Leaving no turn unstoned

by Neil Thomas
June 23rd, 2011

As befits our expertise at Speak the Culture, I might have invented a new discipline for the field of academic research. I think I’ll call it ‘Cultural Forensics’.

What am I talking about?

A week or so back, I read that a few historians have decided there actually was an original yellow brick road that inspired L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was in a town called Peekskill, New York, and was a stretch of road made up of… yes, yellow bricks! Worse still, it seems the author’s time at an oil lubricant company inspired the Tin Man, and that a visit to Chicago’s World Fair of 1893 gave him the Emerald City idea.

Hard on the heels (which following a yellow brick road is) of that story comes the revelation that Ophelia’s death in Hamlet (drowned surrounded by fantastic garlands of flowers (and depicted above by pre-Rapaelite painter John Everett Millais)) was probably modelled on the real-life death in 1569 of a girl called Jane Shaxspere (possibly a distant relation of the playwright) which was also recorded as ‘death by misfortune’ by a Tudor coroner.

Far from being the products of creative spirits or imaginative genius, perhaps our great works of art and literature are more non-fiction than fiction. Maybe Speak the Culture should offer an annual Cultural Forensics prize for prosaic explanations of the poetic?

I might myself have stumbled on something when I bought a bunch of mean, angry little brutes in the local market that more properly belonged in a dust bowl… Did the same thing happen to Steinbeck and give rise to The Grapes of Wrath?

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