Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One More Great Brain Question

After yesterdays post about name changes and purpose.  Bob asked an additional question,
So why do you think JD's protrayal of Tom became less flattering as the series went on? 
Bob was referring to putting Tom on trial.  -

The Great Brain books (or original book) grew out of a night of reminsicing with friends.  John kept remembering various "tales" with his brother (or brothers).  His wife suggested the book based on them.  Because we will never get to read the original adult Great Brain book, there is no way for us to imagine how John portrayed him.  We can only assume.  But if you take our first meeting of the Great Brain from the chapter in Papa Married a Mormon,  you will find it a flattering tale of two creative brothers hoping to achieve something good.  We must remember they were kids.

However, when it came time to change an adult book into a kid book and then to a series, John had a challenge, both materially and purposely.  Materially we know that The Great Brain at the Academy had to be about Belle's experiences as she is the only Fitzgerald child who attended any higher education.  She graduated from St. Mary's in Salt Lake.  Because of that understanding I assume John used other "family" incidents to create the full 8 books that were published.

It is a challenge of publishing.  If a book is a success writing houses, and readers want more.  Unless the story clearly begins and ends in the one book.  As long as readers want a book, publishing houses work to provide them.  The conflict came from there, how do you write about a person you love, and whom you originally wanted to present as clever, when a) you've used his best material already b) his character, by virtue of writing, as now become a person on their own.

In publisher, Phyllis Fogelman's note, at the end of The Great Brain is Back, she sheds a little light on Johns frustration.
John went on to write six more Great Brain books.  By 1975 publication of The Great Brain Does It Again  he was ready to retire from writing, feeling he'd said all he had to say about the characters. (In fact, by then I had a constant struggle with him not to let Tom reform.)
In support of Phyllis insight about the "constant struggle with him not to let Tom reform", notice the title of book 5, The Great Brain Reforms.  Prior to writing book 5, John wrote some notes.  His first paragraph reads,
Here I sit with an empty note book and not the least idea of what this book will be all about except it will be the last Brain book in the series and I do have a title.  The Great Brain Reforms.
As I read the pieces I see a brother who told a great story.  A single book about a clever brother he admired.  When it went on, he had to inject more to the story to keep it rolling.  Hence book 3 is Me and My Little Brain, book 4 Great Brain at the Academy, book 5 The Great Brain Reforms.  

As always it's my best guess from pieces I have found.  


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