A few months ago I wrote about how difficult it is to turn off my copyeditor’s brain after a dozen years as a journalist.
I’ve been reading Star Wars aloud to my son, and I came across this goof in Alan Dean Foster’s well-written novelization of the script George Lucas gave him. Foster is a great science fiction author and his style — his fingerprints, if you will — is all over Star Wars. You can tell he ghostwrote it from the first page where he describes Tatooine’s “light of lambent topaz.”
Foster doesn’t make many errors, but he (and whoever his editors were) let one slip through in the nail-biting garbage compactor scene aboard the Death Star.
He describes Chewbacca pushing against the moving wall of the garbage masher “looking like a hirsute Tantalus approaching his final summit.”
Hirsute, meaning hairy, is a great Foster word. But he confused Tantalus for Sisyphus. Both men were confined to the underworld, punished for their crimes. Tantalus, from whose name comes our word tantalize, suffered from terrible hunger and thirst. When he stooped down to drink water at his feet, it dried up before he could get any. And when he reached for fruit dangling just above him, the wind blew it out of reach.
Sisyphus, meanwhile, was the one who, like an un-hirsute Chewbacca, was condemned to roll an enormous, heavy boulder up a steep slope, over and over.