How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Birdman’s Full Title; or, A Quiz

Pretentious? Possibly. Gratuitous? Maybe. Intriguing? Definitely

With all the recent accolades and award nominations for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, it ought to be pointed out—even if it’s unlikely to be observed when the awards are bestowed—that the film’s full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The peculiar subtitle confers a certain gravitas, instantly transforming a title that could belong to a superhero flick into something more cerebral. It prompts the vigilant viewer to keep an ear out for clues that explain the enigmatic phrase or even the phrase’s appearance. Before you disregard the second half of the title as gratuitous or pretentious, remember that the convention of appending a title with an “or,” followed by an alternative title was employed by Shakespeare (Twelfth Night; or, What You Will, Henry VIII; or, All Is True) and that these subtitles have adorned many an 18th-century novel. Sometimes a second title like Virtue Rewarded or Constancy Rewarded sheds light on how to understand the moral universe of the book.

Over the years, a number of other works bearing these conjunctive flourishes have been stripped of their subtitles. In consideration of Birdman’s entire title, here are 17 books, 3 movies, two plays, one novella, and one album identified only by their “or” subtitles and the year they were released. How many can you name?

  1. or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)
  2. or. The Whale (1851)
  3. or, The Ambiguities (by the same author, 1852)
  4. or, Life in the Woods (1854)
  5. or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859)
  6. or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904)
  7. or, There and Back Again (1937)
  8. or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
  9. or, The Revised New Syllabus of George Giles our Grand Tutor (1966)
  10. or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969)
  11. (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) (1969)
  12. or, Yiddish in America (1969)
  13. or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (1969)
  14. or, The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
  15. or, The Memory of Childhood (1975)
  16. or, The Evening Redness in the West (1985)
  17. or, The Nature of the Offence (1991)
  18. or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991)
  19. or, The Discovery of Television Among the Bees (1991)
  20. or, How I Saved the World (1992)
  21. or, The Star-Gazer (1999)
  22. or, Change (2003)
  23. or, The Sexual Intellectual (2007)
  24. or, A History of My Nerves (2010)


[Scroll down for the answer key.]




Answer Key

  1. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
  2. Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)
  3. Pierre (Melville)
  4. Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
  5. On the Origin of Species (Charles Darwin)
  6. Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)
  7. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
  8. Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick)
  9. Giles Goat-Boy (John Barth)
  10. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)
  11. Arthur (The Kinks)
  12. Envy (Cynthia Ozick)
  13. Ada (Vladimir Nabokov)
  14. Salò (Pier Paolo Pasolini)
  15. W (Georges Perec)
  16. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
  17. Time’s Arrow (Martin Amis)
  18. Postmodernism (Fredric Jameson)
  19. Wax (David Blair)
  20. An Afghanistan Picture Show (William T. Vollmann)
  21. Ahab’s Wife (Sena Jeter Naslund)
  22. Caroline (Tony Kushner)
  23. Laura Warholic (Alexander Theroux)
  24. The Shaking Woman (Siri Hustvedt)