Lost Books
  Lists    September 4, 2017     Eric Larkin


We recently talked about books it’s okay to throw away, for instance if their timely content is out of date, and we’ve talked about the thudding stupidity of burning books for censorial purposes.

Now let’s talk about tragedy: lost books. Not merely the rare or out of print, but books that existed and now do not. Hese are just a few of the ones we know about.


That Philip K Dick has a lost novel is heartbreaking; that he actually has three lost novels is somehow not surprising. He was kind of odd, and seems like the sort who would misplace novels. Nicholas and the Higs, Pilgrim on the Hill, and A Time for George Stavros are all gone. These early novels are from the 50s, and are rejected examples of his non-science fiction work (though Nicholas had sci fi elements). What happened to them? No one knows, but his house was burgled at one point, and a safe gutted. Were these manuscripts in the safe? Meh. Why put rejected manuscripts in a safe? Well, they prob weren’t zapped by a pink sunbeam, and he prob didn’t smoke’em, but who knows what happened? For more on these lost pieces and PK Dick himself, check out Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin. Here are more lost books from great sci-fi writers.


Many lost books were unfinished. Here are three, cut short in their prime:

photo Aerie

Sylvia Plath’s novel Double Exposure      

fate: unknown   

unfounded allegation: Ted burned it.


An unfinished Hemingway novel    

fate: stolen on train in France   

note: this was before he was a famous novelist, so there is prob zero chance the thief did anything but angrily slam-dunk the “useless” stack of papers in the nearest trash bin.


– 10 (TEN!) unfinished Terry Pratchett novels    

fate: steamroller’d   

reluctant admission: the… right… thing… to… do… – gahhhhh  


Shakespeare has at least one lost play (Not this one, which is now under dispute, on account of its April Fool’s pedigree). Cardenio, written with John Fletcher, is based on Cervanté’s Don Quixote, so that makes it twice a loss. Considering the wild west feel of theatre and publishing in Elizabethan London, I suppose we should just be thankful so many of his works survived.

In Japan it’s called hakutaku.


The loss of Bai Ze Tu may doom us all. Many centuries ago, when the (possibly legendary) Yellow Emperor ran into the (possibly legendary) bai ze, the multi-eyed, four-legged, hornéd goat-cow-man-monster was kind enough to share some vital knowledge: a list of all 11,520 supernatural creatures, their dangers and how to deal with them. This is info we need, and the Yellow Emperor wrote it all down. Then some chowderhead lost the book. End of story. Thank god for the Ghostbusters.




Aristotle’s Poetics, as we know it, is really only half of his original work. We have the part dedicated to tragedy. The part dedicated to comedy is lost.

Considering the quality of  the ancient works we do have, it’s crushing to imagine what was lost. And don’t even think about the library at Alexandria. The size of the library is debated, but it is said that its bogarting of papyrus is what prompted the invention of parchment. 

Nalanda housed a vast library, India’s version of Alexandria. photo Hideyuki Kamon

Speaking of large scale losses of books, there is also:

– The destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish priest Diego de Landa, effectively eliminating an entire written heritage  

– The burning of the great Nalanda library by Turkish invaders  

– The Dissolution of (England’s) monasteries, and therefore the destruction of the monastic libraries, by Henry VIII – so he could save a few bucks and fund a few wars — (Man, nothing has changed – not a damn thing.) 

Imagine the lost books in just those three examples.


And a few times, books were deliberately burned, for various reasons:

A stack of works by William Blake were burned after his death by Frederick Tatham, possibly caught up in a religious fervor that Blake’s works were… evil or something [rolls eyes] , but who also published a collection of Blake’s letters. DUDE. Pick a side.

A shelf’s worth of the Marquis de Sade’s work was burned by his son after his death. Too late, kid: you’re not foolin’ anyone.

And the journals of Lord Byron (father of Ada Lovelace), again, for the protection of his reputation, were burned by his publisher and friends. This one stings.  


That, of course, is just a sample of what we in the retail biz call “shrinkage”. The only upshot is that you never know what one might find in the mouldering wall of an old mansion or misfiled in some university archive or hocked as toilet paper in a side street bazaar.

So, keep your eyes open.  



[interactive copyright notice]
Dwarf + Giant