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When literature and TV collide

Literary cameos in HBO’s “The Night Of”

“Survival in here is all about your alliances….Those husky dogs knew that.” – Freddy from HBO’s popular new series  “The Night Of” in reference to Jack London’s Call of the Wild

I get really excited when I see references to literature (or intertextuality) usefully inserted into an already great story line – it makes me pause, rewind, quote, and blog. So here goes:

If you are not watching HBO’s new drama “The Night Of” I STRONGLY recommend it  (no serious spoilers here). 

I want to reflect on a scene from episode 4 that offers some fascinating literary cameos when Naz, a soft-spoken university student who is in prison awaiting a trial for murder, meets with Freddy, a smooth, smart, and powerful longtime inmate who is essentially running the prison.

First, Freddie “educates” Naz on the “two most popular books in the prison library.”

They are (according to Freddy):

The Art Of War “for obvious reasons,” he says.


The Other Side of Midnight Also “for obvious reasons.”

But then Freddie preaches:

“You want to learn what it takes to survive in here? Read this.”

Freddie then produces The Call of the Wild!

“The man could write about dogs and teach you everything you need to know,” says Freddie.

Dramatic pause…then

“Thanks but I’ve read it,” says Naz.

And this is when I loved the show a whole lot more than I did already.

Let’s break this down.

The Art of War is an ancient philosophical book about war by Sun Tzu.

Here is a passage from Chapter 1:

“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”

From what we’ve seen so far, surviving this prison is like going into battle every day so the usefulness of this book does seem “obvious” as Freddy says.

The reference to The Other Side of Midnight is a bit more confusing for me. This thriller by Sidney Sheldon was a bestseller in the early ‘70s. I admit I have not read this but my first thought was that some of the covers look somewhat erotic so that would be the “obvious reason.” Further research tells me the themes include sexuality, power, and murder. The goodreads short summary says: “An innocent American girl becomes a bewildered pawn in a game of vengeance and betrayal.”

I can’t find anything about it being erotica, so I’m going with the theory that it would be popular here purely for entertainment and escapism from a prisoner’s current reality; it gets rave reviews for being a compelling read.

Finally and most interestingly, Freddy says Call of the Wild by Jack London is actually the book Naz should read to survive in prison.

That Freddy would look deeper into this book, a novella about sled dogs, to see an allegory for survival in prison makes him even more of a fascinating character. And at first I was thinking maybe Naz should re-read this book now, considering his new context. It actually makes me want to re-read this book in this context. Thanks Freddie for adding to my TBR list!

RELATED: My post on Call of the Wild

It is important to note that the episode (4th of the 8 in the series) is actually titled “The Art of War” so after reading into these literary references (perhaps too much?!), I can’t yet say if Naz should re-read Call of the Wild (focusing on alliances) or go against Freddy’s recommendations and read Art of War (to learn to use – and recognize – deception)!

Unfortunately I don’t think Naz has any time to waste for reading The Other Side of Midnight!

If you love intertexuality like I do, what do you make of all this?



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  1. “The Other Side of Midnight” is about vengeance (among other things). A scorned teenager spends her entire life getting back at her fiance that essentially left her at the alter.

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