How creative are you?
Most writers claim some modicum of creativity. Any writer of fiction does, after all, we are creating people, places (or at least the specific description of a real place), dialogue, sometimes even entire worlds. But I believe extra credit should be given to those among us who create not only books, but words, and indeed, entire genres. Horace Walpole was such a man. What do I envy most about him? The creation of the word serendipity. Today it is defined as ‘luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.’ He first used the word in a letter, calling the word ‘very expressive’. It was not a word created out of thin air: Serendip was the old name for Sri Lanka. However, it was not the exotic geography that led to his word serendipity. There was a very early detective story titled ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’ that told the story of three princes who track down a missing camel through luck and good fortune. Walpole was inspired by their tale and, voilà, serendipity was born. If that weren’t enough, Walpole created the Gothic genre with the novel The Castle of Otranto. Technically he probably deserves some credit for modern marketing since he pretended the novel was a sixteenth century manuscript discovered among the possessions of an ‘ancient Catholic family.’ It was published to great acclaim and popularity and it was only with subsequent printings that Walpole added a note to the effect that it was an original, modern work of fiction. Since I began my professional career as an architect I also have to admire the fact that Walpole created an architectural style. His London residence, Strawberry Hill House, pre-figured the nineteenth-century Gothic revival, lending its name to ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic’ architecture. Gloom was the watchword. I can’t help but wonder if he was the eighteenth century equivalent of JK Rowling. She elevated the stature of young adult books in the marketplace, creating a series that led to blockbuster movies and a theme park. Walpole created a genre and an architectural style. Not bad for a pair of storytellers. Dare I say aspirational?