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Strings: The Title and Its Meanings


Why With Strings Attached? Why The Big Pink Job?

With Strings Attached was not the original title of the story. After a lot of thought, I originally came up with Middle-Eighth. I had seen John use the term “middle eight” in an interview; it referred to the middle eight bars of a song, a break from the main melody. A good example would be in the song “We Can Work It Out”; the middle eight starts with the lyric “Life is very short/And there's no time....” So I thought the term was wonderfully descriptive in that their stay on C'hou was a “middle eighth” in their lives, a different tune set into the main melody of their existences. And “Middle-Eighth” also had echoes of Tolkien's Middle-earth, which suggested the fantasy element.

All very clever, I thought, until it turned out that nobody knew what it meant. They weren't even getting the Middle-earth reference. I had to explain it to everyone. I could have lived with that, but my thesis adviser, Dr. Lynn Williams, could not. She hated the title and insisted I come up with something else.

I remember spending quite a lot of time in 1988 writing down potential titles. I'm extremely good at titles, so I knew I'd come up with something eventually. For a while I played around with the word “Trip,” but that just was too bland. I went over as many of the themes of the book as I could work out, and eventually the idea of the four being puppets came up. And With Strings Attached suggested itself. It has these meanings:

  • The four are, more or less, puppets being guided through their adventures.
  • Strings suggests musical instruments, especially guitars, which nicely ties in with the Beatles.
  • The magic, of course, comes with strings attached. (Nice cynical bit there. I think John would have appreciated it. All of them, really.)
  • I realized that I could make more out of what John could do when he got the Kansael, strengthening the string imagery there. It's not that meaningful, but it does fit.
  • I was looking for a phrase that was most emphatically not taken from Beatles lyrics. You couldn't have paid me enough to use "Magical Mystery" anything, for example.

The Big Pink Job came many years later—I don't recall exactly when, but probably some time in the 1990s. I don't remember when I decided to use it, but its genesis was a phrase rejected by George when Derek Taylor was ghostwriting a newspaper column for him. Derek referred to the bus that George's father drove for a living as “the big green jobs.” George had never heard of the buses being referred to that way, and Derek admitted that he'd just made the phrase up. Later, the unofficial title of Derek's autobiography was “The Big Leather Job.” So the subtitle has the following meanings:

  • As above, it refers to a phrase of importance between George and Derek.
  • The Vasyn is big and pink, and George derisively refers to it as the Big Pink Job.
  • Since they have to schlep through three different universes and deal with a lot of trouble to get the pieces of the Vasyn, it's quite a job, hence The Big Pink Job.
  • Well after the fact, the published version of Strings turned out to be large and pink, so now I've decided the subtitle refers to the actual physical book. I've started referring to it as “The big pink brick,” actually.
  • In a real stretch, one could view the Vasyn as a big penis and a symbol of how the four get screwed....Frankly, this interpretation only came about because I'm sure I had five meanings for the subtitle, and for the life of me I can't figure out what the other one might have been, so I'm assuming it's this. As I am not at all into idiotic symbolism of that nature, please don't read too much into this pretentious interpretation!



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