[ *October 8, 2002* ]

Literary Primes

by Enoch Haga (email)

Think of a number – will it be prime ?

It is easy to come up with 2 or 3 or maybe even 5; 7 is notorious,

but what about higher primes. Are there writers who have

a seemingly uncanny predilection for prime numbers ?

You may know that Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is one of our greatest

writers, and his book, Huck Finn, is considered a masterpiece. This is the

adventure story of Huck Finn and a runaway slave rafting down the

Mississippi; it is full of the dialect of the times.

The manuscript of half of the book was lost for many years and was only

recently discovered (1990). This prompted a new edition containing portions

left out of the original.

[New York: Fawcett Columbine (First Ballantine Books Trade Edition, 1997),

ISBN 0-449-91272-8]

I bought the book to read for recreation. I was immediately struck by a

curiousity in the dialogue. It is peppered with numerical references -- and

almost invariably these contain low-value prime numbers, including for

example 37.

This seems more than a coincidence, so I jotted down most of the page

numbers and numerical dialogue.

"I was itching in eleven different places now." Page 9.

"--There was thirteen men there––they was the watch on deck, of course." Page 113.

"Look at me! –I take nineteen alligators and a bar'l of whisky for breakfast

when I'm in robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes and a dead body when

I'm ailing!" Pages 113-114.

"Thar's thirteen of us. I can swaller a thirteenth of the yarn, if you can

worry down the rest." Page 125.

"One of the boys was Buck, and the other was a slim chap about nineteen

years old." Page 159.

"'What?–to preach before a king? I never see such a girl as you. They don't

have no less than seventeen .'" Page 227.

". . . she flung herself onto the king's breast at the front door and he

kissed her sixteen or seventeen times –. . . ." Page 244.

". . . –because a rope-ladder is nineteen feet too short, you know– . . . ."

Page 301.

"'You don't reckon it's going to take thirty-seven years to dig out through

a dirt foundation, do you?'" Page 306. Other references to 37 at pages 307,

309, and two at page 325.

Notice also a suggestion that Twain is kind of jerking toward a progression

from low to higher prime numbers: 11 to 37!

It may be interesting to note that Huck Finn has 43 chapters.

A curiosity is that Chapter 43 is the only one not numbered !

This brings up the question, are there other literary works containing

frequent offhand references to numbers that happen to be prime ?

[ *May 20, 2003* ]

Enoch Haga hasn't finished reading The Lord of the Rings,

an astonishing and scholarly work of literature, but...

he noticed a number of references to primes in various

TV movies and programs. Unfortunately he's not always

fast enough to get the documentation.

Here are some that might possibly go with this WONplate:

[Source: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Boston, New York: Houghton

Mifflin Company, edition first published in Great Britain by

HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994). ISBN 0-618-26024-2; ISBN 0-618-26025-0.]

From page preceding Contents page:

" Three Rings for the Elven-kings. . ."

" Seven for the Dwarf-lords. . ."

In the Prologue, pages 4 and 5, the method of dating termed Shire-reckoning

is noted. Thus on page 5 we find that the Hobbits ". . . prospered and

multiplied after the Dark Plague (S.R. 37 ) . . ." On page 10 of the

Prologue we find that ". . . there came one day to Bilbo's door the great

Wizard, Gandalf the Grey, and thirteen dwarves with him . . ."

On page 21, the first page of Chapter I, we find the Bilbo Baggins

". . . celebrating his eleventy-first birthday . . ." On pages 21-22 we

find that "Bilbo was going to be eleventy-one, 111 . . ." Thus I suppose

that we could have multiples of 11 such as eleventy eleventy-one, or 11111.

Whether this idea might be extended to such numbers, I don't know. We do find

on page 22 a mention that ". . . Frodo was going to be thirty-three, 33 . . ."

Is thirty thirty- three acceptable as 333 ?

Perhaps other readers may comment.

I haven't thoroughly explored this monumental work, but

should I find more examples, I'll send them in.

[ *May 22 & 23, 2003* ]

Enoch Haga continues the literary prime saga:

In Thomas Mann's magnificent symphonic novel of time and place set in

pre-Great War Switzerland, Hans Castorp visits his cousin in a sanatorium.

Intending to stay for three weeks, he himself is confined for seven years!

While these are not spectacular primes, Mann could have chosen other numbers.

Mann himself remarks (Page 706) :

" Seven years Hans Castorp remained amongst those up here.

Partisans of the decimal system might prefer a round number, though seven

is a good handy figure in its way, picturesque, with a savour of the mythical,

one might even say that it is more filling to the spirit than a dull academic

half-dozen. Our hero had sat at all seven of the tables in the dining-room . . ."

[Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg), Translated from the

German by H. T. Lowe-Porter, (New York: Vintage Books edition, March 1969).

Originally published by S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin, 1924.]

His book is divided into 7 chapters divided into 51 parts. Two of these parts

have numerical titles: In Chapter I, Number 34, page 10; and in Chapter VII,

Vingt et Un, page 556. Also, in Chapter VII, there are three parts about

Mynheer Peeperkorn, the first part followed by Vingt et Un. If these extra

parts are combined, there remain 7 squared or 49 parts. This is the only

such instance of continued parts.

[ *May 25, 2003* ]

Enoch Haga finally managed to see an old movie on TV

as well as jot down the prime data mentioned:

In "The Big Lift," a 1950 film featuring many of the actual pilots and crews

who flew the Berlin Airlift, as well as film stars Montgomery Clift and Paul

Douglas, we see that the planes flying out of Rhein-Main and landing at

Tempelhof had numbers. Clift's plane was #37, and in the film

it is celebrated as the plane completing the 100,000 flight

into Berlin. This plane, originating in the 19th Troop Carrier

Squadron, Honolulu, was later assigned to the 53th Troop

Carrier Squadron. In the drama woven into the story, Montgomery late

in the film flies into Berlin on plane #107. Four primes here!

That reminds me that during the Korean War, two years after the Berlin

Airlift, I was assigned as a supply sergeant to the 5th Air Force, 452nd Light

Bombardment Group, later reconstituted the 17th. Two primes here.

[ *February 25, 2004* ]

Enoch Haga saw this one evening while wasting time on TV

The Nickelodeon cartoon character SpongeBob remarks that he has taken the

boating test 37 times, then corrects it to 38. Obviously his spongy body has

soaked up primes -- but at least 38 is 2 * 19, so he is thinking straight!