Sunday, July 11, 2010

Books: Harper Lee and Tod Browning.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the publication of the classic novel - one of the many claimants for the title "The Great American Novel" - To Kill a Mockingbird. Since this is a horror blog, I'm not going to dwell on the novel's concise vivisection of class and race mores in the South or it's brilliant, ironic use of a child's perspective to create a classic American mock epic satire (the mock epic is the essential American comedy mode, and something which the WSJ is apparently unfamiliar with).

Instead, I'm going to focus on the cameo Tod Browning's 1931 classic make is in the book. In the first chapter, Lee introduces Charles Baker "Dill" Harris. On first meeting Scout, the novel's six-year-old narrator, and her old brother Jem, Dill (allegedly based on the youthful Truman Capote) discusses a horror classic:

Dill was from Meridian, Mississippi, was spending the summer with his aunt, Miss Rachel, and would be spending every summer in Maycomb from now on. His family was from Maycomb County originally, his mother worked for a photographer in Meridian, had entered his picture in a Beautiful Child contest and won five dollars. She gave the money to Dill, who went to the picture show twenty times on it

"Don't have any picture shows here, except Jesus ones in the courthouse sometimes," said Jem. "Ever see anything good?"

Dill had seen
Dracula, a revelation that moved Jem to eye him with the beginning of respect. "Tell it to us," he said.

Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duck-fluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him. As he told us the old tale his blue eyes would lighten and darken; his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead.

When Dill reduced Dracula to dust, and Jem said the show sounded better than the book . . .

Here's the question to debate: In the film, Dracula is not reduced to dust at the end. Is Lee misremembering? Is Dill Capote misremembering? Or is Dill making up a story based on what he's heard of the film and book in order to impress Jem and Scout?

Have some Lane Cake and celebrate an American classic.

1 comment:

Pauline said...

Seriously, Dill is making up a story. I've read this book many times; being a Southern girl it's almost mandatory. Every time I come away from that scene with Dill just making shit up. Beautifully, of course, but I get the feeling Lee is making a little dig about actual experience vs literary "cred". Maybe that's just me.

For the writers in your audience (more than a few, I'm sure) here's a great little post from my local writing "group" here in Alaska with a link to a small essay by Lee. It's about the Christmas gift that gave her the invaluable time to write "To Kill A Mocking Bird".

Not at all horror-centric but, best friends ever!!