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Where Does the Book Title “The Fault in Our Stars” Come From?

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As more and more fans discover John Green’s best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars thanks to the recent film adaptation starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, questions arise about this moving story: Is the book within the book, titled An Imperial Affliction, real? No. What happens to Hazel, the 16-year-old narrator, after the ending of TFIOS? Green says, that much like Peter Van Houten, the fictional author of An Imperial Affliction, he doesn’t know himself. The issue that has fans talking the most, however, is the source and meaning of the novel’s poetic name. On that, John Green has more to say.

Within TFIOS, Peter Van Houten quotes a line from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Cassius, a principal conspirator in the plot to assassinate Caesar says: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” In this, Cassius implies that the decisions they’ve made are the source of their current troubles; fate is not to blame. More broadly, this quote has been taken to mean that individuals are fully accountable for their own shortcomings and misfortunes.

On Green’s website, he dismisses this concept as “ridiculous,” writing: “There is plenty of fault in our stars. The world is a profoundly unjust place in which suffering is unfairly distributed.” Ultimately this book reflects Green’s opinion and is in opposition to Cassius’s statement. Peter Van Houten thinks that Roman noblemen like Cassius have the luxury of believing in their own personal agency above all else. This is not the case for the main characters Hazel and Augustus; they’re sick because of some unfortunate cosmic alignment, not because of the choices they’ve made in their too-short lives.

What are some of your favorite book titles? Can you think of more titles that reference great works of literature? Share with us in the comments below!

32 Comments

  1. Matthew -  July 6, 2014 - 10:39 pm

    The author of “Children of a Lesser God” (movie, 1986) may use the same logic as TFIOS in titling the story.

    Reply
  2. Joseph -  June 20, 2014 - 5:50 pm

    To whom it may concern, Thank You

    Reply
  3. Isaac -  June 18, 2014 - 3:29 pm

    A really good book is The Warrior Heir

    Reply
  4. Megan -  June 18, 2014 - 2:16 pm

    My counselor’s daughter is Shailene.

    Reply
  5. JJ -  June 18, 2014 - 12:41 pm

    Not sure of any literary references, but just great titles in general:

    HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS !!!

    The Light of Falling Stars

    Peace Like a River

    Reply
  6. Gene Masters -  June 18, 2014 - 12:23 am

    We saw “The TFIOS Movie” on opening weekend, which happened to coincide with our wedding anniversary.

    I found it difficult to comprehend that a pair of 16 year-olds could think such complexities, with such adult maturity and conviction, as those brought forth in the film. We’ve raised a few children well past 16 years of age and I’ve never, even among their friends, encountered any such complex, critical and abstract contemplation during their teen years… or even well into their twenties. However, none of our offspring encountered cancer, either.

    That said, we thoroughly enjoyed the film; it delivered a message and certainly provoked some thought.

    Reply
  7. Andy -  June 17, 2014 - 12:01 pm

    Just a short thought: “We” are responsible for most of what happens to us. But not “we” as individuals, but as human kind…
    All that suffering that is unfairly distributed in our World is the result of the choices “we” (Human kind) have taken during hundreds or thousands of years…. So both Peter and Cassius are right. :)

    Reply
  8. Marianne -  June 17, 2014 - 10:44 am

    Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, because it is the temperature at which books burn
    Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen, because of the thought put into it. It was chosen by Austen’s brother, as it was the focal point of the novel. It was a good choice, because it was akin to the other gothic novels of the time, and so sold well. It fits so well with the very thing it parodies!

    Reply
  9. Driftboy -  June 17, 2014 - 6:07 am

    WHERE CAN I GET HOLD OF THIS BOOK? I’D LIKE TO COMPREHEND THE FINEST OF ITS COMPLEXITIES :-) :-D

    Reply
    • Marianne -  June 17, 2014 - 10:46 am

      TRY A BOOK SHOP OR AMAZON. IF NOT, “BORROW” A FRIEND’S COPY :)

      Reply
  10. Kimmy -  June 16, 2014 - 4:52 pm

    HAH! i just read julius caesar and totally pointed that out to all of my friends. I still have yet to read tfios

    Reply
  11. Sarah -  June 16, 2014 - 9:24 am

    retarded movie. retarded book. it’s cliche. I hope the girl dies in the movie.

    Reply
    • Nick -  June 16, 2014 - 4:13 pm

      Throughout the entire book Hazel makes it a point to not be her disease like most cancer kids. If she had started an organization to fight cancer, then it would be cliche, but she doesn’t so it’s not.

      You said that both the book and the movie are “retarded,” then said that you hope Hazel dies. In order for you to say that both the book and movie are “retarded,” you would first have to read and see both to form your opinion, and you clearly haven’t because she doesn’t die in either the book nor the movie.

      Your opinion in invalid.

      Reply
      • Meghan -  June 16, 2014 - 10:11 pm

        You, my friend (Nick) are so thoroughly right. Hold your damn ground even though its falling apart around you! :)

        Reply
    • Meghan -  June 16, 2014 - 10:09 pm

      Yet you are being a cliche jerk and using the title ‘retard’ incorrectly. Furthermore, the book itself is supposed to be cliche. It wasn’t meant to be a teen love story like some took it. It was about fate and how shitty life is. I have a sister who has leukemia. She was three years old when she got it. Our family was shit, especially our mother. You learn things when someone in your family has cancer, like the disappointment of having your little sister scream her head off at 3am because there is a big chunk of her hair on her pillow. So, yeah this book is defiantly cliche. It had an expected ending but if you looked deep inside yourself and witness what little light lives there then you would see the real fault in you stars. Life inst fair and anybody who has been subjected to rape, molestation, abuse, murder, an type of deadly disease and so on can verify that for you. Yeah im being kind of unfair because its your damn opinion and I have no right to judge you, I know but this kind of stuff really hits home for me. My life has been no peaches and cream but I know people have it worse. I shouldn’t judge you for not being poetic or sentimental. Not all people can find the deep philosophical meaning in things so I apologize for any hurt feelings but I will stand my ground.

      Reply
      • Meghan -  June 17, 2014 - 1:08 pm

        Dear friends,
        I have come to the astonishing realization of John Green’s novel ‘The fault in our stars’ meaning. I wrote another comment to a Sarah above and basically ranted about how unfair life is but after good nights sleep and a new fresh morning I have realized that my statement was somewhat incorrect. Here is what I gathered: The novel itself was a very good life lessen I will carry with me forever. The love story of Hazel and Augustus was actually a cloak for the real meaning. How I found this was very frustrating; I had finished reading ‘The fault in our stars’ for the sixth time since buying it and I was still flabbergasted at Mr. Green’s writing techniques. I being a writer myself found them to be very, for lack of better words, unsuccessfully written. I had read some of his other books and his writing was very distinct and very well planned. He was smooth and gentle as he unfolded the story but at the same time the actual words were rough. I loved this because it kept you on edge the entire time. So it confused me when the novel ‘the fault in our stars’ didn’t live up to Green’s other books. It was only yesterday that I realized he did so on purpose. This guy is extremely intelligent for doing so. He using the quote from Shakespeare (The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.) as a kind of ‘partner’ in his debate. He made it very clear that he didn’t believe this opinion throughout the novel. So I analyzed the actual quote to make clearer sense of it. What I got from it was: The stars (Fate) are not to blame for things out of our control, but we are as humans, as people of such pettiness. Basically to explain further, I will use a scenario (My sister is easiest). My mom was really strung out on drugs when I was nine, cocaine to be exact. She would neglect my siblings and I. So when my sister at the age of three got Leukemia she was even more neglectful. Was it my sister’s fault that she got cancer? No, it wasn’t. She was three, malnourished, and scared. So therefore the fault is in our stars and not in us. Then some might say well the little girl (My sister Aubrey) was used to punish my mother for her wrong doing. MY MOTHER WAS EVEN MORE NEGLECTFUL OF US AFTER MY SISTER GOT SICK SO POINT INVALID. Now for other scenarios like a guy starting a fight with another guy and getting his ass kicked is totally valid but not for the point Green was making. He made Hazel strong and didn’t make her pitiful. She didn’t go around saying ‘oh, poor me’ she basically said ‘I have cancer. I will die, and it sucks but I can’t change it so I mine as well be a damned happy person before I go.’ To support this I will refer to the movie and book. The movie in the beginning Hazel is at the Doctor’s and is in a small fire argument with her mother and the Doc about not being depressed. Her mother then points out that she stays in her room, reads the same book, and watches too much ANTM (America’s next top model). Hazel tries to fight but is overtaken by herself. She does these things simply because they keep her content and happy. She wants to fight and tell her mom she is not going to support group but cant because she realizes it’s not worth being angry over. She realizes she has such little time to live and doesn’t want to waste even one second angry at her mother. She also realizes what she will be leaving behind- the biggest burden- when she dies and wants to make it easier on her mother. Hazel is being unselfish and quite bluntly realistic. THE POINT OF JOHN GREEN’S NOVEL WAS THAT WE ALL HAVE BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO US THAT ARE OUT OF OUR CONTROL AND THE SOONER YOU COME TO PEACE WITH THIS AND STOP PITYING YOURSELF THE SOONER YOU WILL BE HAPPY. THE FAULT IN NOT IN FATE OR OURSELVES ITS IN LIFE. IT’S LIKE THIS IF YOU GET INTO A CAR ACCIDENT AND NEVER GET BACK IN THE CAR FOR FEAR OF DYING YOU WILL NEVER GO PLACES. IT’S THE WHOLE: GET BACK UP WHEN YOU FALL OFF OF A BIKE THING. GREEN WAS UTTERLY CORRECT WHEN SAYING THIS AND WAS BEING UNSELFISH IN TRYING TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT HE HAS ALREADY FIGURED OUT. TRUTH IS THIS COMMENT WONT HELP, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS WONT HELP BECAUSE I GARENTTEE YOU AFTER PEOPLE READ THE BOOK OR THIS COMMENT THEY WILL STILL WASTE TEN, FIFTEEN, TWENTY YEARS OF THEIR LIVES SEARCHING FOR THIS MESSAGE OF PEACE. WHEN THEY FIND IT, IT WILL BE TOO LATE AND THEY WILL HAVE WASTED EVERYTHING.

        Reply
    • Driftboy -  June 17, 2014 - 6:04 am

      WHATS YOUR PROBLEM, IF YOU DONT HAVE ANYTHING CONSTRUCTIVE NOR POSETIVE TO SAY, PLEASE, JUST KEEP IT TO YOURSELF BECAUSE IT SOUNDS RUDE HERE :-(

      Reply
    • Arielle -  June 18, 2014 - 4:10 am

      If you don’t like it why are you commenting? Go complain somewhere else. To someone who cares.

      Reply
  12. David Austiin -  June 16, 2014 - 6:41 am

    My favorite book title is “Shot From Taw”. It is a great old saying of which few people are aware.

    Reply
  13. Ron Katz -  June 16, 2014 - 1:05 am

    You forgot to mention “An Imperial Affliction”, which is taken from Emily Dickinson: “An imperial affliction sent us of the air”

    Reply
  14. AP -  June 15, 2014 - 12:40 pm

    * All the Light We Cannot See
    * The Moons of Jupiter
    * Alone With You
    * Patron Saint of Liars
    * A Wrinkle in Time
    * Neverwhere
    * The Pillars of the Earth

    Reply
  15. Pat -  June 15, 2014 - 11:58 am

    Adso’s description of Brother William of Baskerville in the first pages of The Name of the Rose. It’s taken almost verbatim from Watson’s description of Holmes in A Study in Scarlet.

    Reply
  16. Suzy Wang -  June 15, 2014 - 9:20 am

    This one would be my favorite title! Also, Eleanor and Park

    Reply
  17. TheForgottenStone -  June 14, 2014 - 4:04 pm

    I’ve yet to read the book or see the film, but I thought its meaning imminently evident. It recalls another Shakespearean turn-of-phrase (“star-crossed lovers”) that should be familiar even to the illiterate. Putting the premise (young lovers with cancer) with the title requires little prior knowledge: These are fragile characters, relatively innocent, who are—erroneously, perhaps, or at least without apparent reason—destined for tragedy.

    Other titular references that spring to mind:
    Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates (referencing “In the Desert” or “The Heart”* by Stephen Crane)
    You Must Remember This by Joyce Carol Oates (referencing “As Time Goes By,” famously featured in Casablanca, by Herman Hupfield)
    The Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury (referencing “The Song of Wandering Aengus” by Yeats)
    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury (Macbeth by Shakespeare)
    I Sing the Body Electric by Bradbury (referencing Leaves of Grass by Whitman)
    Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Widening Gyre by Kevin Smith, Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, and numerous others (referencing “The Second Coming”** by Yeats)
    Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (referencing Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? by Juvenal)

    *In the desert
    I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
    Who, squatting upon the ground,
    Held his heart in his hands,
    And ate of it.
    I said, “Is it good, friend?”
    “It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

    “But I like it
    “Because it is bitter,
    “And because it is my heart.”

    **Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    Reply
  18. Josh -  June 14, 2014 - 10:03 am

    I love clever, purposeful titles, and had wondered about “The Fault in Our Stars” myself. Fascinating post!

    Reply
  19. Anthony Birnberg -  June 13, 2014 - 2:25 pm

    Matthew, John, Psalms. – pretty much the Most interesting books i read so far

    Reply
    • Robert Hundertmark -  June 17, 2014 - 5:07 am

      I agree with Anthony.

      Reply
  20. Anthony Birnberg -  June 13, 2014 - 2:20 pm

    The transel saga

    Reply
    • Anthony Birnberg -  June 13, 2014 - 2:35 pm

      Fiction. .. …. another fake book and not nearly as interesting as the Psalms or the. Book of John or Matthew .your perception of your Creator will change in a good way

      Reply
      • Robie -  June 16, 2014 - 9:26 pm

        i love the book and the movie as well. it made me realized that no matter what happens, whatever odds you may have, LOVE can conquer and make things possible :)

        Reply
      • Anthony Birnberg, Jr. -  June 17, 2014 - 3:19 pm

        You, sir, are an ignorant ‘tard party. Peddle your lame propaganda elsewhere. We are discussing literary fiction here (or at least pseudo-literary fiction, since it is fairly tired, melodramatic material, but anyway) — not cheap, pulp trash like what you’re talking about. The hah-hah “bible” of bigots and know-nothings. If you enjoy that kind of garbage, may I suggest for you Danielle Steele, Penthouse Forum, and most-importantly, some other message board? Or how about no message board? America is tired of your pollution. To paraphrase that so-eloquent argument from “Sarah” earlier, “I hope the girl dies in the movie,” if the girl were you, and the movie was your life today. Cheers! :D

        Reply

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