This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,671) on Friday, September 13, 2019.
My email bag was delightfully full last week with readers commenting on a variety of items that they had seen in the newsletter. I try to range around the web to find interesting things, and I am always glad to have leads that you send. Keep “the cards and letters” coming, as they used to say.
I find myself in the position of reading three novels at once — an unusual spot for me. One I really like, one is okay, and one I’m not crazy about. The one I really like is Alan Furst‘s Blood of Victory. Two things I like about Furst’s writing: his way of creating an atmosphere and his spare style of writing. Furst’s novels are generally set in Europe just before the outbreak of World War II. The era is a dark and threatening one, and Furst, in the fewest words possible, puts you right there.
The other two novels will go unnamed for the moment. I hope you’re reading something good (let me know if you are) and that you have a great weekend.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,674 subscribers and had a 30.0 percent open rate; 1 person unsubscribed.
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Joseph Campbell, a scholar whose work was made famous by the movies
Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative literature, had been studying the history, development, and functions of “myth” since his young adulthood in the 1920s, but outside of academic and intellectual circles, he remained relatively unknown. That all changed in 1977.
Campbell noted how stories — myths — developed in ancient and modern societies, as well as how societies used these stories to define themselves, their personality, their history, and their purpose. In looking across cultures, Campbell saw not just the differences in myths but also the similarities.
His seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, was published in 1949. It was originally designed as a textbook for his introductory course in mythology at Sarah Lawrence College, but it gained a larger audience when it was adopted as a text on other campuses. In it, Campbell outlined the concept of the hero’s journey, a common element in all stories in which the central character must take on some task or meet some challenge.
In the book, Campbell wrote:
Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed. The living images become only remote facts of a distant time or sky. Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history, mythology is absurd. When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives becomes dissolved.
So what happened in 1977 to make Joseph Campbell famous? Star Wars.
George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars series, publicly credited Campbell’s work with helping him create many of the concepts of the movie. Lucas later discussed his process with the authors of Campbell’s biography:
. . .when I started doing more strenuous research on fairy tales, folklore, and mythology, and I started reading Joe’s books. Before that I hadn’t read any of Joe’s books…It was very eerie because in reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classic motifs . . .
After the first Star Wars movie, editions of A Hero with a Thousand Faces were published with a Luke Skywalker motif on the cover, and that cemented the relationship between the book and the movie in the minds of the public.
When Star Wars appeared, Campbell had been retired from Sarah Lawrence for five years. He lived for another 10 years and saw his fame grow. A highlight of all that can be found in a series of interviews he did with Bill Moyers for the Public Broadcasting System. That series can be viewed today on Netflix.
Romance readers, take heart: you have a history
Anyone who knows anything about book publishing knows that the genre of the romance novel is one of the most lucrative in the industry.
Thousands of titles are published each year, and these books sell in the millions of copies.
The reputation of these books is not, well, high-minded or intellectual, to say the least. I doubt that we will see the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to a romance novelist in our lifetimes.
Still, the romance novel has a long and honored history that goes all the way back to the earliest days of printing. William Caxton was the first printer in English history, setting up shop in London in 1476, barely 20 years after Gutenberg put together the first moveable-type printing press in Germany in the 1450s.
Caxton printed hundreds of books of all sorts: religious tracts and texts, histories, poetry, and the like. Many of these had ready and eager markets that Caxton was willing to exploit. Like any good businessman, Caxton wanted to expand, according to an article by A.S.G. Edwards on the British Library website:
. . . Caxton was not content to simply draw on pre-existing markets for manuscripts for his readership. He also used print to create new markets for novel and different kinds of writing. His most sustained effort of this kind was the publication of a series of prose romances, essentially a new literary form in England in the later 15th century. The most famous work of this kind was his edition of Thomas Malory’s prose Arthurian romance, Le Morte Darthur (1485), one of the biggest books his press produced.
He printed a number of other romances of this kind, all in his own translations, including Godfrey of Boulogne (1481), The Knight of the Tower (1484), Charles the Great and Paris and Vienne (both in 1485) and Blanchardin and Eglantine and The Four Sons of Aymon (both in 1490). Source: William Caxton and the introduction of printing to England – The British Library
So, romance readers, note to your more high-falutin’ friends that there were popular bodice-rippers as far back as the 15th century. Above all, keep reading.
Caxton wasn’t a man who was content to print a book and let the public show up to buy it. He took an active part in getting the word out. Here’s an is the first printed advertisement in English. It’s for one of Caxton’s books, and it was produced the year that Caxton set up shop in London, 1476. It was printed on a playing card-sized sheet for easy distribution. It advertises a book title Sarum Pie (a manual for priests) and says that it
. . . “is printed in the same letter type as the advertisement (‘enpryntid after the forme of this present lettre,’ line 3). Even without having seen the new book, its key feature, the type, can thus already be assessed.” This pioneering advertisement also “reassures potential clients that the text of the handbook is ‘truly correct’ (line 4) and that it can be acquired cheaply (‘he shal have them good chepe,’ lines 5-6). Both features will have been welcomed by priests, the target audience, who needed their textual tools to be flawless and did not have much money to spend on them.” Source: See the Oldest Printed Advertisement in English: An Ad for a Book from 1476 | Open Culture
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
The father of American illustration – F.O.C. Darley
Illustrators deserve a more prominent place in the history of American art — and in our own minds — than they have been given. This is especially true in America, where we have a rich cadre of great artists who have made their living, and their fame, by being illustrators.
Chances are, with just a little thought, you can name some of them, such as:
Thomas Nast, the great cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, whose political fights were legendary.
Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson girl,” the quintessential beauty who graced magazine pages for years.
Howard Pyle, whose talents lay in the writing field as well as the field of illustration. Pyle put together the legends of Robin Hood that form the character with which we are so familiar today.
Alfred Waud, the great “special correspondent” for Harper’s Weekly, who gave us eyewitness pictures of the battles of the Civil War with his masterful drawings.
N.C. Wyeth, whose prolific book illustrations put boys like me into the world of pioneers, pirates, and Indians.
Reginald Birch, the man whose drawings told us what Little Lord Fauntleroy looked like and set off a fashion trend in the 1880s that we still feel today.
The list could go on and on. Those are simply the ones I could think of off the top of my head. You can undoubtedly think of others. (If so, let me know.) This rich tradition began with a man named Felix Octavius Carr Darley in the first half of the 19th century. Darley could not be called the greatest American illustrator — although his work is on par with many of the fine artists who came after him — but he has been called the “father of American illustration.” And rightly so.
Darley was born in 1822 in Philadelphia, and when he was 21, he signed a contract with Edgar Allan Poe to create illustrations for Poe’s planned literary magazine The Stylus. The magazine was never produced, but Darley did provide illustrations for Poe’s award-winning story The Gold-Bug. He went from there to illustrate books for many prominent authors such as Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Darley’s prolific work set the standard for images we have of the American revolution, folklife in the new republic, American Indians, and a raft of other iconic figures.
One of the best places to start looking at Darley’s worth is his Sketches Abroad with Pen and Pencil, which you can find on Google books here. Once you start looking at this stuff, it will be hard to stop.
A new podcast examines the Jeffrey Epstein case
Julie K. Brown, the reporter for the Miami Herald who would not let the Jeffrey Epstein story go when just about every other reporter and prosecutor would, has a just-out series of podcasts about this sad and sorted tale. Epstein recently committed suicide rather than face a trial for his multiple assaults on underage girls, but his name continues to show up in headlines around the world. The hunt for his partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, continues.
Epstein used his money and position to insert himself into politics, high society, academia, and big-name charities. On the other side of his life, he was seducing teenagers in all sorts of ways with all sorts of inducements — and apparently with the help of a highly coordinated system of people.
Epstein died, but his story won’t. The women whom he harmed demand otherwise, and so should we. Epstein did not act alone.
Brown is the right one to tell the story. She found out about the suspicions that surrounded Epstein early on. Just as importantly, she began to realize that others — journalists and especially prosecutors — would get interested and then would suddenly not be interested. She wondered why.
In this podcast, she teams up with the New Yorker’s Ariel Levy to provide a compelling podcast.
I have listened to the first episode (all that is available at this writing) of this series, and I am eager to hear more. You can listen here: BROKEN: Jeffrey Epstein on Apple Podcasts
Verse and Vision
An updated list of all of the Verse and Vision videos can be found at this link on JPROF.com. I have not produced one for a couple of weeks now but will try to gear up again soon.
D’borah B.: An ancestor of mine married a person of the Cherokee nation. Their values, beliefs, and knowledge made several other WASP relations choose a mate from this genetic group. All I can say is thank you.
Kate C.: This is great stuff, Jim! Thanks for including me! I feel a bit inspired…to write!
Tonya W.: I have never responded to your emails before, but I had to tell you I find them very informative and interesting. I look forward to them and sometimes am a little slow on email and am afraid I will be removed. I save the emails and read them when I have time to devote to the interesting information you always seem to provide. Thank you so much for doing these emails. I love learning something new all the time and your emails give me that.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: A better lexicographer than Webster, tools of the fiction writer, and what we think we see: newsletter, September 6, 2019
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