The Significance of Numbers in Literary Titles

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Numbers are never related solely to mathematics. They have the immense power to make literary works more alluring and certainly add a unique flavour to titles irreplaceable by any other non-mathematical word. Numbers are symbols… and we have always had a special liking to symbolism. Tip off 8 and you get eternity, Nine along with its mirror image make up a spiral heart…and so on.

Numbers also remove vagueness from stories and make them credible. Isn’t to say that there are 5,876,777,091 stars in our galaxy more credible than saying there are billions of stars in our galaxy, even if it’s not true.

The numbers in book titles, foreshadow events and attract readers subconsciously. Just look at the literary titles and my own explanations below and decide if any other number or word could replace these numbers in the title:

“20,000 Leagues under the Sea” : It couldn’t have had the effect if it were a different number. In the times of Jules Verne, 20,000 was a massive number and the reason why a round-up number was chosen is basically because it’s easier to say it out loud than “forty-five thousand” or any other inexact, massive number.

“Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” : Not all the thieves in the story are indeed relevant to the story but it’s a credible and a huge number to describe the enormity of the bandits. Any number from 30 to 50 would have worked, but 40 does have a special ring in this case.

“The Three Musketeers”: Why is it the three musketeers when there were four? (Yes, I am counting D’Artagnan as one…) It’s simply because three is an odd number and it shows the balance could change when taking decisions. One side will always win.

“Two minutes to Midnight” : The title which is also the name of a popular rock song suggests the severity of the time running out as midnight symbolizes the end of something (at least the night..)

“A tale of Two Cities” : You can foresee the conflict brewing in the story by just looking at the title…

“The Thirteenth Tale” : 13 is associated with “unluckiness” hinting the unfortunate events to be unfolded in the story…

Never forget! A good story always begins with a good title…and the right number in the title…

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