Help Fr. Z with some literary references!

Folks, can you come up with any literary references for proving identity or discovering lost identity by fitting together the two halves of an object that was broken or cut in half?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. kjmacarthur says:

    There is an English ballad:

    Dark Eyed Sailor

    As I roved out one evening fair
    It bein’ the summertime to take the air
    I spied a sailor and a lady gay
    And I stood to listen
    And I stood to listen to hear what they would say.

    He said “Fair lady, why do you roam
    For the day is spent and the night is on”
    She heaved a sigh while the tears did roll
    “For my dark-eyed sailor
    For my dark-eyed sailor, so young and stout and bold.”

    “‘Tis seven long years since he left this land
    A ring he took from off his lily-white hand
    One half of the ring is still here with me
    But the other’s rollin’
    But the other’s rollin’ at the bottom of the sea.”

    He said “You may drive him out of your mind
    Some other young man you will surely find
    Love turns aside and soon cold has grown
    Like the winter’s morning
    Like the winter’s morning, the hills are white with snow.”

    She said “I’ll never forsake my dear
    Although we’re parted this many a year
    Genteel he was and a rake like you
    To induce a maiden
    To induce a maiden to slight the jacket blue.”

    One half of the ring did young William show
    She ran distracted in grief and woe
    Sayin’ “William, William, I have gold in store
    For my dark-eyed sailor
    For my dark-eyed sailor has proved his honour long”

    And there is a cottage by yonder lea
    This couple’s married and does agree
    So maids be loyal when your love’s at sea
    For a cloudy morning
    For a cloudy morning brings in a sunny day.

  2. Mandrivnyk says:

    It’s a bit of a stretch (and that’s an understatement!), but the first thing that comes to my mind is from Plato’s Symposium – Aristophanes’ eulogy to love. You know, the story that people feel whole when they fall in love because, in primal times pairs of people were *were* one. That is, until they became too powerful and tried to take over heaven and ended up being split.

  3. Mike says:

    Odysseus’ bow, though it wasn’t broken, was strung by him, put together, thereby proving, fatally for some, that the King was home. [Not quite what we are looking for, but good connection.]

  4. chonak says:

    The English folk-song “The Dark-Eyed Sailor”, known in a popular setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams, uses the motif of a broken ring:

    It was a comely young lady fair,
    Was walking out for to take the air;
    She met a sailor all on her way,
    So I paid attention to what they did say.

    Said William, “Lady, why walk alone?
    The night is coming and the day near gone.”
    She said, while tears from her eyes did fall,
    “It’s a dark-eyed sailor that’s proving my downfall.

    “It’s two long years since he left the land;
    He took a gold ring from off my hand,
    We broke the token, here’s part with me,
    And the other lies rolling at the bottom of the sea.”

    Then half the ring did young William show,
    She was distracted midst joy and woe.
    “O welcome, William, I’ve lands and gold
    For my dark-eyed sailor so manly, true and bold.”

    Then in a village down by the sea,
    They joined in wedlock and well agree.
    So maids be true while your love’s away,
    For a cloudy morning brings forth a shining day.

  5. Melania says:

    In “Smiley’s People” by John LeCarre, a torn postcard is used frequently to prove identity. Smiley provides a torn half to Claus Kreschmar (sp?) in order to prove that he is the man Otto Leipzig wanted to get a taped confession of a bumbling Russian spy. [Good one!] The two halves of the postcard were put together, the match made and the tape handed over to Smiley. The tape allows Smiley to force his archenemy, Karla, to defect to the West.

  6. MargaretMN says:

    In spanish, there is the expression that when one finds their true love, they find their “other half of the Orange.” [Interesting! But this is not quite the scenario.]

  7. robtbrown says:


    That was going to be my answer. Did you read the book and see the film?

  8. ghp95134 says:

    Not a literary device, but I did find this explanation:

    “Symbol” is an interesting Greek word. “Symbol,” or as it’s spelled in Greek “symbolon,” is an entrance ticket, a token, or half of a broken coin that, when reunited to its other half, proves identity…”—03-22.html


  9. Melania says:

    robtbrown: Yes, I’ve read all the Smiley books and I own a DVD set of the British TV mini-series of “Smiley’s People” starring Alec Guinness.

  10. ghp95134 says:

    Here’s one:,1095664

    “The Broken Coin” by Emerson Hough; Pittsburgh Press, 4 July 1915.


  11. esquiress says:

    I am ashamed to say this is not a literary reference, but rather a pop culture one…in “The Parent Trap” the Parker twins discover that they are identical twins while at summer camp when they each produce half of the same family picture. [But that is the right idea!]

  12. ghp95134 says:
    [History of the Franks, translated by Lewis Thorpe, 1974]

    “…Childeric, King of the Franks, whose private life was one long debauch, began to seduce the daughters of his subjects. They were so incense about this that they forced him to give up his throne. He discovered that they intended to assassinate him and he fled to Thuringia. He left behind a close friend of his who was able to soothe the minds of his angry subjects with his honeyed words. Childeric entrusted to him a token which should indicate when he might return to his homeland. They broke a gold coin into two equal halves. Childeric took one half with him and the friend kept the other half. “When I send my half to you,” said his friend, “and the two halves placed together make a complete coin, you will know that you may return home safe and sound.” Childeric then set out for Thuringia and took refuge with King Bisinus and his wife Basina. [After eight years] Childeric’s faithful friend succeeded in pacifying them secretly and he sent messengers to the exile with the half of the broken coin… By this token Childeric knew for sure that the Franks wanted him back, indeed that they were clamouring for him to return. …Now that Bisinus and Childeric were both kings, Queen Basina… deserted her husband and joined Childeric. He questioned her closely as to why she had come from far away to be with him, and she is said to have answered: “I know that you are a strong man and I recognize ability when I see it. I have therefore come to live with you. You can be sure that if I knew anyone else, even far across the sea, who was more capable than you, I should have sought him out and gone to live with him instead.” This pleased Childeric very much and he married her. She became pregnant and bore a son whom she called Clovis. [History of the Franks, translated by Lewis Thorpe, 1974]…”


  13. Oneros says:

    In the Teddy Ruxpin cartoon, there was this medallion-half and when they found the other half and joined them, the treasure of Grundo appeared:

  14. Hieronymus G. says:

    Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, V.i.
    “How have you made division of yourself?
    An apple cleft in twain is not more twin
    Than these two creatures. Which is Sebastian?”

  15. Jonathan says:

    Is the “two halves” necessary, or can it be a number of parts? If so, from the Lord of the Rings, I think that the shards of Narsil becoming Anduril, the sword of Aragorn, would be an excellent example. [The shards of Narsil… good… but not quite it. Two people don’t have them.]

  16. ghp95134 says:

    Dunno if this is “Literature” …. See Chapter 72 of “The Emerald Buddha”

    NOVBMBBR [sic] 21ST, 1920

    “…”Because — Why, that’s the sign” Kent’s
    voice quivered with excitement, “Don’t you
    see? I was to surrender the diamond only to
    one who brought me the other half of that gold
    coin. And there it is !
    ” …” [The other half of the coin, exactly the sort of thing we are after.]


  17. Jonathan says:

    Sorry for the double post, but I just realized the major meaning of this. The sword was the sword of the king (I don’t remember his name) way before who fought Sauron, so Aragorn reforging his broken sword into the new sword of the king was him “reforging” his lineage and discovering his identity as the king. You probably know that, but just in case you didn’t…

  18. esquiress says:

    Also not literature, but in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is able to prove the identity of one of the Grail Guardians by matching a rubbing to the shield on the Guardian’s effigy and the complete text tells the location of the Holy Grail.

    Obviously I need to read more.

  19. LaudemGloriae says:

    Little Orphan Annie and the locket … [Were there two of them? Halves reunited?]

  20. FrCharles says:

    Why is the Symposium a stretch? It’s the first think I thought of too. And then Teddy Ruxpin.

  21. Maltese says:

    The threatening of halving uncovers identity in this story:

    “16 Then there came two women that were harlots, to the king, and stood before him: 17 And one of them said: I beseech thee, my lord, I and this woman dwelt in one house, and I was delivered of a child with her in the chamber. 18 And the third day, after that I was delivered, she also was delivered, and we were together, and no other person with us in the house, only we two. 19 And this woman’s child died in the night: for in her sleep she overlaid him. 20 And rising in the dead time of the night, she took my child from my side, while I thy handmaid was asleep, and laid it in her bosom: and laid her dead child in my bosom.

    21 And when I rose in the morning to give my child suck, behold it was dead: but considering him more diligently when it was clear day, I found that it was not mine which I bore. 22 And the other woman answered: It is not so as thou sayest, but thy child is dead, and mine is alive. On the contrary she said: Thou liest: for my child liveth, and thy child is dead. And in this manner they strove before the king. 23 Then said the king: The one saith, My child is alive, and thy child is dead. And the other answereth: Nay, but thy child is dead, and mine liveth. 24 The king therefore said: Bring me a sword. And when they had brought a sword before the king, 25 Divide, said he, the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.

    26 But the woman whose child was alive, said to the king, (for her bowels were moved upon her child,) I beseech thee, my lord, give her the child alive, and do not kill it. But the other said: Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it. 27 The king answered, and said: Give the living child to this woman, and let it not be killed, for she is the mother thereof. 28 And all Israel heard the judgment which the king had judged, and they feared the king, seeing that the wisdom of God was in him to do judgment.”

    (3 Kings, Douay-Rheims) [Good connection, but that is not quite what we are looking for. But, good one nonetheless.]

  22. ghp95134 says:

    “…Many Riley songs are also “broken token” ballads – songs in which the two lovers break some token (a ring, a coin, a kerchief; in Art Thieme’s parody “That’s the Ticket” it’s a shoe repair contract!) in two. This allows them to identify each other when they are reunited….”

    –GHP [“broken token”… good]

  23. I have in my memory something from Dickens… cut pieces of paper… anyone?

  24. Father J says:

    Gah. The first thing that came to mind is that bit in the stage show “Annie,” with the locket.

    That somehow, in the back of me brain, evokes an earlier reference which – for the life of me – I can’t recall…

    Maybe someone else will.

  25. Father J says:

    And then again, look at how my own post more than evokes one previous! Sorry, LaudemGloriae!

  26. QMJ says:

    Well, it’s not literary, but in Red Heat two of the bad guys identified one another by putting together torn halves of a hundred dollar bill. I can’t provide more details because it has been a long long time since I’ve seen the movie.

  27. Girgadis says:

    Buried somewhere in my faltering memory is Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Someone else will have to fill in the specifics, if that book is the reference you are in fact looking for. [Dunno… can’t remember…. Bleak House? Little Dorrit?]

  28. ghlad says:

    I don’t suppose you could use Aragorn’s broken sword Narsil (reforged into Anduril – “Flame of the West”) for your purposes?

    It’s reforging was prophesied, was proof of Aragorn’s kingship, and was symbolic of the unification of the 3 races in the struggle against Sauron. (All of this from Wikipedia.)

  29. Jacob says:

    Just a note for people who are looking at Narsil/Anduril and Aragorn’s kingship…

    The reforging of Elendil’s sword did nothing to prove that Aragorn was the de jure king of Arnor and Gondor. That fact was already known by the Wise given that fact that Aragorn was the direct male-line descendant of Elendil through his grandson Valandil. [I was a sign of Aragorn’s kingship to others, but two people did not have the shards and no one’s identity was proven by putting them together. Review the top entry?]

  30. r.j.sciurus says:

    I suspect someone is writing about Anglicans…. [Nope.]

  31. Charivari Rob says:

    In Treasure Island, didn’t two characters each have half of the treasure map? Or perhaps I’m recalling some derivative story. Not quite what you were looking for, anyway. [Not quite. The divided map is about something hidden, a location. But it is not quite the same.]

    In A Winter’s Tale, isn’t it her possession of some treasure of her mother’s that identifies Perdita to Leontes as his long-lost daughter? [I think you are right… but did it match a half of something else?]

  32. zapman449 says:

    Adding one ‘halves of the coin’ reference… James Clavell’s _Taipan_ and _Noble_House_ work with this. The original Taipan gets in a tight spot, and in return for a loan of silver, is forced to take (4? 6?) coin halves and swears that either he, or those who follow him as Taipan of the Noble House must consent to a favor asked by anyone presenting a matching half to him. It’s not identifying a specific person however. [This is along the right lines.]


  33. There are some good ideas here…but please READ the top entry. Thanks!

  34. Anyone on a possibility with Dickens? I just can’t put my finger on it.

  35. An American Mother says:

    Several people beat me to “The Dark-Eyed Sailor”.

    There’s a similar song called “The Broken Token” or “A Pretty Miss All in the Garden”.

    “If he’s drownded I’m in hopes he’s happy,
    Or if he’s in some battle slain,
    Or perhaps he’s took some other and married,
    I’ll love that girl that would have married him.”

    And there’s the Grimm Brothers’ tale of “Bearskin”, in which the soldier who has a bet with the Devil that he won’t cut his hair or beard or pare his nails for seven years. He breaks a ring and gives half to the good daughter who agrees to marry him. Of course it all works out in the end.

    And there’s Alan Breck Stewart’s silver button in David Balfour and the poor writer Stewart — “It’s Alan’s button here, and Alan’s button there — I tell ye, the four quarters of Alan would bribe me no further in!” But it’s only one of several buttons, not a half of one.

  36. JonM says:

    I’m probably too late, Father!

    If I remember my Tolkien correctly, Boromir’s horn was cloven in two. Perhaps this was a symbol on multiple levels as he was the more agressive counterpart to his deeply thoughtful brother Faramir. Boromir’s death devistated his father the Steward (though the Steward was not nearly as absurd as in the film version) and so the broken horn is a kind of an inverse of re-connecting. [This is not what we are looking for is it. Different people didn’t have the halves.]

    Boromir was an advocate of using the Ring against Mordor, at least to a degree. Indeed, in the end he defeated this weak nature by sacrificing himself for the party tasked to dispose of the terrible concentration of evil.

  37. An American Mother says:

    I’m thinking Anthony Trollope rather than Dickens.

    It’s one of the political novels.

    Also, in Childs’s English and Scottish Popular Ballads he has a lengthy annotation on the ballad “Hind Horn” – with all the German, Nordic &c. variants. The hero disappears with half a ring, returns to find his love about to marry someone else, and drops his half of the ring into her cup of wine.

  38. What about Aristophanes discourse from Symposium, where he talks about man and woman having originally been created as one being, and were torn asunder, and they are perfected only when they come back together in love?

  39. Sorry, I didn’t see the earlier Symposium reference. [It helps to review the entry!]

  40. JaneC says:

    Several ballads have been provided above from the “broken token” genre–and it IS a whole genre, as there are dozens of examples. They are all about the return of a lover. The lover is at first unrecognized–usually he has been at sea or at war for the symbolic length of seven years, and this may change a young man’s appearance considerably–but when he presents his half of the token, his promised bride welcomes him home, and they are usually immediately married. The token is almost always a ring, which has its own symbolic value. Many, many examples of this genre can be found in the Laws Ballads (collected in America, but mostly originating in England) and other ballad sources.

    Someone beat me to mentioning the tale of “Bearskin.”

    On a sillier note, there is a Nancy Drew book called “The Clue of the Broken Locket.” When the two halves of the locket are reunited, they bring together some long-lost relatives and lead the way to hidden treasure.

  41. sjg4080 says:

    Barnaby Rudge? Or Oliver Twist…don’t the locket and ring prove Oliver’s identity?

  42. mwa says:

    re Little Orphan Annie–the locket was divided, but the parents didn’t have the other half, the mistress of the orphanage did, so it didn’t reunite them. [But the locket was divided and different people had the halves!]

    In Oliver Twist the locket and ring weren’t divided, and Oliver’s half-brother threw them into the river.

  43. paulbailes says:

    Actually, there is nothing to be ashamed about in the Parent Trap (the original at least):
    – the parents reunite
    – Nancy Kulp is in it
    – “Colonel Bogey” has a nice “Bridge on the River Kwai” whistling rendition
    – Annette Funicello sings! twice!!
    – Beethoven’s Violin Romance #2 is played
    – I I like like Hayley Hayley Mills Mills


  44. Still thinking about that Dickens possibility….

  45. paulbailes says:

    It’s Oliver Twist isn’t it? At least in the musical, isn’t the song “Half a Sixpence” about how Oliver will be recognised by his real family.


    PS a version of “Oliver!” with Annette Funicello (AND Hayley Mills) would really be something!

  46. paulbailes says:

    PS the song isn’t actually about that; but that’s the significance of the sixpence I am sure

  47. mkeucher says:

    If not Oliver Twist, maybe Little Dorrit? The cut piece of paper in the watch given to Arthur by his father goes along with the piece of paper Amy convinces him to burn…which certainly would have proven his lineage. I don’t know if these two pieces of paper were originally one or not, though. [This may be what I was thinking of.]

  48. GoZagsGo says:

    I read something recently that may be along these lines… there is a man or something, who is going somewhere dangerous, I feel like it’s Soviet Russia or something, and before he leaves his superior (perhaps a bishop to a priest) rips sheets of paper in half and tells him to write to him on that paper so that he can identify his letters as coming from the man by matching them with the half he keeps. But I can’t remember for the life of me from what book it comes! I thought perhaps Comrade Don Camillo, by G. Guareschi, since I recently read that — but no luck! It’s driving me crazy, but hopefully if I stop trying it will come to me :)

  49. GoZagsGo says:

    Ha! I remembered! It’s from With God in Russia.

  50. uptoncp says:

    Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea books – the Ring of Ereth-Akbe (or something like that) is in two long-separated halves.

  51. mwa says:

    In Little Dorrit the paper in the watch was a remembrance from Arthur’s mother; the paper Amy gives him to burn is the suppressed part of his father’s uncle’s will.

  52. kathygeorge says:

    Although Jacob and Laban didn’t split anything, the tradition of Mizpah jewelry is bases on their promises to each other which begin in Genesis 31:45. Here’s an example:
    Each person takes half. Both parts fit together.

  53. It helps to review the entry

    But then I wouldn’t be able to keep up my habit of telling you things you already know :-P

  54. An American Mother says:

    Paul, the original book on which The Parent Trap was based is Das doppelte Lottchen (“The Double Lottie”) by Erich Kästner, who also wrote Emil and the Detectives. I think the English version is called Lisa and Lottie.

    It’s a very good book. Kästner is a cheerful, confiding writer for children with gentle asides for adults, along the lines of C.S. Lewis.

    Which made me think of the magic rings made by wicked Uncle Andrew in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew, but they aren’t broken in half. But the material in the rings is separated from its own world and keeps trying to get back there. That’s how the rings work. They reappear in The Last Battle.

  55. Thomas S says:

    Though not literary, let’s not forget the damning proof of Jebediah Springfield’s blackguardery in the SIMPSONS. The missing torn corner of an original portrait of General Washington was discovered in Springfield’s flute by Lisa.

    I seem to remember something about Washington’s wooden teeth doing damage to Springfield’s nether region in the altercation.

  56. Ceile De says:

    Hope I’m not too late. A legal rather than a literary reference.

    From Wikipedia entry on “indenture”:

    “An indenture is a legal contract between two parties, particularly for indentured labour or a term of apprenticeship but also for certain land transactions. The term comes from the medieval English “indenture of retainer” — a legal contract written in duplicate on the same sheet, with the copies separated by cutting along a jagged (toothed, hence the term “indenture”) line so that the teeth of the two parts could later be refitted to confirm authenticity. Each party to the deed would then retain a part.”

  57. ghp95134 says:

    Ceile De: …Each party to the deed would then retain a part….
    Yes, that was true of the original indentures, but I believe in later years the indented portion was merely done for aesthetics:

    Image of an Indenture:


  58. Ceile and ghp: Very cool. Great example.

  59. Eric says:

    Was it Great Expectations? I can’t remember how what’s his name found out who his sponsor was.

  60. Supertradmom says:

    Not Little Dorritt, not Bleak House, not Great Expectations…for sure, as I know those books well. In Lorna Doone and in Oliver Twist, a necklace identifies a true relative-Oliver’s mother and Lorna’s heritage. I am still thinking of two people with two halves-I somehow think it is a necklace. Also, in The Secret Garden, Mary discovers that Colin is her cousin, as they share an ivory elephant or something like, as their mothers each had such a talisman.

  61. Supertradmom says:

    Arthur in Little Dorritt just wasn’t told of the theft of Little Dorritt’s uncle’s money by Arthur’s mom and dad. In Bleak House, handwriting is the key to Lady Deadlock’s former lover, who passed away before she could find him. There were letters as well. In Oliver Twist, the locket was the key to Oliver’s mom’s identity, but this was not cut in two.

    In Great Expectations, Pip finds out his sponsor is the criminal because the criminal Magwitch finds Pip and tells him himself.

    None of these things, nor any other Dickens I can think of fill the category of lost halves of one object. I am still thinking, however.

  62. Supertradmom says:

    In The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, the two boys purposefully change places and the Great Seal of England proves which is the rightful king, but again, not halved….

  63. Supertradmom says:

    oops, I mean the seal is not halved, not the king!!

  64. Charivari Rob says:

    Branching out a bit to musical theater…

    In A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, the old man Erronius spends most of the show “…abroad searching for his long-lost children (stolen in infancy by pirates).”

    At the end of the show, he discovers that Miles Gloriosus and Philia are in fact his long-lost children. He recognized them because he recognizes the matching rings they wore.

  65. William A. Anderson says:

    There is a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle, entitled J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement. While the protagonist Harvard-trained physician is convalescing on a plantation after having been wounded at Antietam, a “negress” bestows upon him a strange, hard, black stone which resembles a human ear. He is charged to keep it with him, never to lose it. One of his learned colleagues conjectures that it might be a meteorite — or that it might have been broken off from a statue, although it would have been very difficult to carve an entire statue from stone so hard. Years later, the stone still on his person, he is abducted from a ship which has been malevolently guided to the coast of Africa, but his abductors spare his life when they recognize the stone as possibly belonging to their revered statue. When the ear fits the statue (like OJ’s glove didn’t), his status converts from prisoner to demigod and his life is eventually saved. Proving something, if not identity.

    The story can be found at

  66. Charivari Rob says:

    Updating on Forum and Annie

    I spoke with a friend who’s done much more musical theater much more recently than I have.

    He confirms that in Forum, Erronius recognizes his children by recognizing the jewelry they wore. It wasn’t halves of a whole, and the children (who were raised separately) didn’t recognize each other before Erronius did.

    Also, in Annie, she has possession of half of the locket, but Mrs. Harridan (I mean, Harrigan) didn’t have the other half. She had a forgery.

  67. California Girl 21 says:

    “Mizpah” jewelry always makes me smile. When I was a teen, I thought it was soooo sweet, in a BFF sort of way. “The Lord watch between me and thee when we are absent one from the other”–I thought it meant “May the Lord watch over you and take care of you, my friend, when I can’t be there to do so myself.”

    Then I actually read Genesis 31:49. Jacob and Laban are in conflict; it’s more along the lines of “You better behave yourself and keep your promises, because even if I’m not looking, God is, and He’ll get you!”

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