REIMAGINED CLASSIC STORIES

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illustrated classic literature

Mark Twain Connects with China

by Jerome Tiller

Mark Twain connects with readers in China in a way he doesn't usually connect with readers in the USA. Running for Governor, one of three stories in Twain Illustrated, stands out as the best example of why this is so: The Chinese adore Twain as a satirist, while Americans have largely ignored this aspect of his wit.

More than a century after his death American readers still hold Twain the author in the highest esteem. He is widely viewed as the preeminent American humorist and most critics credit him as the founder of the American voice in literature. He is iconic, and has been all along.

Twain Illustrated that he was Running for Governor

by Jerome Tiller

Twain Illustrated contains three funny stories by Mark Twain. All three stories are funny, but one, Running for Governor, is also scary, since it strikes so closely to what is currently happening in the USA and elsewhere. Democracy is in danger because so many people don’t know what to believe in this information/disinformation age of ours. Of course, as the story shows, this phenomenon is not exactly brand new. For most of the nineteenth century, politicians funded major newspapers throughout the US. In 1870, only 11% of urban daily newspapers were independent of corrupt influence by politicians. Twain surely had this in mind while writing Running for Governor for his monthly column in The Galaxy, a literary magazine, in which he portrayed his fictional candidacy for Governor to be just as hopelessly futile as it would have been in fact.

Twain Illustrated: Twain Presumes Too Much

by Jerome Tiller

Twain illustrated contains one reborn story—Emerson, Holmes, and Longfellow—largely requiring rebirth because even the great Mark Twain could presume too much. The story is my adaptation of a speech he delivered in 1877 at a Boston banquet honoring esteemed American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Twain presumed his audience was in a playful spirit that night as he prepared to deliver a speech that poked fun at literary giants Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Either the audience was not feeling playful, or maybe everyone was reluctant to laugh because all three poets were seated right there at the head table with Whittier. For neither the poets nor anyone else in the audience laughed, not even once, during the entire story. Master humorist Mark Twain had come to totally expect laughter, and lots of it, when he told a funny story. He claims he never fully recovered from the humiliation he felt that night at the banquet.

Twain’s Carnival of Exaggerations

by Jerome Tiller
In Twain Illustrated, I adapt three stories by Mark Twain by adding forty-three, contemporary-classic illustrations by Marc Johnson-Pencook. Included in this collection is the wildly hilarious The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut. Mark Twain’s wit usually made people snicker or chuckle, but Twain's carnival of exaggerations more often made them laugh. Twain used and blended many comic forms, including witty jokes, puns, ludicrous impressions, irony, sarcasm, satire, and understatement. But very often he relied upon exaggeration to great comic effect. Like many humorists before him, Twain knew that too much of anything, received playfully, will make people laugh. So Twain filled this story with a carnival of exaggeration to hilarious effect. It's a must-read, must-see story in Twain Illustrated, as Marc Johnson-Pencook is able to keep pace with Twain's exaggerations every scene of the way.
 

The first-person opening of Thou Art the Man

by Jerome Tiller
The first person opening of Edgar Allan Poe’s Thou Art the Man had to go, so I went ahead and cut it. I promised an excuse for this in our last blog. Here you have it: I did it for our audience. I adapt classic short stories, primarily for modern, middle school readers, by adding illustrations. But I also slightly modify the narratives. I do both for the sake of the audience, especially for the youngest segment of our readers. And I do some of it because both they and I are modern.
 

Edgar Allan Poe’s Point of View

by Jerome Tiller
Edgar Allan Poe’s point of view is predictable. He almost always uses a first-person narrator to tell his stories. However, only one of the three stories we collected for Poe Illustrated uses the first-person point-of view in the way Poe typically did. But what does that matter? Master story-teller that he was, Poe always knew exactly what he was doing to create the effect he desired. And that’s one reason he will always remain relevant.

Adding Value - Illustrations in Literature

by Jerome Tiller
Adding Value Adding value can become a preoccupation with property owners. Often the added value  involves aesthetics. For instance, in my youth countless young men customized their clunkers for aesthetic reasons. They wanted to give their rides a better look. 

But it was never all about aesthetic value. Naturally, not one of them thought their rides looked the worse for it after customization was complete. But they never thought their property had lost tangible value, either. Or had lost either kind of value even during the process of customization; many rides sporting primer paint dotted American streets during the 50’s and 60’s. Their owners were proudly in the process of adding value, aesthetic and tangible, having no doubts whatsoever about the aesthetic...

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote lots of good stories

by Jerome Tiller
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote lots of good stories. Most readers know Hawthorne from the novels they were assigned to read in high school. Usually teachers would assign The Scarlet Letter or the House of Seven of Seven Gables. Maybe The Marble Faun, but probably not. My nephews told me they read Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, one of Hawthorne’s short stories, in freshman English. That surprised me. The only short story I was assigned to read in high school was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. That sure was a good story. Creepy. Hawthorne wrote creepy stories, too.

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote lots of good tales, and quite a few of them were creepy, no doubt. But as with Jackson’s The Lottery, he composed them in...

Edgar Allan Poe was not sarcastic

by Jerome Tiller
Edgar Allan Poe was not sarcastic. In my last blog, posted April 10, I said Edgar Allan Poe was sarcastic. And I claimed Poe’s sarcasm was funny. I stand corrected. Going by the two dictionaries I use for reference, sarcasm is not funny. Sarcasm intends to hurt with mocking ridicule. Both dictionaries agree on that.

So that makes me dead wrong for saying Poe use sarcastic humor in the example I chose to demonstrate his humor. Either Poe wasn’t being sarcastic, or the excerpt I used wasn’t humorous. Intent to hurt cannot be funny, even when someone’s ego deserves to be chopped down to size. I don’t think I can have it both ways. The dictionaries have corrected me. A little deeper Still,...

Edgar Allan Poe was not ...

by Jerome Tiller
Edgar Allan Poe was not a humorist. Edgar Allan Poe was not a comic genius. Poe did not want his readers to die laughing—or leastwise probably not; he was, after all, a poor, starving artist and would need them to continue purchasing the magazines that published his stories. But Edgar Allan Poe was funny. He had a sense of humor and knew how to use it. Poe, being Poe, slyly inserted his humor into the framework of detective stories and macabre tales.

Poe’s humor was almost entirely sarcastic. Sarcasm falls within the form of humor called wit, which is defined as mental trickery. I addressed the subject of wit in a previous blog about Mark Twain’s humor.

But why try to thoroughly describe Poe’s...

Promoting Illustrated Literature for Middle School

by Jerome Tiller
One might think you would not encounter opposition promoting illustrated literature for middle school students. Who don’t like pictures? Yet I know there are some educators who believe unadorned print on the page is the best way to hasten the progress of adolescents into the full responsibilities of adulthood. Well, maybe. But I’d keep anybody longer in the drudgery of adolescence if it were up to me. Those were some pretty good times for the most part, looking back.

Seriously, this debate about the content of books for kids who are leaving childhood highlights an anti-picture attitude that some folks have, an attitude that annoys not only me but important people as well. Me has a bias. I am a book...

Literature for Middle School Students

by Jerome Tiller
Whether classic literature belongs in middle school classrooms is an open question. Some teachers probably believe the best way to encourage middle school students to read is to assign them books they want to read, with a few obvious exceptions. If they want to read Captain Underpants, give it to them. If they want to read Harry Potter, give it to them (and by all means, give them all and every one of those fine books you can). But classic literature? Middle-school students don’t want to read stories about mostly adult characters living in the distant past. Why force the issue?

This opinion strongly persuades, at least to a point. Everyone wants middle school students to enjoy reading so that they...

Hawthorne Stories for Middle School

by Jerome Tiller
Bundling illustrated Hawthorne stories for middle school made for pleasant work. That’s because Nathaniel Hawthorne tells great stories that illustrate well. Quite frankly, we believe kids and their parents should read them. We think who wouldn’t like Hawthorne stories, especially when masterfully illustrated by Marc Johnson-Pencook? So, we went and did it. We published Hawthorne Illustrated, a volume of three Hawthorne on August 31, 2018. Middle school readers will happily soak up these stories if only parents would point, maybe nudge them, to drink from the great classics well.

Speaking of wells, Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment leads the combined three stories we are talking about. I suppose underground spring would be a more accurate term than well when describing the central feature of...

Illustrated Books Cover Middle-School Readers

by Jerome Tiller
Publishing experts maintain that covers sell books, including covers that sell illustrated books, but that wouldn’t matter to middle-school readers. They have no money to cover the cost of books. But even if they had money, would they go and spend it on a book anyway? So what does designed-to-sell-sell-sell book covers mean to them-them-them?

If parents were to bring home a book they bought for their middle-school reader after they went and spent their money on the book because the outside cover sold them on the inside content, lets hope their middle-school reader also likes the cover, and then maybe they might also enjoy the content, which they likely will if the imagery on the cover is literally incorporated into...

Eve and Adam Have Nothin’ to Offer

by Jerome Tiller
When it comes to female objectification, Eve and Adam have nothin’ to offer those who want to know why males objectify females. Mark Twain didn’t directly delve into that topic when he wrote his creation stories. But he did recreate the first heterosexual couple, and he did exaggerate certain gender-specific tendencies in each character. Readers in his day would have recognized these masculine and feminine tendencies as legitimate.

After all, Mark Twain was anything but stupid. He built his humor on the bedrock of exaggeration and understatement. And you know he understood how to use those comic devices! He knew it wouldn’t be funny for him to assign, and then exaggerate or understate, gender-related tendencies that didn’t mesh with what his...

Fans of Adam Redux - Reconsidering Eve

by Jerome Tiller
Fans of Adam might want us to reconsider Eve and apologize for our insults and the violent trip we suggested they take over a waterfall. In anticipation of their desires, we will.

Apologies first. Eve was concerned for reckless Adam’s safety. She pressured him to stop going over a waterfall. Like Eve, we are non-violent. So we retract our suggestion that Fans of Adam go over a waterfall in a barrel like Adam did. As far as we are concerned, jumping in a lake is usually safe, so we will stick with that suggestion. Go jump in the lake.

As for our insult, were you to object, you would probably be referring to the ‘big baby’ charge we leveled adaptedclassics.comst you. But if...

Midwest Book Review Recommends "Eve and Adam”

by Jerome Tiller
Midwest Book Review recommends “Mark Twain’s The Diaries of Eve and Adam”. You will find their review posted on the Literary Shelf in the October 2017 edition of their e-magazine. It is the first comment we have heard about our newly published book for middle-school readers. Thankfully, it’s a positive one. And we are thankful exactly six times over that Midwest Book Review likes all the books in our Adapted Classics collection of timeless stories for middle-school readers.

That someone finally commented on the book pleases us. However, the reviewer disappointed us by quoting Adam's downer observation about death as the example of Twain’s funny, positive story. The short excerpt the reviewer used does not reflect the tone of the story at...

Middle-Grade vs. Middle-School - A Difference in Terms

by Jerome Tiller
One might think, as I did, that ‘middle-grade’ means ‘middle-school’ and no difference exists between the terms. I discovered, only recently, that I was wrong. Book publishers define the middle-grade range as 8-12 years of age. They group one-third to one-half of the younger students in middle school (grades 6-8) with students in mid-to-late elementary school. Book publishers place the remaining group of older middle-school students with high schoolers in a category called ‘young-adult’. They define the young-adult age range as 13-18 years.

According to book trade companies that publish fiction, certain words and content topics define the two categories. Fiction books for ‘middle-grade’ readers shouldn’t contain profanity, graphic violence, or sexuality. All of this type of content would be allowable...

Eve Illustrated - Literature with Beautiful Curves

by Jerome Tiller
As suggested in “Mark Twain’s Diaries of Eve and Adam”, and as illustrated by Marc Johnson-Pencook, Eve has beautiful curves. She is lithe, slender, trim, rounded, shapely, nimble, and graceful. Adam looks like a derrick, or maybe architecture. Eve, standing on a rock, head tilted back, watching the flight of a bird in the sky, is beautiful. Adam resembles a reptile.

It’s no surprise that Twain made Eve more physically attractive than Adam. I suppose he could have written a completely farcical story about the first human creatures and made them much different than readers would expect. Instead, he stuck with one of his trademark approaches, humor by exaggeration, and poked fun at feminine and masculine stereotypes. I’m glad he did....

Middle School Students - Learning by Talking

by Jerome Tiller
When middle schools students discuss the meaning of literature under the direction and supervision of a teacher, they are learning by talking. Classroom discussions about the meaning of stories help middle school students develop new ideas, organize and clarify their thoughts, and express them verbally. Besides these lessons in mental and communication skills, classroom discussions about literature also help middle school students learn valuable life lessons. Quality literature can carry an abundance of such lessons.

The trouble is, most of the skills middle school students learn by talking about the meaning of literature cannot be quantified. Middle school students might develop their brains and learn life lessons when they talk about literature, but they merely internalize those benefits. No standardized test...