If judging a book by a cover is bad, then judging a book by its title must surely be worse. After all, covers are pictures, pictures are worth a thousand words, and titles are usually a mere phrase.
But it’s not that simple. Titles name a book, and names are important. A good name can make or break you.
Take, for example, the case of Ziz. Poor sad Ziz, of whom you have NEVER heard.
You see, there was once this trio of awesome creatures. All three were in the Bible [oops, see the update below], rocking out with special dispensations from Yahweh and generally kicking young earth ass. Three unbeatable giant beasties, one of the water, one of the land, and one of the air . . .
Leviathan, Behemoth, and, um, Ziz.
How bad is it to have a lame name? Well, thousands of years after their cameos in the Bible, Leviathan and Behemoth are still both famous. Their names are words in modern English, both meaning, “stuff that is big and awesome and/or scary.”
“Behemoth” is equally culture-spanning, including this delightful Polish metal band. (Warning: high-volume flash intro Not Safe For School.)
But Ziz? Ziz has a crappy name, so the creature itself wound up fading into obscurity.
So if names are this important, surely titles are too.
Titles bring the reader into the world of the book. They set them up for what’s coming: comedy, tragedy, farce, or all three. They create inevitabilities (Death of a Salesman) and anticipations (The Year of Living Dangerously), or intensify the poetry of a key phrase (Dude, Where’s My Car?).
Even punctuation can be key. I mean, what if James Kelman’s classic novel How Late It Was, How Late, had been titled “How Late? It Was How Late?”
Totally different story, man.
Which brings us to my next trilogy, the first two books of which are called Leviathan and Behemoth. But seriously, can I call the third book, um, Ziz?
What do you guys think?
As CosmicDog points out in the delicious and insightful comments below, Ziz is not actually in the Bible, but is a part of Jewish folklore. Behemoth and Leviathan are both in the Book of Job (and Leviathan other places), so that part’s right. I got confused because they are frequently pictured together.
Does this mean my point fails? Or does this mean that Ziz has been double-dissed! First by being left out of the Bible, then by being generally forgotten!