The Case of the Funny Title

Agatha Christie enjoying tea and a book in Baghdad, Iraq.

Today, while reading Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the line “Come, tell me how you live!” suddenly jumped out at me. I immediately looked at another book lying right next to me, this one by Agatha Christie, called Come, Tell Me How You Live. I could hardly believe it.

I opened the Christie book, which I had not yet started, and turning a page, there was the whole song I had just been reading! It was not just a flight of my imagination, the title of her book is, in fact, from Through the Looking Glass.

Just after the table of contents and a list of illustrations, at the top of the first page, is the title of the song the line was taken from, and beneath that, between parentheses, Christie has added, “With apologies to Lewis Carroll.” And then (Oh!) I noticed the difference: The title she gives is “A-Sitting on a Tell.” In Through the Looking Glass, the title is “A-Sitting On a Gate.” And in fact, Christie’s words to the song are entirely different! Oh, my God! She did a blatant riff on Lewis Carroll’s song, thus the apologies! She made her very own version of it, in a very self-deprecating and funny re-telling of how she met her second husband, Max Mallowan, an archeologist, asking him more than once, “Tell me how you live.”

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