Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Protect the Innocent"

OK. Why did John change the name of some of his siblings (Katie for Isabelle and Sweyn for William) but not for others (Tom)?     I can see him changing all the names to "protect the innocent", as Jack Web would say, but then why not be consistent and do it for everybody?  
Blog buddy Bobbertsan asked the above question.  I hope he won't mind my posting his question for everyone?

I have no answers as to why some names changed and others didn't.  As I often do, I guess - with some deductive reasoning.  It appears that 3 characters at most never had name changes.  Papa was Thomas in life and in publication.  Tom "the Great Brain" retained his name.  Last of all J.D. - John Dennis.

Maybe the family asked for name changes or they just didn't sound right - I don't know.  But I do know a few things.  First - John was ill when Papa passed away in real life.  John missed the entire event, the passing, the funeral service, the burial - everything.  I can't imagine the sorrow John felt.  It wasn't his fault he was ill and on the east coast, but to miss your parents passing is painful.  Plus Papa was in life a large citizen of Price.  His funeral was an event.  Many of the pioneering members of the community attended.  In short how to honor someone so big - you keep them fully alive in a book.

In Tom's case - I believe an admiring brother was reaching out to heal a heart.  John Dennis and Tom graduated from high school the same year.  Yes, John was two years ahead, that is probably why his youngers siblings see him as the Great Brain.  By the time John was 18 he had left Price.  He rarely returned until Mamma passed away.  During those years Tom's life hit rock bottom.  His first wife died within their first year of marriage.  They also lost a baby at that time.  Two deaths before adulthood even began.  Shortly afterward he remarried (but I suspect he needed more time to grieve).  The marriage began strong, two children, a wife, etc.  But alcohol won Tom's affection.  His wife had enough and left.  Now he had a divorce to add to his pain.  Somewhere in that time he retreated.  He never left Price, but he was rarely seen by anyone.  And it seems that's how he wanted it.  Alone in a house with his books.

So imagine, you have a cool older brother, you follow around.  You work hard to catch up with him in school.  Share the same experiences, friends, memories.  The next time you see him - he's all gone.  You want him back.  You want him to want himself back.  The only way to show him is by writing it out.  Reliving the tales, fanning the memory flames and hoping to keep his broken soul alive.

Now - I do not know this.  I assume it from the documents I read.  The family histories that I have that piece together Tom's broken life.  And from a brief encounter that one of my Price friends, Howard Pitts, (who himself has passed on) shared with me.  The brief encounter was brief.  Tom was the estate executor after Mamma died. He was the only one living in Price.  And during the last 3 years of her life, Tom had visited her regularly.  Howards home was across the street from the Fitzgerald's.  One afternoon Tom came by to tell Howard he would be putting up for sale.  It was a brief, pleasant conversation.  Howard said he was always courteous, but reserved.  To Howard, he was just the neighbor's son - not the hero of our favorite stories.  Next Howard heard of Tom, was the small obituary in the paper.  The night we drove around Price, Howard pointed to where he thought Tom had been living.  It was a small apartment type house.  Enough for one man, who wished to be alone.

Anyway - there you have it - my musings.  I've spent years mulling these ideas.  Please share any other thoughts, if you like.

1 comment:

  1. OK. As tends to happen with these sorts of things, the answer to one question leads to another question. Here goes:

    You've stated that one of the reason's John wrote the Great Brain series was to kind of boost Tom's morale. The problem with this theory is that the later books don't exactly paint Tom as a hero. Somehow I don't think I'd be very flattered by a book where the guy who is supposed to be me is so disliked that he is put on trial by all the kids in town.

    So why do you think JD's protrayal of Tom became less flattering as the series went on?

    Oh, and thanks for answering my question.