I’m going to take a break from the search for giants in America to discuss an interesting fact Michael Shermer brought up in his recent Scientific American column (reprinted in Salon) on Ancient Aliens and how ancient astronaut speculators and creationists share a similar desire to find a “god of the gaps” to explain away all uncertainties. I’m sure you’ll remember my frequent discussions of the same theme in my reviews of the show. Shermer mentions a shocking fact also reported in last year’s Pseudoscience Wars by Michael Grodin: The last-published edition of Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, published by Berkeley Books in 1999, contains a surprising disclaimer. The publisher claims the whole book is fiction!
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Surely this is as bizarre an admission as one can imagine. Shermer calls this “telling,” and in 2007 Christopher I. Lehrich reported the same in The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice, expressing shock that the book would “assert” that the Pyramids and Easter Island were “fictional.” In Pseudoscience Wars Grodin went even further, and further from the truth (just as he did with fake claims about Einstein):
On the copyright page of on Däniken’s huge international best-seller, Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past—published in German in 1968 and soon translated into multiple languages, von Däniken stated: “This is a work of fiction.” One simply cannot imagine Velikovsky reissuing Worlds in Collision with such a disclaimer…
Very little in that sentence is true. The “work of fiction” disclaimer appears first—and only—in the 1999 Berkeley edition, the first published after Erich von Däniken regained control over his copyright to the book thirty years after signing it over to his original German publisher. Earlier editions of the book, including the 1970s-era copy I have, do not have any such disclaimer. Given that the 1999 edition is also simply a reprint of the 1969 English translation of Michael Heron, which has been in print since Putnam put out its first edition in 1970, following the Souvenir Press edition of 1969, Erich von Däniken is consequently absolved from responsibility for the addition of the wording to his book. Indeed, Grodin should well know that authors do not typically write their own copyright pages.
Indeed, this is confirmed by a glance at other Berkeley editions of von Däniken, such as 1996’s Eyes of the Sphinx, which similarly lacks any disclaimer about its fictional status, despite containing proportionally more made up and copied material than Chariots. I do note, however, that it is the standard “work of fiction” disclaimer used by the Penguin Group, the parent of Berkeley.
So this leaves two possibilities that I can see. The first is that Berkeley was aware of some problem with Chariots that could warrant a lawsuit without the disclaimer; however, asserting that the individuals so libeled are “used fictitiously” does not exempt an author from a libel charge, nor can one reasonably assert that a living person cited by name and occupation in a professional capacity is a fictitious character.
Therefore, the more probable explanation is the more prosaic one: The editors threw the book together quickly, dumped dates into a copyright page template, and by mistake used the “fiction” template rather than the “nonfiction” template. I think this is fairly well confirmed by the near-identical copyright page of Penguin’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, also from 1999, which is laid out in the exact same way, with the elements all in the same order, beginning wit the disclaimer at top, followed by the book title, copyright and printing history, and cataloging data. A review of other Penguin releases from the 1990s, including those of Berkeley Books, shows that they were working from a standard template for fiction, as well as a slightly different template for nonfiction. In the case of Chariots, someone pasted in the wrong template.
Given the way publishing works, and since Chariots was a reprint from an edition that had already been copyedited and proofread thirty years earlier, chances are that the mistake went through because no one read the finished book. They were simply assembling from pre-existing parts.
So, rather than being a “telling” admission of guilt, it is instead an appropriately sloppy monument to the slapdash assembly of Chariots, an unintentional but fitting coda to Erich von Däniken’s own methodology of copying undigested and misunderstood lumps of ideas from others and passing them off as something new.
7/7/2013 07:25:45 am
Your main point re: von Daniken stands. But while it could be a mistake, I suspect it more likely that it was a half-assed attempt at legal protection, with a touch of snarky "this is BS" on the part of someone in the editorial line. The book is clearly marketed as New Age or Alternative Spirituality/Speculative. But that has no real bearing on what they'd do with the copyright page.
7/7/2013 07:30:37 am
I have an inquiry in with Berkeley Books to see if they will explain what really happened. I doubt it's legal protection; they didn't do it with their other New Age titles, or even von Daniken's other books. Your suggestion that the layout person mistook it for SF seems much more likely. We'll see what they say, assuming they reply.
7/8/2013 04:39:05 pm
The real miracle here would be anyone responsible for laying out the book holding a job at the same place since 1999! Alien gods seem almost likely in comparison.
7/8/2013 11:33:43 pm
I can't imagine the actual person responsible is still there, but I figure if they do bother to respond they'll look at the copyright page, check their contract, and say "oops." But I'm not holding my breath; very few companies bother to respond to questions anymore.
The Other J.
7/7/2013 06:29:43 pm
I don't know if this meme is out there in Von Daniken studies or not, but one could imagine acolytes seeing the fiction disclaimer as an admission of truth -- because the only way to get such world-shattering truths out to the public would be through fiction. As you do.
7/9/2013 11:50:23 am
Jason there's always the possibility of course someone was being mischievous.
11/30/2013 10:39:29 pm
10/17/2014 02:01:49 pm
The Chariots of the Gods author Erich Von Daniken has started making money out of his idea that God was an astronaut. His idea is hugely popular.
4/24/2021 10:30:56 am
All this may tie into Operation Bluebird's plan to attach false UFO sitings and phony UFO events projected onto real exterrestial events by the military to create the space alien/astronaunt narrative which is now being stoked up again from Israel to where it was moved by Obama. The final false flag of the cabal is to be an alien invasion against which the whole world has to unite into a one world government to defeat the invasion of the Greys; the ultimate and final false flag. We are beginning to see the propaganda emerging from the cabal mainstream media, academe and YouTube videos. This is down the road from the Scamdemic and the up and coming 'Climate Emergency' mind-control through fear scam. Was Van Daniken involved in the CIA as most of the culture of the time was? Or were those he copied from agents of Operation Bluebird?
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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