9 Moments In Classic Literature That Are Actually Super WTF

by Charlotte Ahlin
BBC Films/Lionsgate

Classic literature has a somewhat unfair reputation for being dull. And look, I'm not going to sit around defending Nathaniel Hawthorne as the most thrilling author of his day (we get it, Nathaniel, she's wearing a scarlet letter and that's sad, move on). But if you take the time to read some of the big names in the literary canon, you might find a few surprises along the way. You might even find a few moments that make you drop your book, shrieking "WTF?!" into the empty void. Here are a few of the weirdest, most out of place, and all around "WTF" moments in classic books.

From sudden bear attacks to secret sex scenes to spontaneous combustion, classic literature is a lot weirder than you might expect. Looking back now, it's hard to tell what seems weird and out of place due to the different historical context and what's just plain... weird. For example, the fact that Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift treats Japan as a magical, mythical land is just European orientalism and poor research. But the fact that Gulliver's Travels features a human man being used as a dildo seems... weird. So here are some of the truly weird scenes you may have missed in classic lit:

Charles Dickens loves a good spontaneous combustion

It's already a tad random in Great Expectations when Miss Havisham goes up in flames, but at least she was standing near a fireplace. In Charles Dickens' Bleak House, a character straight up spontaneously combusts. He just... bursts into flames and there's no explanation. Nothing else magical or paranormal happens in the book. There's one other scene where some people halfheartedly wonder why he burst into flames, but other than than it's a wholly random moment that has nothing to do with the rest of Bleak House.

Gulliver is a human dildo

In Gulliver's Travels, the titular Gulliver visits a number of magical lands, including Brobdingnag, the land of the giants. Here, Gulliver is in danger from a number of giant animals, and also from the giant people, who treat him as a curiosity and use him as a human dildo. At least, Swift heavily implies that this is what's going on, while describing how the giant ladies enjoy stripping him naked and employing him as a sexual prop. Yikes.

Exit, pursued by a bear

In William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, a jealous king has his infant daughter banished, believing that he is not the real father. Poor Antigonus is tasked with leaving the babe in the woods, but as he's saying his tearful goodbye to the little princess, he gets eaten by a bear. A bear just appears out of nowhere, and then, in one of the most famous stage directions of all time, Antigonus "Exits, pursued by a bear." Um... sure?

Remedios the Beauty just kind of… floats away into the sky

There are a lot of strange moments in Gabriel García Márquez's classic work, One Hundred Years of Solitude. But perhaps the strangest, most random moment of all is when Remedios the Beauty simply up and floats away. She's the most beautiful woman in town, and perhaps the world, but she's simply too ethereal for this mortal plane. So one day while going about her business she just floats up to heaven, with no explanation at all.

The child sewer orgy in 'It'

Stephen King's It may not have been around as long as some of these other books, but it's already a canonized classic in the horror genre. Every screen adaptation so far has ignored one major scene, though: the child orgy. After defeating the monster, the group of kids known as the Losers' Club are trying to find their way back out of the sewer tunnels... so they have an orgy. It's a little out of nowhere. But to be fair to King, It is about growing up as much as it is about monsters, and nothing says growing up like sexual experimentation in the sewers.

Victor Hugo keeps stopping the plot for blog posts

Many people know the film and musical adaptations of Victor Hugo's most famous books, Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but those versions have cut out hundreds upon hundreds of pages of Victor Hugo's rants. In Les Misérables, for example, Hugo takes a 15,500 word detour to describe the sewers of Paris, an 11,000 word detour to talk about how convents work, a 5,000 word detour on why convents are bad, and a whopping 21,000 digression on the history of the Battle of Waterloo, which has little or no bearing on the plot. Too bad Hugo lived in a time before blogs.

Just… a whole lot of farting in '1001 Arabian Nights'

Long before Disney's Aladdin, there were the magical tales of the original One Thousand and One Nights or 1001 Arabian Nights. And one of these tales is all about farts. It's up for debate* whether this story was always part of the collection or added in by the book's first English translator, but the tale of How Abu Hasan Brake Wind tells of a fart so embarrassing that the guilty party fled the country and eventually died in shame.

*(According to Who Cut The Cheese?: A Cultural History of the Fart by Jim Dawson, some scholars believe that this particular fable was fabricated by translator Richard Burton, as he is the only translator who ever included it.)

Everything about Tom Bombadil

Fans of the Lord of the Rings books often complain that Tom Bombadil is left out of the movies but honestly... good. Tom Bombadil is a random, ageless, omnipotent forest man who pops up and has the hobbits run around naked with him. Um. OK. But then it turns out that he's all powerful and immune to the power of the One Ring. That's cool! But he can't take the ring to Mordor himself because, according to Gandalf, he would probably lose it somewhere. So he just... exists. Why even introduce this all-powerful character and then ignore him, Tolkien?

A snake eats Laocoön and everybody is cool with it

You know that famous statue of a dude and his sons getting murdered by a snake? It's from The Aeneid. In this ancient Roman account of the Trojan War, the Trojans wake up to find that giant wooden horse on their front lawn and they're all like, "Oh cool, free horse! Let's bring it inside." But the Trojan priest Laocoön says something to the effect of, "Um... maybe don't bring the horse inside this seems like a trap?" Athena is annoyed that he's spoiling the Greek's awesome horse plan, so she sends a GIANT SERPENT out of the sea to kill Laocoön, right on the spot, in front of everybody. And all the Trojans just sort of go, "...anyway, let's bring this horse inside!" and get on with their lives. This is how you get your city ransacked by Greeks, guys. Don't ignore sudden snake deaths.