The Worst Title in Literary History











One oddity here is not that the title is so incredibly BAD, but that the work of fiction that it represents is so incredibly GOOD. Some mystery fans (including myself) believe this to be Christie's best work, and it was by far her best selling book. It was possibly the most original mystery plot to date, and it ranks high on most mystery lovers' lists as one of the greatest ever written. The book was first printed in 1939. This Pan Book reprint was printed in 1950 (scan Courtesy of Peter de Vos), and the one below it (which was actually printed in France and distributed in the UK) was printed in 1947 (scans Courtesy of Tom Daniels). It was only a matter of time before it was adapted for the London stage. The Samuel French play book is a first printing, 1944.

So why haven't Americans ever heard of it?

Actually, it was first printed in the U.S. the same year it was written, serialized in the Saturday Evening Post. But American publishers refused to even consider using this title. Christie renamed it for distribution in the U.S. and published it as And Then There Were None. The rather cruel children's rhyme that the book was based on was changed to "Ten Little Indians," Christie changed the name of the island where the ten characters gather and called it "Indian Island," and everywhere the offensive word appeared in the text, it was changed to Indians (meaning American Indians). Eventually, the name of the play was also changed to "Ten Little Indians." There would be at least four motion pictures, two under the title "And Then There were None" (1945 & 1974) and two under the "Ten Little Indians" title (1959 & 1965).

While the offensiveness of the original book title was immediately transparent in the United States, the nature of the racial slur was either not as acutely felt in Great Britain or publishers simply didn't care enough to force the Grand Dame to agree to an alteration. The book continued to be reprinted under all three titles for decades. The worst of all (in my opinion) is Fontana Books #1727, printed in Glasgow in 1978, which sports a cover depicting an African effigy that has been hanged. (It was pointed out to me by website viewer Joe Gioielli, after reading this entry, that the doll shown on that cover was a very popular child's toy in Britain. For more information, click HERE.)

While it is obvious that Ms. Christie's intent in the book was not overtly racial, such graphic images dredge up memories of racial atrocities around the world, and especially in the United States during the first fifty or sixty years of the twentieth century.

The novel is still in print, but to my knowledge, the title with the racial slur is not one of those that is still "active."

Now, you might also argue that the "Ten Little Indians" title is actually rather demeaning to Native Americans.

And you'd be right, of course.