he means that the word fell in this example goes back to Middle English.


DARREN: Here’s some of my Harvard yearbooks, peruse them if you like.

Yearbooks are published annually to commemorate the past year of a school, college, or university. They came out of the personal scrapbooks students put together in the 18th century, and the first formal yearbook was produced in 1806, at Yale.

The picture is for the 1974 Harvard yearbook, the year that Darren graduated, meaning he was born around 1952 and is about fifty years old in this episode. Notice that it is actually for both Harvard and Radcliffe – Radcliffe College was a women’s college founded in 1879, designed to be an all-female counterpart to the all-male Harvard. Harvard became fully co-educational in 1970, and in 1999, Radcliffe merged with Harvard.


RORY: I read a lot. I’m into the Russians lately.

DARREN: Tolstoy, Turgenev?

Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883), Russian novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright and translator. His 1862 novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th century fiction, and he helped to popularise Russian literature in the West. He was friends with Gustave Flaubert, another author Rory likes, and an influence on writers such as Henry James and Joseph Conrad.

Tolstoy is a favourite of Rory, and Gogol’s Dead Souls is referenced again in this scene.

Dr. Seuss

LORELAI: Oh, that would be the year the pumpkins arrived late.

DARREN: Sounds like a Dr. Seuss book.

Dr. Seuss, the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), children’s author and cartoonist. His work includes many of the most popular children’s books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death. He has won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for his works Horton Hatches the Egg (1958), and To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street (1961). His birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the date of National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association.

He is the author of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was made into the 2000 family film The Grinch, previously discussed. To me, The Year the Pumpkins Arrived Late doesn’t really sound very much like the title of a Dr. Seuss book.

People pronounce his pen name as “Soose”, to rhyme with moose, but his middle name is actually said “Zoice”, to rhyme with choice.

Ted Williams

LUKE: Taylor, no, no, no, no, and every day from now on ’til the end of my life, I am gonna come in here and say, “Taylor, no!” And when I die, I’m gonna have them freeze me next to Ted Williams, and when they find the cure to what I died of and they unfreeze me, my first words are gonna be, “How’s Ted?” followed closely by, “Taylor, no!”.

Theodore “Ted” Williams (1918-2002), professional baseball player and manager who played his entire career for the Boston Red Sox, from 1939-1960. Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

Ted Williams died in Florida of cardiac arrest at the age of 83 on July 5, 2002. Although his last will and testament asked that he be cremated and his ashes scattered in the Florida Keys, his son John-Henry and his younger daughter Claudia chose to have his remains cryonically frozen.

Ted’s elder daughter, Bobby-Jo Ferrell, brought a suit to have her father’s wishes recognised. John-Henry’s lawyers then produced a “pact” signed by Ted, John-Henry, and Claudia, agreeing that they would all be frozen, in the hopes of being together again one day. Ted’s signature was found to be genuine, and Bobby-Jo dropped the case due to lack of funds. Publicity from the case increased the number of enquiries to cryonics organisations.

Ted Williams’ biographer, Leigh Montville, claims that Williams’ signature on the pact was a practice autograph on a plain piece of paper, around which the family agreement was written. He had signed the pact Ted Williams, as he did for autographs, while legal documents were signed Theodore Williams.

John-Henry Williams unexpectedly died from acute leukaemia in 2004, and was also cryonically frozen by Alcor in fulfilment of the family agreement.

Note this is another baseball reference from Luke.

[There are picture available of Ted Williams’ frozen head, but they’re frankly a bit disturbing, so I’ve gone with one from during his career].

Faulkner and Sylvia Plath

LORELAI: Or one of your authors, Faulkner or . . .

RORY: Or Sylvia Plath.

LORELAI: Hm, might send the wrong message.

RORY: The sticking her head in the oven thing?

LORELAI: Yeah. Although she did make her kids a snack first, shows a certain maternal instinct.

William Faulkner (1897-1962), previously mentioned, writer known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County of Mississippi, based on the real Lafayette County of that state. William Faulkner spent most of his life in Oxford, Mississippi, which in his works is renamed Jefferson. The winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, he is one of the most celebrated American authors, and widely considered the greatest writer of Southern Literature.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) [pictured], previously mentioned several times, poet, novelist, and short-story writer, best known for her confessional poetry, as well as her 1963 novel The Bell Jar, previously discussed. Her posthumous 1982 Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize. Clinically depressed for most of her life, she killed herself by gassing herself in the oven. Before she did so, she made her sleeping children (two year old Frieda and one year old Nicholas) a snack of bread and butter, opened their bedroom window, and put tape and towels around the door in an effort to protect them from the fumes. Sadly, her suicide seems to have often become a punchline in television comedy, as with this example.

Dead Souls

RORY: Oh, geez. Let the record show that when my application to Harvard arrived, we were watching The Brady Bunch Variety Hour … Man, this morning I was reading Dead Souls – it couldn’t have come then?

Dead Souls, a 1842 novel by Russian author Nikolai Gogol, widely regarded as a classic of Russian literature. The novel chronicles the adventures of a mysterious traveller and the people he encounters, and was intended to represent a modern-day Inferno of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Gogol himself saw his work as an “epic poem in prose”, and within the book characterised it as a “novel in verse”. Gogol intended the novel to be the first part of a three-volume work, but burned the manuscript of the second part shortly before his death. Although the novel ends in mid-sentence, it is regarded by some as complete. It is very possible that Rory is reading Dead Souls for English Literature at school.