'Psychic' TikToker's dream creates massive demand for 22-year-old book of poetry
Saskatoon publisher reprints Russell Thornton's collection The Fifth Window
It all started with a dream.
At the end of 2021, American TikToker "Ohmarni," who claims to have psychic powers, posted a video to the social media platform about a dream she had in which a man asked her: "Is the fifth window open?".
According to the video, which has been viewed 3.2 million times, when she woke up she searched the term online and found out there was a book called The Fifth Window. She was unable to find much information about it or a way to access it — except from reserved sections in universities such as Harvard — which piqued her curiosity.
"Now explain to me, why is a book about the psychic world and the real world meeting in the reserves, request section, like super locked up tight? That's weird, that's suspicious," Ohmarni, whose real name is Marni Webb, says in the video.
The hunt was on for her and her followers to find The Fifth Window. This was all unbeknownst to Vancouverite Russell Thornton, two decades removed from the writing of a book by that title.
The Fifth Window was published back in 2000 by Thistledown Press in Saskatoon, and it was Thornton's first trade publication that was of any significance.
"The book does have a mystical, or at least metaphysical component to it," said Thornton, whose subsequent work was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry and the Griffin Prize.
He was at his home computer when he received an email from Vancouver poet Rob Taylor, asking if Thornton had heard about what was happening with his book on TikTok.
"I'm not on TikTok, I've heard the words, but I had no idea what it was all about," Thornton said. "My 13-year-old daughter was home and I said: 'Do you know anything about TikTok?'"
His daughter, Leora, quickly tracked the video down and showed it to him, and they both realized that Webb and her followers thought there might be a conspiracy behind why the book was so hard to find.
Thornton's daughter eventually started replying to some of the comments, saying there was no conspiracy, it was just an older book from a Canadian poet, which might be hard to come by in the U.S.
"The whole business of being able to get a hold of a book, in the minds of these people, as if it contains information that's dangerous or radical in some way… That kind of business seems to be so rampant in the world right now, I think that entered into it," Thornton said.
Eventually, he asked his daughter to see if Webb wanted a copy of the book. Webb reluctantly gave Thornton her mailing address, and he shipped her one of his two remaining copies.
He received an email from her a few weeks later, thanking him for the book.
"And I thought, well, that's it," he said, assuming the strange tale was coming to its end.
The saga continues
Webb ended up making several more videos about the book, including one of her opening the package Thornton sent.
As the videos racked up views, eventually Webb's followers started reaching out to Thistledown Press in Saskatoon, the publisher of The Fifth Window.
"After reading it, she put up another video talking about the connections between her own writing and some of the language she found in the poems," said Caroline Walker, the managing editor at Thistledown.
With so many people becoming interested in the book, Thistledown posted on their website that if there was enough interest, they'd consider reprinting the book.
The orders flooded in.
"We had hundreds of orders coming in from all over the U.S. and from all over Canada, and from countries as far away as Australia and Bulgaria, Bermuda, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland …it's just quite extraordinary," Walker said.
Thistledown is in the process of reprinting The Fifth Window, and more copies will likely become available in March.
"I don't think anything like this has ever happened to Thistledown Press before. And so it's just kind of an exciting little ride we're on right now," Walker said.
A bizarre adventure
Both Thornton and Webb found the situation to be a bit strange.
In an email to CBC, Webb said the likelihood of Thornton's daughter finding the TikTok in the first place seems too good to be true.
"It was all a divine coincidence and I'm so grateful for it. It was honestly relieving to know I'm not crazy and the book existed and had a connection to me," she wrote.
"The internet is a valuable source, but the network social media creates is immeasurable. I don't think I would've found that book as soon as I did if not for TikTok. It would've drove me a little crazy if I hadn't."
As for Thornton, he said he's felt a lot of different emotions throughout the situation. At first, he thought someone was playing a joke on him.
"And then I just thought it was comical. I thought it was funny as hell," he said.
But more than anything, he's just happy that there's some spotlight on Canadian poetry.
Thornton's latest collection Answer to Blue was published last year and he's currently working on a book he's calling The White Light of Tomorrow.
"It's so hard to get any attention for any book of poetry in Canada. So I was kind of pleasantly surprised and pleased by the fact that, well, maybe this will get some attention on that book."
But he's also been thinking carefully about the conspiracy theories that in part fuelled the sudden popularity of the book.
"I doubt that the conspiracy theorists are going to find much in the book that applies to their world views," he said.
"But I think people who are interested in conspiracies tend to want very much to find evidence, so who knows … maybe they can find something in it that works for them."
With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition