The Book Don - Show your book who's boss

The Book Don's blog is devoted to powerful books and other writings that bravely and beautifully strive to better our world.

September 19th, 2011

Plague of the Locks of Love

Before I get to the locks of love, here is the continuation of my ever-expanding list of books that inspire distinct action, also known as —

Books That Bewitch Their Readers

– This coming winter, a library in Pima County, Arizona will introduce “the book bike,” a mobile distributor of free books. Karen Greene, the librarian who secured funding for the project, says she was inspired by Mia Birk’s “Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet,” a memoir about Birk’s involvement in Portand’s cycling revolution.

– Writing songs about books has been deemed a trend by The Seattle Times. Local musicians recently showcased “Songs About Books,” not dissimilar from The Bushwick Book Club.

– Inspired by Dave Eggers’ “Zeitoun,” the Chico City Council Chambers has organized an Emergency Preparedness Panel Discussion. Eggers’ true-story book chronicles a family effected by Hurricane Katrina. The panel discussion will address such questions as “What would likely happen in the first two to three days following a large-scale emergency in Chico?” A few days after the panel, local colleges will sponsor an event that includes readings from the book and New Orleans-style jazz. (I just spent five minutes resisting the urge to comment on this panel/event. I could never be a newspaper reporter.)

The featured book this week is “I Want You,” a 2006 novel by Italian author Federico Moccia that has inspired lovers throughout Europe to attach padlocks to local bridges, swear their eternal love, and throw the key into the waters below. As reported in The Guardian, this trend first plagued Rome’s Milvian bridge, which was the setting for the emblematic scene in the novel. The lampposts of the bridge were so encumbered with padlocks that the Mayor ordered special railings for the locks.

More recently, the trend spread to the Rialto bridge in Venice, where journalists and city officials have voiced strong dissent; one editorial deemed the locks “vulgar.” The same Italian newspaper reports that these locks also plague walls and bridges in Paris, Madrid, Lithuania, Hungary, South Korea, and China. The Huffington Post, recognizing the need to report this story with suspicion, notes that the locks of love are “allegedly inspired by Federico Moccia’s 2006 novel.”

Mountain Huangshan, China

Indeed, the provenance of this trend seems to be multiple. (I just realized there is no plural for “provenance.”) The occurrences in western European cities seem to be inspired by the book, but locks of love existed elsewhere before the book was published. In the 1980s, ‘love padlocks’ became popular in a small Hungarian town. And on the guard bars and iron chains lining walking trails in Huangshan Mountain, China, lovers throw “lover lock” keys off a cliff as symbol of eternal devotion. This devotional act is linked to a local legend:

A long time ago, a beautiful girl fell in love with a poor young man, but her father didn’t want his daughter to live a poor life. The father told his daughter to marry a rich man. On the day of the wedding, the poor young man stole the girl and they escaped to the Huangshan Mountain. In that situation, they held hands and jumped into the deep cliff. Before they jumped, they said to one another: “I have the same mind with you, faithful to you, I have my infatuation for you, and will never change my mind.”

It’s interesting that the same object – a small padlock – inspires similar stories and metaphorical acts in different locations and cultures. This is a well-documented phenomenon with animals and other “nature objects” like trees. For example, metaphors and language about the sun are so laden with words/images of nurturing/power/truth that we forget such language came from the sun in the first place (the light of truth, etc.). It seems that in this case, a padlock plus key makes people think about the binding power of romantic love. What other industrial products, I wonder, inspire such ubiquitous flights of fancy?