It’s well known that F. Scott Fitzgerald was disillusioned by what he saw as the decadence of Princeton life, but he sells the University short. That’s not to say he was wrong—how many towns in America can say a major event is the Banana Republic being replaced by a Brooks Brothers?—but there are so many other reasons to be disillusioned by Princeton that Ol’ Fitzy never even touched on. Here’s what might have happened if some other notable literary minds had called themselves Princetonians:
The Hobby by J.R.R. Tolkien
Bilbo sat by the fire, pipe in hand, and considered again Gandalf’s words to him in the Shire. The stories he had heard of his grandfather on his Took side were indeed grand, but still remained the fact that he was a Baggins of Bag-End, and the Bagginses of Bag-End had always been investment bankers, not suited for the sorts of flights of fancy of his Took kin. While his great great grand-uncle Bullroarer Took may have been a writer and been on many an adventure, the Bagginses were a practical people who went into practical fields. “There’s no career in being an Elvish major,” Bilbo’s father, Bungo, had always said. Bilbo became lost in these thoughts, only stirred from his musings by the low and somber notes of Thorin beginning to sing. Soon the other dwarves joined him, their voices traditionally unaccompanied by instrument and singing in the ancient tongue, not known outside the Dwarven realms:
Of deep the halls of centuries past
We dwarves shall sing as long we last
With Elm and Ivy ‘neath our feet
We prox in hand march to the Street
And sing the praise of King Nassau
From the blackened gates south to the Wa…
The Old Man and the Sea-Plus by Ernest Hemingway
The boy was there when the old man awoke. The boy gave him some coffee, and he drank it as he lay there. It had felt good to rest. It was the first time he had slept in several days. The man looked out the window and saw the sea. He thought of the long days he had spent on its waves. Days without sleep, only to return with a carcass.
The boy had been watching him, a look of understanding in his eye. The old man turned and met his gaze.
“I failed, Manolin,” the old man said, deflated.
“You did not fail. You did not do as well as you wished,” replied the boy.
“All I have returned with was a head.”
“That is more than nothing, and the catch was a good catch. In another sea, you would have returned with a great prize.”
“In another sea. But not here. Here I only have this.”
“The sea can be cruel. It seems only about 35% of the men can ever have a good catch each day,” consoled the boy.
“Then perhaps this was the wrong sea. North of here, the men always return with fish. It is said the seas run crimson with the blood of the caught fish.”
Manolin looked at the old man sadly. “They say it’s difficult to get into the fishing up there, though.”
“But once you’re in!” cried the man, “Getting in is the only hard part. Once you’re in, the sea takes care of you. Not like here.”
“What else can we do?” commiserated the boy. “It is not as if we can become doctors or lawyers.”
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoned by J.K. Rowling
Nervously, Harry walked up to the Sorting Hat. He sat down on the stool and placed it on his head. All was quiet for a moment, and then he heard a voice.
“An interesting one here… where to put you?”
“Not Slytherforbes. Anywhere but Slytherforbes,” murmured Harry.
“Not Slytherforbes, eh? But you could accomplish great things there! Slytherforbes would certainly move you toward greatness. And the students of Slytherforbes are known to be welcoming and friendly.”
“The people are fine,” said Harry through gritted teeth. What if the Sorting Hat put him in Slytherforbes? He felt a lump in his throat at the thought. Neither of his parents had been in Slytherforbes, and Ron had said the Sorting Hat considered that…
“Please, not Slytherforbes. It’s not the people. But it’s so far away. Please, put me somewhere centrally located.”
“You’re sure not Slytherforbes?” replied the Hat.
“Anywhere but there. Butlerpuff or Rockyclaw. Just please, not Slytherforbes.”
“Not Slytherforbes then… still, you have a great destiny ahead of you. Better be… WILSONDOR!” bellowed the Sorting Hat.
A raucous cheer erupted from the Wilsondor tables. “Thank you,” whispered Harry, and he quickly moved to join Hermione and Ron at the long table.
The Twofold Responsibility Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
Louder—louder!- the ringing grew. How could these men not hear it? My agitation grew, though the men continued their idle chatter. They had called on me, mysteriously, in the middle of the night and yet! Such pleasantries—they knew nothing of my deception, and yet the ringing would not yield. Stood I before their committee, but confident of voice was I- I was clever not to let on the truth. Readily they had believed my tale, and nothing more needed I to say. Soon they would dismiss me and never would they know but still!- the ringing grew to deafen me. My words grew louder, the ease of my talk abandoned me. But even though that fled still the ringing remained! Surely, thought I, they know! My treachery was bare- yet still they tormented me! What sick pleasure, their mocking smiles and tainted words! There glances- a code? A code indeed, more damning then their words. For surely they knew but did not say! My honor stained, my guilt confirmed! I fought!- I rose from the table, making quickly for the exit, but still they bade me stay! No more could I take—I had to concede the truth!
“I admit my guilt!” I cried. “Here below the floorboards—a beating heart!”
The officers jumped to their feet and then- only then!- did I see my folly. “You killed this man?” exclaimed the one, his face shocked- as sure was I!
“A vile crime- but no! My guilt is viler still—on my honor, my oath broken! I saw the man be killed and- still!- reported nothing!”
— TDM ’14. Illustrated by AZ ’16.