Factual errors in the review of literature could probably be avoided if there wasn't so much pesky reading involved.
Daniel Handler's A Series of Unfortunate Events: A website identified goth-girl fashion icons Emily the Strange and Ruby Gloom as characters; and numerous pages including at least one on this very wiki call Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography something like "The Unofficial Biography". A preview of The Beatrice Letters claimed that the punch-out letters in the book spelled out the "real" title of the thirteenth book ... Nope. Similarly, every preview of The Beatrice Letters claimed that the punch-out letters would spell out two different secret messages, but if there is a second one, it's nothing more than a Red Herring.
Some paperback editions of Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love indicate that Lazarus Long goes back in time to become his own ancestor. While he does sleep with his mother, this occurs after his birth, when he is a young child. A bit incestuous, true, but not paradoxical.
The synopsis writer was probably thinking of a different Heinlein story, —All You Zombies—, in which the protagonist not only becomes one of his/her ancestors, s/he becomes all of them.
The book Futurespeak: A Fan's Guide to the Language of SF contains numerous examples where the author failed to do the research. One of the most notable (if only for SF critic John Clute's alleged claim it had "more mistakes than words") defines "Slan" as superhumans from a series beginning with Galactic Lensman, a 1925 novel by A.E. Van Vogt. (There was never a book called Galactic Lensman; the Lensman series started in 1937, with Galactic Patrol; the Slans aren't even from the Lensman series; A.E. van Vogt's name has a lowercase "v" on the "van"; van Vogt didn't write the Lensman series, E. E. Doc Smith did; the book in which van Vogt created the Slans was called Slan, and was published in 1948; and the entry is phrased as though "Slan" were the plural, which it isn't).
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman were interviewed for the book Good Omens by a New York radio presenter who hadn't quite figured out that the book was fictional. The interviewer hadn't read the book, and was probably just given some cards with notes on them by an assistant. The presenter thought it was a book about the nice and accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter. (Which it is, but she never existed.) Sort of as if Gaiman and Pratchett had written a book about Nostradamus.
The American version of the novel topped this. Somebody had very clearly gone through every page turning British English into American English spellings, and rewriting some Anglocentric incidental detail to make more sense to American readers. They were obviously ignorant of the existence of an English east coast seaport serving the ferry trade to Scandinavia and the Low Countries. A reference to Aziraphile and Crowley's Agreement is rendered nonsensical by changing the place-name Hull to Hell. Hull may not be the most pleasant place in England and its most famous son has a legendary association with Greed and Anger - but it exists, guys. It exists.
The Metro, when doing a piece on the town of Wincanton, home of the Discworld Emporium, who had gotten two new roads named Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road, offered a "comprehensive guide to the diskworld". Yes, with a "k". It then went on to compare Ankh-Morpork to London, listing the disc's newspaper as "The Truth Newspaper". Because that was the title of the book in which the Ankh-Morpork Times was introduced, and somebody couldn't even be bothered to read the freaking blurb.
If you read the blurb to the first American edition of Lords and Ladies, you'd be confronted with the question "Who in this world, or any other, would write a novel about a football team that falls victim to a pack of wily elves?" Now, it's understandable that Americans might not "get" Morris dancing, but...
To continue with Terry Pratchett, several news people have reported on the similarity between the Discworld series and the Harry Potter series based on the presence of a wizarding school (Unseen University, which is clearly a college parody and not a magical boarding school like Hogwarts) and the presence of the Christmas-like holiday Hogswatch, which sounds a bit like Hogwarts. Pratchett's responses to these claims have been polite, well-thought out versions of "What? No."
This response is about the same for claims that he is jealous of Rowling's fame and gobs of money. This is a bit like trying to put down Richard Feynman by saying he wasn't as brilliant as Einstein.
This particular brainfart actually predates Harry Potter. As Sir Terry himself put it at the time, "I don't think I've ever been critical of the money Douglas Adams makes, especially since, as has been tactfully pointed out, I myself have had to change banks having filled the first one up."
He's also been accused of ripping off Harry Potter because Ponder Stibbons looks like him in illustrations (he was first illustrated in the Discworld Portfolio, which was released in 1996). This brought this response from Terry:
"Ponder Stibbons was indeed first drawn in 1996. I, of course, used a time machine to 'get the idea' of Unseen University from Hogwarts; I don't know what Paul used in this case. Obviously he must have used something."
And, indeed, "THE HOGWARTS by MARCUS PLAUTUS MOLESWORTHUS" in How To Be Topp by Geoffrey Willans (1954)
Similarly, Diane Duane's Young Wizards series has been accused of ripping off Harry Potter by people who don't realize that Diane was writing them twenty years before JK Rowling first put pen to paper.
Speaking of Harry Potter: Many websites professing that Harry Potter teaches witchcraft have cited the line from the first book, "There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to seek it," as "proof". This takes the line completely out of context, as it was said by the villain of the book. A Christian media-review site cites that line among the many reasons to avoid the films — not ignoring the fact that a villain said it, but saying it doesn't matter who said it.
The most ironic part? Rowling herself has said that she is an Anglican/Protestant Christian who believes in God.
Other Christian alarmists have cited an interview where JK Rowling proclaims her allegiance to Satan as proof of the series' evil. The source of this damning testimony? The Onion.
Someone sent Reader's Digest an angry letter after they had JK Rowling on the cover. They then sent another one that complained about their first letter being truncated when published, in which they revealed their source for their outrage was The Onion. Reader's Digest did the print equivalent of patting them on the head and saying, "There, there..." The two letters and response from the editor can be read here.
Prior to the release of the first film, Warner Bros. produced several board games based on the series, including a trivia game written by people who clearly had only read the first book as well as just the title of the second one. Consequently, they apparently decided that the "Chamber of Secrets" referred to the chambers Harry, Ron and Hermione passed through in order to get the stone. Uh... no.
A series of articles published by a major newspaper prior to the release of the fourth book announced "sensational changes" at Hogwarts, such as the arrival of the new potions professor, a certain Lucius Malfoy. While Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers have changed hands annually for decades (none of whom were Malfoy either), no new potions professor appeared until book six (and he was technically an old professor returning).
A Swiss teenage magazine published an article right before the release of DH, claiming that the next book will contain "the first Harry Potter sex scene ever". They also published a list of possible endings for the book, including "Dumbledore isn't dead, he hid in the lake after Snape killed him," (er... what about the body?) and "Ron turns evil and slips poison into Harry's pumpkin juice". After DH was actually released, they claimed that "Ginny gives Harry her virginity as a birthday gift."note In the actual book, they just have a passionate kiss and are interrupted by Ron. They also published a Draco/Harry manip and seemed to believe that Daniel Radcliffe and Tom Felton came out of the closet and were in a relationship.
Also for the Potter books, there's this pathetic excuse for a reader's guide. It's full of mistakes that even a ten-year-old would recognize, ranging from the spelling of Hagrid's name to the plot of the second and third books, which the author seems to think are the same.
An article quoted a section of Half-Blood Prince, which gave us a description of the Half Blood Prince (which would have been rather amusing, had they actually done that). Instead, the description was of Scrimgeour, the new Minister of Magic.
(Inappropriately) in an article about a poisoning with aconite: "Aconite, or wolfsbane, was supposedly used by witches in the Middle Ages to kill their enemies. It features in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Professor Snape uses it to stop Remus Lupin turning into a werewolf." Or... not. Thanks, Daily Mail. Well, he uses a potion called the Wolfsbane Potion (in Prisoner of Azkaban) to render Lupin a more docile werewolf. At least they got the wolfsbane part right.
In Bennett The Sage's Dramatic Reading of My Immortal, he mistook "Hogsmeade" for a misspelling of "Hogwarts". Apparently, someone in the comments pointed this out and he paid attention, because in subsequent videos he started Lampshading his lack of knowledge about the Potter Verse, stating at one point that "Professor Slutborn" could be a real Potter character for all he knew.
The guys over at Exposing Satanism. According to them, Voldemort is God(wait, they claim to be Christians, yet they seriously think God Is Evil?), Harry is the Antichrist, Voldemort raped Ginny...
Dave Barry points this out brilliantly in his book Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far) with the page quote and this one as well:
We see this all the time. Journalists, rushing to get a story out under deadline pressure, will report, based on preliminary information, that a ship sank, and 127 people, many of them elderly, perished. Then, upon further investigation, it turns out that nobody, in fact, perished, although one elderly person was slightly injured by a set of dentures hurled by another elderly person in an effort to get the first elderly person to stop talking so loud. Then it turns out that this happened at a nursing home, as opposed to a ship, although the elderly people were watching a video of Titanic at the time, and although there were only four of them, as opposed to 127, the nursing home is located on Route 124, which is only three less than 127, which is not that much of an error when you consider the deadline pressure that journalists operate under.
A review was circulated on several sites of the Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Cla(i)re, formerly a Big Name Fan in the Harry Potter fandom. It claimed that she took the title of her books from a Harry/Draco Fan Fic she had once written, and quoted a few paragraphs. In fact they came from another of her stories, and the fanfic originally titled Mortal Instruments was a tale of Brother-Sister Incest between Ron and Ginny.
However, she had committed plagiarism in her fanfics previously, so this person had obviously done some research — making the errors all the odder.
A Game Informer preview of the then-upcoming Genji for Playstation 2 described it as based on The Tale of Genji. Given that said work was a romance, it would have led to a very different game than the actual result... which was based on The Tale Of The Heike.
Parodied in the Teenage Worrier series when Letty gives advice to the reader on books: "If discussing a book you haven't read, don't pretend you have. I droned on about the Rainbow Lorikeet when Hazel's dad mentioned The History of Mister Polly."
One reviewer, apparently too busy/lazy to read Magician by Raymond E. Feist summarised the book as something like "a typical fantasy novel where a boy saves the kingdom from an army of trolls". Mr Feist himself suspects he just looked at the cover of the book for his review since there are a total of 2 trolls in the book, and they don't even survive for a chapter.
The blurbs for the Riftwar series (at least in some editions) are so badly done that this is almost understandable. The worst is for A Darkness at Sethanon, which mentions "the evil necromancer Macros the Black unleashing his undead hordes". Macros the Black is a good guy, is not a necromancer, only a few of the enemy are undead, etc...
"Mending Wall," the Robert Frost poem, gets it two ways. First is the number of people who've never read it and think the repeated line "Good fences make good neighbors" is a statement of the poem's message, when it's actually the opposite. But there are many people who do know that the poem doesn't actually assert that "good fences make good neighbors," but must not have read it either, because they think that the line and the poem are ironic, and that realizing that it is not borne out in the rest of the text requires the reader to "get it," which is equally wrong. The poem is about the narrator and his neighbor fixing the wall that separates their properties. The neighbor keeps saying, "Good fences make good neighbors!" and the narrator reflects, perfectly straightforwardly, that he doesn't really agree with this and he thinks it's better to learn about the world around you and then decide whether you want anything to do with it or not. It doesn't take an English major to spot the message; it's spelled out in black and white.
One review of the new Darren Shan movie said that it was a rip off of Twilight. Cirque Du Freak came out five years before Twilight. Screw that, the last book was out before Twilight! And anyway, the only thing they have in common is vampires.
Speaking of Twilight, ABC World News did a story about fans' excitement for the second movie New Moon. In it, while talking about the books and their popularity and impact, they showed the book covers. Which is all well and good... except for the fact that the covers were for the "House of Night" series and not the highly recognizable Twilight covers.
L.J. Smith has come under fire lately because of the WB CW series The Vampire Diaries. The books the series was based on were written and published in 1991 and 1992. The series was brought about by the vampire craze, yes, but the story was well before Twilight was even a twinkle.
An Australian magazine claimed that Stieg Larsson was a neo-Nazi. This is especially puzzling since the man was a democratic socialist who received death threats from far-right and racist organisations for his work against them, and depicted the Nazi characters in his first book as having kidnapped, raped, and killed dozens of women, making one wonder whether the magazine's writers had any familiarity with him whatsoever.
Judge Richard Straniere of New York laid down a ruling where he criticized a lawyer named DeFilippo who tried to dodge paying a refund on a retainer from a previous differently named law firm. Straniere objected to the idea of DeFilippo thinking he could evade the consequences of his actions by coming up with a name for his company. Straniere also wrote that DeFilippo "must be reminded that Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega), The Shadow (Lamont Cranston).....each had an alter-ego but was, in fact, only one person who understood the difference between right and wrong and, unlike the defendant, never sought to disavow responsibility for their own actions." Did this judge not bother to see even the 1994 film version of The Shadow or the 1998 Zorro movie? Zorro and the Shadow worked outside of the law and adopted dual identities to shield one identity from the consequences of the other identity's actions. As Max Allan Collins pointed out in Amazing Heroes#119, they adopted alter egos since the cops would have arrested them on the spot (and in Zorro's case, the Spanish army would have possibly executed him). Zorro acted as a social protester in the 1998 film; in the 1994 Shadow film the police commissioner noted he would appoint a task force to stop the Shadow from interfering with police affairs (the Shadow tampers with the commissioner's mind to protect his alter ego's activities and stop him from appointing the task force — not a stellar example of obedience to rule of law). In other words, Zorro and the Shadow adopted dual identities to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions. Only later on did the idea of "to protect my loved ones" come up when the genre started growing more self-consciously juvenile. Zorro and the Shadow came from the days of the unbuilt trope.
Games Workshop subsiduary "The Black Library" are guilty of this on the blurbs of their own books. For example, the blurb of Redemption Corps refers to the main character as both 'Sergeant' and 'Captain' Mortensen. He's a Major.
Sebastian Faulks' book on British fictional characters makes a reference to the play Abigail's Party, citing "Abigail proposing to put the wine in the fridge" - but the "Abigail" of the play's title is a character who, like Godot, never actually appears onstage. The party hostess who puts wine in the fridge is called Beverly.
Andre Norton's Beastmaster series in general. Anyone who writes about it, but hasn't read it, assumes it's about a Nature Hero in a loincloth, which it's not.
The 1998 sf textbook Decades of Science Fiction says "Bradley's husband, Leigh Brackett, wrote The DarkoverConcordance: A Reader's Guide (1979) to help sort out the complexities of the series." Leigh Brackett was a woman sf author who died in 1978. Bradley's husband and the author of the Concordance was Walter H. Breen.
"Gabriel Ostman, 18 years old, is a highly-skilled hacker." (Translated) First sentence of the blurb of the german book Das Netz by Wolfgang Holhbein. The character's name is actually Gabriel Richter and he's in his forties. The rest isn't much better.
This article about the Warrior Cats graphic novels includes a picture of what they call the "first and second volumes of the SkyClan and the Stranger trilogy". They do have the second volume of that particular trilogy, but what do they have as the "first" one? Warrior's Refuge, the second volume in the Graystripe's Adventure trilogy, which came out four years and nine volumes earlier. You'd think that the "2" on the front of each would have tipped them off that it wasn't the first volume...
Contrary to the claims of Publishers Weekly, there are no satyrs in Nancy Springer's Apocalypse, although Eros could be considered a sort of gender-flipped nymph if you squint. And while Shirley Danyo, in in her role as Pestilence, develops skin lesions reminiscent of Kaposi's sarcoma, she's not actually HIV-positive.
The Stumbling Colossus by David Glantz starts with him criticizing the highly controversial Viktor Suvorov. First, Glantz gets his real name wrong. Then, he claims that Suvorov writes about the second Soviet echelon being composed of "black shirted NKVD formations" - a mix up of two different ideas about half a book apart (and the black referred to coats, not shirts). Then he states that despite Suvorov's claims, the tank units in this echelon were not combat ready (Suvorov makes no such claims, only stating it is highly unusual for certain armies there to have tanks at all). He also somehow manages to state that "it can be questioned how a man of Suvorov's lowrankcould have access to archive documents".note In the Soviet army, a person was promoted in positions regardless of rank, which could easily lag a few stars behind. Suvorov had a colonel's position, with his rank being completely irrelevant as anyone with even basic knowledge of the Soviet Army knows. Plus, he prefers using open sources instead of archives. Not surprisingly, the Russian footnotes give quite a few examples of him using badly outdated sources.
Many, many fans of the Lensman series do this in regard to the explosive "duodec". It is very common to see lists and discussions of Lensman tropes and technology insisting that duodec is a chemical explosive based on its handling properties - despite the books explicitly referring to it as "atomic", ie. "nuclear" in the language of the day.
Some reviewers of the first Flashman book took it for an actual memoir, perhaps because the author was an actual historian and added copious endnotes.
This sort of thing can cause a BIG and obvious discrepancy between the content of a book and the illustration chosen for its cover. Either the illustrator hasn't been able to read the book, or the notes they are working from are inaccurate, or the content of the book has changed in between the original commission and the illustrator's getting to grips with the job.
The cover illustrations of the first few Discworld novels feature the Librarian as a chimpanzee. The character is, in fact, possibly the most celebrated orang-utan in literature. A character described as "four-eyed" is depicted literally, with four eyes: the illustrator did not grasp that this is a British dysphemism for "wears nerdy glasses".
John Foley's war autobiography went through five reprints, four of which depicted M4 Sherman tanks on the cover. This despite Foley having commanded a squadron of Churchill tanks, a fact reiterated throughout the book and on the back-cover blurb. One outstandingly egregious version has Foley's Shermans attacking through a desert village in North Africa - despite the fact the book is explicitly about the period D-Day to Berlin, long after the North African war ended. The error was remedied only on the sixth reprint.
The cover of first Hebrew translation of The Hobbit shows Bilbo stabbing a dragon's tail◊ (possibly Smaug, although there appears to a different dragon in the background). The illustrator later admitted he had not read the book, and simply assumed this must happen in the story. Then again, at least there aren't any emus...
The cover blurbs for Harry Turtledove'sSupervolcano series consistently refer to protagonist Colin Ferguson as a retired police officer, when in fact not only is he an active police officer, a major story arc revolves around him tracking down a serial killer and dealing with the blowback when the killer turns out to be his department's chief. He does eventually retire due to injuries sustained in an unrelated shootout, but in the last 20 pages of the third book.
The back-cover blurbs of British SF paperbacks sometimes bear little or no relation to the story they're supposed to be synopsising. One of the worst examples was the mid-1970s paperbacks of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot and The Rest of the Robots, which spoke of Asimov's so-called "terrifying" and "spine-chilling" visions; whoever was supposed to blurb those books clearly didn't even bother to read them, but merely saw the word "robot" and jumped to the conclusion that here was yet another thinly-disguised rewrite of Frankenstein.
In Britain in 2005, there briefly appeared a Swiss chocolate called Baci (similar to Ferrero Rochers, but predating them in Switzerland), the wrappers of which contained fortune-cookie-style slips with sayings or quotes on them. One such had the quote "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be", which it attributed to George Sand. It's actually the first two lines of Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning.
In-universe example in The Silkworm: despite his new-found fame, most people still refer to Cormoran Strike by some variation on "Cameron Strick".
The US blurb for Lords and Ladies asks "Who in this world, or any other for that matter, would write a novel about a football team that falls victim to a group of wily elves?" This is a very good question, especially since the answer ain't Terry Pratchett, who wrote about a morris-dancing team falling victim to elves.
The US pre-publicity blurb for The Long Earth is a reasonably good description of "The High Meggas", the short story The Long Earth was based on ... and which it bears almost no resemblance to beyond the concept of the Long Earth itself and the presence of a character named Valiente. (And it even gets that wrong: both versions of Valiente have the first name Joshua; the blurb refers to "Steven Valiente".)