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Hello Out There…


What would Harry Potter look like with iPhones instead of owls?

Or Pride and Prejudice, if Elizabeth could have called a friend to gather intel on Darcy?

Or Romeo and Juliet, if Juliet could have texted “brb, not rly dead”?

Phone home! From the New York World's Fair 1939-1940 records in NYPL's Digital Collections.

The first telephone call celebrates its 140th anniversary this month, so we asked our NYPL book experts to name stories that would have gone drastically differently if the characters had been able to use phones.


fellowship of the rings

Gandalf: “Yo Gwaihir, could you and the rest of the Eagles drop in, fly us over to Mount Doom? There’s some nasty orcs in Moria I’d like to avoid and it’s a really long trip. Dude here says we can’t just walk in.”

Gwaihir: “No prob, bud. When and where?”

Gandalf: “Oh, Rivendell sometime tomorrow, ’kay? Great, dude. TTYL.”

That’s how the whole Balrog debacle could have been avoided in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Saved everyone a lot of aggravation, really. —Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil



If Xerxes and Leonidas in Frank Miller’s 300 had the option to hash out their differences on the phone, they might have avoided a great deal of bloodshed. (Probably not, though.) —Daniel Norton, Mid-Manhattan





Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. If there was a phone involved, maybe Marianne and the rest of the family would have found out about Willoughby a lot sooner. The same goes for Edward Ferrars. His secret engagement to Lucy Steele would have been revealed a lot quicker through one simple telephone call instead of a slip of the tongue. —Tabrizia Jones, Sedgwick






If the phone is the great communicator, then perhaps it would have helped the characters in Pride and Prejudice actually communicate with each other. Perhaps Elizabeth would have discovered how wrong she was about Darcy sooner—she could just call up Georgiana and ask her what her brother’s “damage is.” Maybe Darcy would have been less mysterious if he’d simply called Elizabeth up to explain why George Wickham was not to be trusted instead of all that hemming and hawing and letter writing…On the flip side, Lydia would just Instagram her whole shotgun wedding to George with Darcy glowering in the background of her wedding day selfie, letting the whole family know just how much Darcy had helped them. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street



On Stage


The first work that comes to mind is Romeo and Juliet! If only Juliet could have texted Romeo her whole plan, then maybe they both could have lived! —Rebecca Kluberdanz, Kingsbridge








It’s safe to say that Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot would have been an entirely different play if there were telephones. Vladimir and Estragon would probably be waiting by a pay phone instead of a tree, making daily calls to (the still-elusive) Godot’s secretary instead of receiving visits from the young messenger. —Suzanne Lipkin, Library for the Performing Arts




Kid Lit


It’s amazing the lengths that the wizards in Harry Potter will go to in order to avoid technology. In Order of the Phoenix, if Harry had just texted Sirius to check if he was being tortured in the Department of Mysteries, [SPOILER ALERT!!!] maybe he wouldn’t have gotten Sirius killed. Of course, Harry could have also used the two-way mirror that Sirius gave him, but that’s none of my business... —Laura Rietz, Communications and Marketing






If only Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet had had a smart phone...

“Hey Dad, the pilot just had a heart attack and I had to crash land the plane. NBD.  I’m okay!  I’ll drop a pin and send you my location, just send a rescue team, please?  With a pizza?  I’m hungry!”   

But it’s a good thing he didn’t because it makes one heck of a survival story! —Emily Lazio, Tompkins Square




Anne of Green Gables! If a phone was involved, they may have gotten the boy that Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert asked for... —Jacqueline Quinn, George Bruce


Dr. Seuss


If they’d had access to a phone in Green Eggs and Ham, maybe the protagonist would’ve told Sam-I-Am to shove it and ordered delivery! —Susie Heimbach, Mulberry Street






cat hat

If the kids in Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat had called 911 to report a mysterious feline intruder in their house, Thing 1 and Thing 2 might not have wrecked the place quite so thoroughly. —Gwen Glazer, Readers Services






Greek mythology could have seriously used a telephone! For example, in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, poor king Aegeus wouldn’t have thrown himself into the sea if Theseus had called and said “Hey dad, defeated the Minotaur, totally still alive, headed back home.” Instead they had the whole “change the sails from black to white if you survived,” an arduous task our hero forgets to do in his grief over Ariadne. —Alessandra Affinito, Chatham Square






Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, may have been a completely different story if Marlow had a phone available to call Kurtz’s camp to ask whether things were going well or not, or if Kurtz had a phone available to call and let the Company know he wasn’t feeling so hot, he’d be calling in sick indefinitely, and they should send someone ASAP. —Katrina Ortega, Hamilton Grange






Dracula by Bram Stoker would surely have gone differently had there been a telephone. Jonathan Harker could have called for help to be rescued from Dracula’s castle and possibly had the vampire destroyed. He also would have been able to warn others at his home in London about the sinister force on its way to harm them. —Chasity Moreno, Ask NYPL




Adult Fiction


Dorothy Parker’s short story “A Telephone Call” might have been told very differently today. Or not.

“I must stop this. I mustn’t be this way. Look. Suppose a young man says he’ll call a girl up, and then something happens, and he doesn’t. That isn’t so terrible, is it? Why, it’s going on all over the world, right this minute. Oh, what do I care what’s going on all over the world? Why can’t that telephone ring? Why can’t it, why can’t it? Couldn’t you ring? Ah, please, couldn’t you? You damned, ugly, shiny thing. It would hurt you to ring, wouldn’t it? Oh, that would hurt you. Damn you, I’ll pull your filthy roots out of the wall, I’ll smash your smug black face in little bits. Damn you to hell.”

So hey, um... didn’t you get my text? —Lauren Lampasone, Digital Experience

sand fog

In the The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, character Kathy Nicolo loses her home in Corona, partly due to circumstance and partly due to the lack of a good phone line. At one point she falls in love with Lester Burdon, a police officer, and lives in a fishing cabin on the Purisima River without a phone line, running water, or electricity. Things could have turned out much differently for everyone involved with a good conference call or two. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market




Forget the Snail Mail

De Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons might have been much shorter and more tabloid in nature if the Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil had used phones to dish to and about each other in real time, rather than sending carefully crafted and wonderfully articulate letters. There would have been many instances of one hanging up the phone and an instant later thinking, “Doh! I just thought of a better way I should have phrased that barb! I wonder if I should call back. Is it too early to call back?  What is the rule again, wait 24 hours lest it sound too desperate?” —Christopher Platt, Administration


If young Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther, by Goethe) could have used a telephone to pour out his life’s storms and stresses to his friend Wilhelm, instead of confiding them to paper to be dispatched by snail mail, Wilhelm might have been able to transfer one of his desperate later calls to a suicide hotline, thus averting a tragedy. —Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials






Ian McEwan’s heartbreaking novel Atonement would have been a much different story if only Robbie could have sexted Cecelia...  instead of passing a lewd love note to her through her much younger cousin. —Nancy Aravecz, Jefferson Market






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