No Easter tradition is better loved than the egg hunt. Every year, children scurry through the house and yard, searching behind bushes and under chairs for eggs filled with goodies. After all, who doesn’t love a competitive adventure that has chocolate waiting at the end?
Grown-ups can find their own version of Easter egg hunts, although the treat at the end is (perhaps unfortunately) not candy. “Easter eggs” is the term used to refer to hidden content or messages. While Easter eggs originated in computer programs, they have since spread to other forms of media—video games, movies, artwork, and, of course, books.
So, what exactly is a literary Easter egg? Some common examples are inside jokes, secret codes, and subtle references. Any sort of unexpected, veiled surprise could be considered an Easter egg.
Many great stories throughout years have been dotted with Easter eggs, although you might not have noticed them if you didn’t realize you were on the hunt. Here are a few examples.
- Through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll’s famed work features an acrostic poem that spells out “Alice Pleasance Liddell,” the name of the real girl who inspired the fictional Alice.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events: This children’s series by Daniel Handler, pen name Lemony Snicket, is full of twists and intrigue, creating the perfect atmosphere for hidden Easter eggs. For example, in A Hostile Hospital, a list of names features anagrams of both Daniel Handler and Brett Helquist, the book’s illustrator. Another anagram is made from the pen name Lemony Snicket for the name of one of the characters, Monty Kensicle.
- Star Wars: In some of the Star Wars books, Han Solo mentions that he uses the name Jenos Idanian as an alias. This is an anagram of Indiana Jones, who is played by Harrison Ford—the same actor who plays Han Solo in the Star Wars movies.
- Sarah Dessen’s novels: Popular YA author Sarah Dessen is known for setting her stories in recurring locations, and many of her characters run into each other across their books. Just to name a couple of examples, the protagonists of The Truth About Forever make a cameo appearance in Just Listen, and a character from This Lullaby is seen briefly in Lock and Key.
- The Great Gatsby: This literary classic opens with a poetic epigraph that begins, “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her…” and is attributed to Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. While, generally, readers expect epigraphs to be quotes from other published authors, only true Fitzgerald fans would know that Thomas Parke D’Invilliers is actually a fictional character in Fitzgerald’s third novel, This Side of Paradise!
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: When J.K. Rowling received a letter from a young fan named Natalie who had a terminal illness, Rowling wrote the girl a letter detailing the rest of Harry Potter’s storyline. Unfortunately, Natalie died before receiving the letter. Rowling named a minor character in her honor; Natalie is a young student who is sorted into Gryffindor at the beginning of the book.
These are only a few examples of the various forms that Easter eggs may take in writing. Hopefully they provide inspiration for the kind of “treats” you can hide in your writing.
Easter eggs are beloved by readers because of the sense of fun and discovery they deliver. Entertain and challenge yourself by weaving hidden surprises through your writing as you create a literary Easter egg hunt of your own.
Happy hunting, and happy Easter!
Shannon & Elm will be closed from Friday, April 17 through Monday, April 20. While our offices are closed, we may not respond to inquiries, but please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive any news or updates.