Today I welcome back to TKZ, guest blogger J.H. Bogran. José is a fellow ITW member and also serves as ITW’s Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and a contributing editor to The Big Thrill. Enjoy his list of greatest prison breaks in novels.
By J. H. Bográn
As a thriller fan, the genre has rewarded me with plenty tall tales of threats that could destroy the entire world. I’ve lived through bomb countdowns, assassins catching up with their marks, renegade terrorist factions on the verge of breaking hell loose on earth, among others scenarios.
But one of the more thrilling rides is when characters break out of prisons, some may even call them educational.
The following list is my top five of the greatest escapes found in books. At a later time I will make the equivalent list for movies, but for now, let’s concentrate on actions that can be found between bookends.
Let’s begin with a classic: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Edmund Dantés is wrongfully accused and sent to prison in the island of Château d’If. After a few years of solitary confinement, he meets a priest and they both agree to work on a tunnel as means to their ultimate salvation.
This story is not only notorious for the great escape of Dantés when he replaces the corpse of his mentor, but after the dust settles, you begin to wonder if all those years excavating the tunnel were a waste of time because—let’s face it—he didn’t escape through the tunnel now, did he?
In the world of prison breaks, no man can match the trick pulled by Sirius Black in J.K. Rowling’s third Harry Potter book, The Prisoner of Azkaban. And I mean it literally, for the title actually refers to him. (Am I the only one who at the end of Book 2 thought that the prisoner of Azkaban was the recently released Hagrid?)
Although the POV is always on Harry, we learn of Sirius’ ordeal from his own retelling of the tale.
After being incarcerated for over thirteen years, he simply transformed into a dog and squeezed through the cell bars, not even the demon guards could detect him. Now, that’s a shaggy escape. It sure does pay to be an unregistered animagi.
Even after twenty years of its publication, Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lamb remains a fixture in any top-ten list of suspense novels. A must-read which movie version grabbed the five most coveted Oscars (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Script and Best Picture).
Okay, the level of gruesomeness of this one may perhaps be in league with Master Stephen King’s, but the inventiveness alone is remarkable enough to snatch the number #3 position.
Using nothing but discarded—or rather stolen—office supplies, Hannibal Lecter picked his handcuffs. Then after a quick change of wardrobe he put on a face that allowed him to pass through the guards outside and end up in a low-security ambulance. The rest was easy.
This one is similar to number five, but with a darker twist. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a Stephen King story. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was a novella included in the collection Different Seasons.
It took Andy Dufrasne all of twenty seven years to dig a tunnel. Not too bad considering he went through two small rock hammer, and many lovely girl posters, in the process. The final leg of his trip out of Shawshank prison was through a sewerage pipe, as he crawled amidst the worst of human’s excrement. However, at this point I better come clean and say there was no pun intended when this escape artist landed on number two.
Let’s go biblical, Acts of the Apostles.
Before people start emailing me that this book is not a work of fiction, but a true account, I admit that I agree, but Peter’s escape is so awesome I had to include it!
This divine intervention, the epitome of Deus ex machina, can be found in Acts 12: 1-11.
Peter was not only left in the deepest meanest cell with two guards by his side, he was also bound by chains. Then an angel materialized, freed Peter of his bound and led him the way out, walking through walls, no less.
Do you agree with my list? I can expand it to a Top-Ten list, so do send me your suggestions.
Oh, and thanks Joe for letting me hog the spotlight in TKZ today.
J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish.
His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief, has also been selected as the Top Ten in Preditors & Editor’s Reader Poll.
FIREFALL, his second novel, was released in 2013 by Rebel ePublishers. Coffee Time Romance calls it “a taut, compelling mystery with a complex, well-drawn main character.”
He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.
Website at: www.jhbogran.com
Facebook profile: www.facebook.com/jhbogran
Welcome, José, and that is a good list indeed. I feel I must take a bit of license here owing to the death of the great James Garner, and mention a movie, The Great Escape. One of the best moments of that film is after the leader of the escape realizes the forger has gone blind and says he can’t go. Garner steps up and says, “I’ll be his eyes.” The leader says no, but Garner says, “He’s GOING with me.” And he does.
Hi James, thanks for commenting. I love that movie. I am putting together a movie equivalent of this list, so stay tuned.
“Then an angel materialized, freed Peter of his bound and led him the way out, walking through walls, no less.”
Is it fair to count deus ex machine?
I focused on the element of divine intervention from the Deus Ex Machina, still, that prison break was not even the end of the story even though there is where you usually find the D.E.M.
So, yeah, you can say I took some creative license with the term. 🙂
I can’t say I actually read Les Miserables, but doesn’t Jean Valjean break out of prison? Or at least out of the custody of Javert? And no, I didn’t see the musical either…well, actually, I saw the first act. Walked out…figured they had my $65 and an hour of my time. That was enough. 🙂
Although I sat through both version of the movie (My favorite is still the old version with Liam Neeson), I have yet to read the book. I already got it from Kindle and it is in my TBR list.
I think you are right and his escape is not from a prison.
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Not a prison break, but I loved ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST…
If it had Jack Nicholson on it, it must be good.
That’s a great escape from more than just a prison. Jack was good, but the book was better.
Shantaram has the best prison break/s bG D Roberts. Then there’s Papillon and it’s sequel – supposedly a memoir but reads more like novels – amazing prison breaks.
I haven’t read Papillon, but loved the Steve McQueen version. Now he was a real action hero.
Welcome, Jose. Good list. What about “Papillon” and “Escape from Devil’s Island”?
Thank you Elaine. Good suggestions, both of them.
In the realm of nonfiction, I’d add The Great Escape by Australian writer Paul Brickhill, describing the 1944 mass escape from a German prisoner of war camp. Most know about this story from the movie, but still… What a breakout! Thanks for visiting TKZ, J.H.!
Just saw that JSB also mentioned the movie version, good choice!
Thanks for hosting me, Kathryn!
They sure deserve to be included.
Loved Shawshank Redemption – my number one as feel Rita Hayworth is an angel.
It was a tough choice. Thanks.
No list of literary prison escapes is complete–at least at TKZ– without including Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight.
I’ll trust your word, Barry, add Out of Sight to my TBR list. I hope it has nothing to do with the J-Lo/George Clooney flick of the same name that dates from 1998 I think.
Great article! I’ll post a link on my blog this weekend.
I love your choices. I am not sufficiently familiar with Biblical stories to remember Peter’s escape. I need to look that up. I love what you said about the ultimate “Deus in machina” (in this case, I assume it’s literal :-)).
I would have had trouble choosing between The Count of Monte Cristo and Rita Hayworth & The Shawshank Redemption for the #2 spot. And I love the fact that you included Sirius Black. Barty Crouch Jr.’s escape (as explained near the end of The Goblet of Fire) was also memorable.
Thank you for sharing, Irene.
It is a tough list, and judging by the comments, it should have been a top 10. I shall have some honorable mentions!
One of the things I love about Peter’s escape–when he arrives at his house where his friends and family are praying for him, the girl who opens the door, slams it in his face and goes and tells the others he’s at the door.