Archivo por meses: agosto 2022

Run, Run, Run

by Alan Sillitoe, 1959

«The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,» by Alan Sillitoe, was first published in 1959. It is a first-person monologue spoken by a 17-year-old inmate of an English Borstal, or reform school. Smith, the only name this character receives, has received a two-year prison sentence for breaking into a local bakery, but he has discovered a way to improve the conditions of his stay in jail. The warden of the reformatory has his heart set on the winning of the Borstal Blue Ribbon Prize Cup for Long-Distance Cross-Country Running (All England), and Smith, the fastest runner in the institution, needs to do nothing but train for the race. He can trade his daily chores for the mitigated freedom of early morning runs in the countryside around the reformatory.

Yet things are not quite as simple as they seem, and the nature of the monologue, crude and colloquial in language and tone, underlines the tremendous class distinction between what the narrator Smith terms the «in-laws» and the «out-laws.» People like the warden and his cronies speak Oxford English and support and perpetuate the system, while the residents of the Borstal are denizens of the working class who have nothing to lose. It might seem that Smith would have little choice or desire not to play along with the powers that be, but during his stay in prison he has developed his own personal and idiosyncratic sense of morality. For him, to win the race would be tacitly to accept the premises of a self-serving establishment, and his own sense of defiance and self-worth can only be maintained by his individual conception of honesty. As he says, «It’s a good life, I’m saying to myself, if you don’t give in to coppers and Borstal-bosses and the rest of them bastard faced in-laws.»

While it might appear that Sillitoe is simply delineating a social and economic struggle between the classes in postwar England, the situation is much more complicated. In Smith’s world of the underclass there is no such thing as solidarity and brotherhood. In a series of flashbacks that illuminate his early life and the robbery that got him into his immediate trouble, we find that he has always been alone. Smith and his pal Mike are clever enough to hide their loot so that the police will not catch on to two teenagers who have suddenly become relatively wealthy, but the boys are even more wary of their own neighbors, who will turn them in out of spite and jealousy. Loyalty is something that simply does not exist in these circumstances, and trust is a silly idea for fools. In the end a person can be true only to himself, a self that can make mistakes but will never let him down. Loneliness becomes a natural condition. As Smith says, «I knew what the loneliness of the long-distance runner running across country felt like, realizing that as far as I was concerned this feeling was the only honesty and realness there was in the world.»

Smith’s experience with his family bears out his conclusions, for his father died a horrible death of stomach cancer after a lifetime of slaving in a factory, while his mother was constantly unfaithful to her husband. The death benefit of 500 pounds is quickly spent on clothes, cream cakes, a television set, and a new mattress for his mother and her «fancyman,» and things are immediately back where they began. Thievery is all the boy knows, and even the army can provide no outlet. As far as Smith is concerned, patriotism is another false idea concocted by the government to protect its own advantage, and life in the army is little different from life in prison. In declaring himself a robber and an outlaw, Smith is at least acknowledging the state of warfare that exists between people like him and the people in power, landowners and the politicians who look like fish gasping for breath when the sound is suddenly turned down in the middle of their speeches on television.

Powerless as he may be in an England that views him as only another cog in the economic machine that grinds out more comfort for the rich, Smith seizes on the moment to shake his fist in the faces of the «in-laws» as he turns toward home in the Borstal race. Though he is far ahead of his nearest competitor, he slows down and then stops before the finish line, allowing his rival enough time to catch up and to win the race. Smith’s gesture is meaningless to everyone but himself: «The governor at Borstal proved me right; he didn’t respect my honesty at all; not that I expected him to, or tried to explain it to him, but if he’s supposed to be educated then he should have more or less twigged it.» But, if nothing else, the long-distance runner has remained true to himself; he has not been duped into believing the false promises that would only enslave him even further. There is virtually no hope of social change in the bleak universe that Sillitoe has created, but there does remain comfort in the affirmation of the individual human spirit that will not be broken. If truth and honesty can exist anywhere, Sillitoe asserts, they survive in the ability to look squarely at oneself in the face of all the odds. Paradoxically, honesty may reside in recognizing and accepting the dishonesty of contemporary existence.

eBook The Longliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (movie)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

Chariots of Fire is a British film released in 1981. Written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson, it is based on the true story of British athletes preparing for and competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture.


The movie is based on the true story of two British athletes competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Englishman Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), who is Jewish, overcomes anti-Semitism and class prejudice in order to compete against the «Flying Scotsman», Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), in the 100-meter race.

In 1919, Abrahams enters Cambridge University. He attempts and succeeds at the Trinity Great Court run, which involves running around the court before the clock finishes striking 12. Meanwhile, Liddell sees running as a way of glorifying God before traveling to China to work as a missionary. He represents Scotland against Ireland, and preaches a sermon on «Life as a race» afterwards.

At their first meeting, Liddell shakes Abrahams’ hand to wish him well, then beats him in a race. Abrahams takes it badly, but Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm), a professional trainer that he had approached earlier, offers to take him on to improve his technique. However, this attracts criticism from the college authorities.

Eric’s sister Jenny (Cheryl Campbell) worries he is too busy running to concern himself with their mission, but Eric tells her he feels inspired: «I believe that God made me for a purpose… (the mission), but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.»

Despite pressure from the Prince of Wales and the British Olympic committee, Liddell refuses to run a heat of the 100 meters at the Olympics because his Christian convictions prevent him from running on Sunday. Liddell is allowed to compete in the 400-meter race instead. Liddell at church on Sunday is seen quoting Isaiah 40, verse 31: ‘But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and be not weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’

The story compares the similar athletic experiences of Abrahams and Liddell while portraying their vastly different characters and reactions to adversity. High accomplishment comes to those with high aspirations, high energy and the capacity for great effort. But the central motivation and ultimate results of their accomplishment depend on their character and personality. This is a true story about two very different British athletes who accomplish at the highest level in their field, yet are driven to these achievements by very different motives along very different paths.

Cambridge Champion

Englishman Harold Abrahams is the son of a wealthy Jewish financier in London. Highly sensitive to the anti-Semitic sentiments of the British upper class, he is determined to prove his worth and acceptability in everything he does. A runner of remarkable ability, in 1919 he enters Cambridge University and promptly completes a running feat which no one has been able to accomplish for 700 year. Abrahams’ passionate aspiration is to win a gold medal in the 100 meters at the 1924 summer Olympics in Paris.

While at Cambridge, Abrahams meets a lovely young singer Sybil Gordon and they soon fall in love. To her he confesses his heart’s turmoil. He has gone through life with a sense of helplessness, anger and humiliation because of the second-class treatment rendered to him as a Jew. To him running is a means of seeking revenge and conquering the social opposition. “I am going to take them on one by one and run them off their feet.” He strives to fit in and prove himself a loyal and capable Englishman. “So you love running?” Sybil asks him. “I am an addict. It’s more of a weapon. It’s a competition. You win because you are ruthless. … A weapon against being Jewish, I suppose. I’m semi-deprived. They lead me to water but won’t let me drink.”

Flying Scotsman

Eric Liddell is the son of deeply religious Scottish missionaries, born and raised along with his sister Jennie in China and recently returned to Europe. Eric is a born runner with tremendous speed and a natural love of the sport who becomes widely known as the «Flying Scotsman.» Committed to a missionary’s life like his parents, Eric is requested by his church leader to dedicate his remarkable athletic ability to the service of god. “Run in God’s name” and let the whole world know it is God’s inspiration that makes you a champion. He too is destined for the Paris Olympics for the glory for God.

The first time Abrahams sees Liddell run he is bedazzled. Eric collides with another runner, falls down during a 400-meter contest between Scotland and France and appears to be out of the race. Then miraculously he gets up, starts running again, makes up a 20-meter deficit and wins the race. This indicates just how great is the unexpressed human energy which can be released in the right circumstances. It took the accidental fall to bring out the true greatness of Eric’s potential. “I’ve never seen such commitment and drive in a runner,” Abrahams remarks. Even more remarkable is the obvious joy with which Liddell runs. He tells Jennie, “I believe god made me for a purpose – China. He also made me fast. When I’m running I feel his pleasure, not just fun. To win is to honor him.”


The amateur spirit of the Olympics is still respected in Europe and professionalism is shunned. But times are changing. Sam Mussabini, a brilliant professional running coach, is looking for talent to shape. Abrahams approaches Sam and tries to hire him as a personal coach. Sam replies that it is customary for the coach to choose a worthy student, not vice versa. Abrahams is willing to break the rules in order to accomplish. Sam knows that social rules may be broken, but there are rules for accomplishment that cannot. At their first meeting, Liddell shakes Abrahams’ hand to wish him well, then beats him. Abrahams is crushed by the defeat and cries out to Sybil. “I don’t run to take beatings. I run to win. If I can’t win I won’t run. Now what do I stand for?” After the race, Sam contacts Abrahams and offers to train him for the Olympics, assuring Harold that he can improve enough to match Eric. Even though the university authorities frown on his hiring a coach, Abrahams persists.


On the boat sailing across the Channel to France, Liddell is informed that the preliminary heat for the 100 meters is to be run on a Sunday. He informs the British team leader that his religion prevents him from running on that day and he will have to forgo the race. “If I win, I win for God. To win on Sunday would be against God’s law.” Once in Paris, the team leader informs the rest of the British Olympic committee, which includes the crown prince, and they call Liddell and press him to relent. When he adamantly refuses, life responds and unexpectedly presents a solution. Lord Lindsay, another member of team who has just won a silver medal in another event, offers his place in the 400 meters to Liddell. Another member of the Committee explains how fortunate it is that they did not try to force Liddell to violate his conscience. He is “a true man of principle and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to separate his running from himself. For him it is God before King.” Whatever the mind fervently believes in – whether higher ideal or mere superstition – has the power to evoke a response from life. The power of Eric’s belief is equal to the power of all those of his community who share that belief.


Abrahams faces Americans in the 100-meter final who are touted to include the fastest men on earth. He has already lost two races to the same competitors. Before the race he confesses to Sam, “I am 24 and I have never known contentment. I’m ever in pursuit and I don’t know what I’m chasing. I’ve known the fear of losing. Now I’m almost too frightened to win.” Abrahams goes on to win the event and emerge with the title of fastest man on earth. After the race he and Sam celebrate in private their shared personal accomplishment. He lived for another 54 years and was considered the grand icon of British athletics. Eric races in the 400 meter against equally tough competitors and wins his race as well. He mixes with the crowds in jubilant celebration. After the Olympics, he returned to China where he died during World War II.


Who accomplished what and how? Driven by a complex and a fervent aspiration to win a respectable place in English society, Abrahams has achieved the greatest title in amateur athletics. The drive for social acceptability is a very powerful motive. He has leveraged the energy of that drive for achievement. He ran in the name of his country and under the banner of patriotism, but really he ran for himself. For him running was a labor in a life and death struggle for acceptance and respectability. It is doubtful whether even this remarkable accomplishment gave him the peace and fulfillment he was seeking. Liddell ran in the name of God and for the joy of self-giving to his God. His very act of running was a self-fulfilling joy. One believes in his concept of God and service, the other in his own inner potential. Both accomplish on the basis of their beliefs.


The Real Life Inspiration Behind Forrest Gump (eBook ) – Forrest Gump (movie)

«Forrest Gump» famously inserted Tom Hanks into old archival footage, interweaving moments from real U.S. history with the fictional story of his character: A simple yet sincere man, sharing homespun wisdom on a park bench to different strangers while recounting the story of his ever-so-charmed life.

Director Robert Zemeckis and ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) employed digital compositing and other groundbreaking visual effects to give Forrest’s tale a true-to-life veneer. Thanks to the wonders of CGI they were able to rewrite history cinematically, having Forrest intersect with presidents and pivotal moments in American culture across three decades. 

The film won six Oscars and is endlessly quotable — but what you might not know is that the character of Forrest Gump was loosely inspired by three real men.

Sammy Lee Davis was the inspiration for Forrest’s war wound

As «Forrest Gump» was celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, USA Today spotlighted Sammy Lee Davis, a decorated Vietnam veteran, as one real-life inspiration for the character. Nicknamed «the real Forrest Gump,» Davis was at the film’s anniversary screening on the National Mall in Washington, DC. President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded him the Medal of Honor in 1968, and he’s at least famous enough to have his own Wikipedia page.

You can see footage of the Medal of Honor ceremony in «Forrest Gump» — though of course, it’s Hanks who shakes Johnson’s hand. Like Forrest Gump, Davis was shot in the buttocks and elsewhere in his back over thirty times, by friendly fire. The moment where Forrest shows the President his butt wound was invented for the film.

Winston Groom dedicated his novel to two other men

Screenwriter Eric Roth adapted Winston Groom’s novel, «Forrest Gump,» for the big screen. Groom, who passed away in 2020, dedicated the book to Jimbo Meador (pictured above) and George Radcliff, two of his childhood friends. Both men are private individuals, but Distractify notes that their «speech patterns are similar to Forrest’s.» Hanks originally sought to downplay Gump’s Southern accent but Zemeckis coached him to keep it and adhere to the source material.

The Bubba Gump Seafood Company is now a real restaurant chain, but it started out as a fictional business endeavor launched by Forrest and Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise). The idea for that stemmed from conversations that Groom had with Meador — appropriately, at lunch. He explained to Distractify:

«Although he never did any shrimp farming, [Meador] was always interested in it, and we used to talk about it a lot. Jimbo knows everything there is to know about shrimp. We used to have lunch about once a week, and it occurred to me after one of these conversations while I was writing Forrest, ‘What better thing to do than make Forrest a shrimp farmer?’ «

Meador also owned a river delta boat and had a seafood processing job, much like Forrest does in the movie. He reportedly shunned the public spotlight after he started getting copious interview requests from the likes of David Letterman.

The same goes for Radcliff, who only consented to an interview with Mobile Bay Magazine because the writer was someone he had known for a long time beforehand. Radcliff appears to have wholly or partly inspired the felicitous nature of Forrest’s journey through history. He once beat Paul McCartney at arm-wrestling, for instance, without knowing who «that little drunk English guy» was.

What’s interesting about Radcliff is that he was a scrapper, meaning he liked to fight. This might be part of what Groom meant when he told The New York Times that Zemeckis sanded the «rough edges» off his book character. He originally wanted John Goodman to play the role of Forrest Gump. That would have been a very different movie.

At the end of the day, «Forrest Gump» is still cut from a fictional cloth, but art does imitate life. To do a mad-lib bit of paraphrasing with Forrest himself, «[Movies are] like a box of [inspirations].»


Los Top One de la T.I.A.

Francisco Ibáñez, maestro del humor

Corrían los primeros días del año 1958 cuando vieron la luz, en las páginas de la revista Pulgarcito, dos estrambóticos personajes: un detective con un atuendo a lo Sherlock Holmes y su ayudante, un hombre larguirucho vestido de negro. Eran la versión primitiva de Mortadelo y Filemón, dos de los más queridos personajes del humor español a lo largo de más de 60 años.

Su creador, Francisco Ibáñez, llevaba ya unos años dedicándose al tebeo; palabra castiza que él afirma preferir en lugar de “cómic” y que remite a la longeva revista española TBO. Nacido el 15 de marzo de 1936 en Barcelona, desde pequeño fue un amante de las historietas y a los once años ya publicó algunas para la revista infantil Chicos. En 1952 empezó a compaginar su trabajo como botones en el Banco Español de Crédito con la publicación de historietas para diversas revistas y suplementos de periódicos barceloneses.

Tal fue su éxito que al cabo de pocos años ya ganaba más con sus publicaciones que con su trabajo en el banco, por lo que se volcó completamente en el dibujo. Aunque en sus primeros tiempos Ibáñez trabajó para diversas revistas, en 1958 empezó a dibujar en exclusiva para la editorial Bruguera, una prolífica relación que duraría casi 30 años y que terminaría en un agrio divorcio cuando en 1985 la casa se quedó con los derechos de publicación de sus personajes.

La gran familia de Ibáñez

Antes de su partida, sin embargo, daría vida en las revistas de esta editorial a sus personajes más famosos: el cegato Rompetechos, el botones Sacarino -inspirado en su propia experiencia en esta profesión y en el cómic belga Spirou-, los “chapuzas” Pepe Gotera y Otilio, los habitantes del loco bloque de pisos situado en el número 13 de la Rue del Percebe y, por supuesto, los que se convirtieron en sus “hijos” más famosos: Mortadelo y Filemón.

Fue en las páginas de la revista Pulgarcito cuando aparecieron por primera vez, aunque por aquel entonces se trataba de historietas cortas y los personajes aún no estaban del todo definidos. Pero a partir de 1969, con la publicación del álbum El sulfato atómico, las historias se hicieron más largas y los protagonistas adquirieron su característico aspecto y personalidad: Mortadelo torpe, despistado y un as de los disfraces; su “jefe” Filemón, más prudente pero víctima de las desgracias ocasionadas por la torpeza del primero; y un estrambótico elenco de secundarios como el Super -superintendente de la T.I.A., una agencia de inteligencia-, que siempre les envía a las misiones más impensables, o el loco profesor Bacterio, cuyos inventos siempre traen problemas.

Mortadelo y Filemón es de lejos la creación más exitosa de Ibáñez, a la que todavía se dedica en la actualidad, tras recuperar sus derechos en 1988 gracias a un acuerdo con Ediciones B, heredera de los títulos de Bruguera. Un éxito que no solo hay que atribuir a su humor y personajes, sino también a la capacidad de su autor por sacar temas de los eventos de la actualidad española y mundial. A lo largo de sus 63 años de vida Mortadelo y Filemón han participado en los mundiales de fútbol, en las Olimpíadas, en la Guerra Fría y en el nacimiento de la Unión Europea, entre otras aventuras; y políticos, artistas, personajes históricos e incluso el propio autor han sido parodiados en sus páginas.

A día de hoy, los torpes agentes secretos de la T.I.A. suman más de 200 aventuras y siguen con la misma vitalidad que en sus inicios, a pesar de todas las desdichas por las que han pasado. Su fama ha tendido a eclipsar al resto de la familia Ibáñez, aunque sus historias han seguido reeditándose a lo largo de los años. Mención especial merece 13, Rue del Percebe por su original concepto, que nos invita a cotillear en la intimidad de los vecinos de un bloque de pisos.

A punto de cumplir 85 años y con más de 100 millones de álbumes vendidos, Francisco Ibáñez se ha convertido en uno de los historietistas españoles más prolíficos y reconocidos. Ha obtenido diversos reconocimientos, como la Medalla de Oro al mérito en las Bellas Artes en 2001, y su nombre ha sido propuesto como candidato al Premio Princesa de Asturias en las categorías de Artes o de Letras. A lo largo de casi 70 años de carrera profesional, ha sido tan prolífico como cualquier escritor y sus historias pueden considerarse a menudo un espejo de las bondades y miserias de la sociedad española: un espejo satírico y con un humor gamberro que no pasa de moda, pues como dice el autor, la vida sin humor “sencillamente no sería vida”.


Ibáñez, el rey del tebeo

El padre de Mortadelo y Filemón ha dibujado unas 50.000 páginas de esta pareja de cómic que ha marcado a varias generaciones de españoles. Su obra es también una especie de crónica de un país teñida de ficción y realidad a partes iguales. Hoy sigue empuñando el rotulador, asegura, porque siente el cariño de la gente. Visitamos en su guarida a un veterano mago del humor.

Francisco Ibáñez lleva 56 de sus 78 años dando vida a Mortadelo y Filemón, de los que calcula que habrá dibujado unas 50.000 páginas. Así que cuando uno pulsa el timbre y espera a que le abran la puerta en este bloque corriente y moliente de un barrio corriente y moliente de Barcelona, no puede pensar en otras cosas que las relacionadas con el estajanovismo, la producción en cadena y las laboriosas hormigas. Lo primero que ve el visitante son unas gafas; detrás de ellas, un señor simpático, socarrón y vehemente, y detrás de él, estanterías reventadas de tebeos. Ah, y la mesa. La mesa de dibujo. La mesa de dibujo inclinada, junto a la ventana, poblada de plumillas, lápices, bolígrafos, trozos de papel y –aunque no se vean– mundos extraños y pobres diablos protagonistas de cosas que somos todos: la emoción, la tristeza, la impotencia, el dolor y el fulgor, gama/disparate.

Por ahí pululan, por este saloncito años setenta donde pasa sus tardes Francisco Ibáñez, los disfraces de Mortadelo y los mamporros de Filemón. Mortadelo, trasunto en viñetas de la vertiente picaresca de la vida, cruce de caminos entre el Quijote, el Lazarillo y el expolicía Torrente. Filemón, retrato matemático, cruel, de cierto españolito de cuando entonces, que sigue siendo el de ahora, animoso, resignado, victimista y con mala uva. Mortadelo y Filemón, agencia de información, paridos por la mano de Ibáñez en 1958 en el número 1.394 de la revista Pulgarcito, historieta hecha leyenda o, como tituló Antoni Guiral de forma certera su fantástico libro sobre la escuela Bruguera (1945-1963), Cuando los cómics se llamaban tebeos.

Francisco Ibáñez sigue ahí, asomado a la mesa, al dulce potro de tortura, dando a la imprenta páginas y más páginas y álbumes y más álbumes, el último de ellos Mortadelo y Filemón contra Jimmy el cachondo, versión papel de la película del mismo título dirigida por Javier Fesser y recientemente estrenada con el éxito de público que se le auguraba (la tercera, tras La gran historia de Mortadelo y Filemón, del propio Fesser, y Mortadelo y Filemón: misión, salvar la tierra, de Miguel Bardem). ¿Por qué seguir después de 56 años?

–¿Es que, si lo dejara, se aburriría?

–Pues… sí, desde luego a este paso parece que voy a acabar yo antes que los personajes, ¿no? No sé, hay momentos que ya… no sé, uno está cansado, y dices, ¿y para qué?, pero claro, entonces vuelves a ver que la cosa le gusta a la gente y entonces sigues.

Se llama la irresistible inercia del éxito popular, o quién sabe, la irresistible inercia a secas.

Bien lo sabe el padre de Mortadelo, y de Pepe Gotera, y del botones Sacarino, y de 13, Rue del Percebe, y sobre todo de Rompetechos –“mi favorito”, deja caer Ibáñez sin vacilar–, exponente supremo del eterno tebeo español, ese fenómeno de masas que balbucea a mediados de los cincuenta en cabeceras como La Risa o Paseo Infantil, que eclosiona y estalla en los primeros sesenta de la mano de los hermanos Francisco y Pantaleón Bruguera (el uno, republicano; el otro, franquista, ambos empresarios de corte paternalista y absolutamente seguros de lo que perseguían: edificar un imperio y aplastar a la competencia en el sector del tebeo) y que desemboca en el mismísimo hoy: Barcelona, 2014, Ibáñez dibujando, a punto de cumplir 79 años, a Jimmy el Cachondo, el profesor Bacterio, el Súper, Ofelia y nuestros inefables agentes secretos de la T.I.A.

En tiempos no ya de perenne metamorfosis sino de progresiva derrota de lo tangencial y lo analógico a manos de lo virtual y lo digital, bien puede decirse que nada o prácticamente nada ha cambiado para Francisco Ibáñez Talavera (Barcelona, 1936). Sus lapiceros, sus hojas de papel, sus tintas, su imaginación… Nada ha sido fácil en una vida dedicada a construir mundos imaginarios a golpe de viñeta: “Ahí sigo, igual que siempre, bueno, igual no, porque con el paso del tiempo… Mira, en la profesión mía, hacer cinco páginas a la semana es lo normal. Hacer 10 es una heroicidad. Hacer 15 ya es increíble. Y yo durante muchos años hice 20 páginas a la semana. De día, de noche, fines de semana, sin vacaciones, nada, nada, a dibujar todo el rato. La verdad es que en aquellos tiempos la editorial Bruguera nos tenía bastante esclavizados. Era sencillo: querían producir y producir, y producir masivamente, y así reventaban el mercado, reventaban la competencia, que no podía seguir aquel ritmo”.

Ha evitado, hasta donde ha sido posible, figurar en primera línea de fuego en la promoción de la película de Javier Fesser, “se lo ha tenido que comer casi todo el Fesser, el pobre”, comenta no sin que una risilla asome en sus ojos de niño grande. Mortadelo y Filemón, agencia de información (a los que en un principio iba a llamar Mister Cloro y Mister Yesca, agencia detectivesca, o Lentejo y Fideíno, detectives finos) son importantes, pero aún lo es más la familia y la salud. Alerta roja. Y así son hoy las mañanas de Ibáñez: “Por la mañana salgo un rato a pasear, por prescripción facultativa más que nada, porque me dijo el médico que estaba jodidillo y que eso de quedarme quieto todo el día en casa que no podía ser. Así que me puse con el deporte. Me apunté a una piscina de esas de barrio y oye, me hacía 40 piscinas, pero era aburridísimo. El caso es que cuando ya me creía un Mark Spitz, un día, en la calle de al lado, vi cómo una chiquita se hacía cuatro largos en el tiempo en que yo me hacía uno. Me desanimé y lo dejé. Y ahora salgo a caminar, tres cuartos de hora más o menos, y bien”.

Sin tontos registros de nostalgia, pero con mucho respeto y mucho cariño hacia una época y los nombres y apellidos que la habitaron (sus compañeros en Bruguera, Escobar, Peñarroya, Cifré, Vázquez, Raf…), aquel antiguo empleado del Banco Español de Crédito reconvertido en dibujante de chistes para gran cabreo y preocupación de su padre recuerda la vida de entonces. “A las ocho o nueve de la mañana ya me llamaban los de la editorial: ‘¡Ibáñez! ¿Cómo van esas páginas?’. Y cuando las tenía acabadas, pues nada, me metía la carpeta debajo del brazo y me acercaba a entregarlas, un poco como la modista que va a entregar el vestido que ha hecho durante la semana; me pagaban el trabajo de la semana anterior y listos. A veces aprovechaba para comer o tomar algo con algún otro compañero del trabajo que estuviera por allí y luego, hala, vuelta a casa, a volver a sentarte en el taburete y a seguir dibujando”.

–Es increíble el ritmo que llevó durante aquellos años sesenta y setenta, y es increíble que siga trabajando con esa intensidad. ¿No se sintió Francisco Ibáñez explotado, algo así como una vaca lechera a la que le exprimen las ubres sin descanso, o como la gallina de los huevos de oro a la que no se deja descansar?

–En Bruguera así fue, claramente, pero nunca me quejé, nunca dije que me estaban explotando, yo seguía allí sencillamente porque quería. Eso sí, Bruguera siempre se negó a que los autores tuviéramos los derechos de nuestros personajes, se negó en redondo. Los dueños pusieron cláusulas en los contratos que decían que aquellos personajes eran “herramientas de trabajo en poder de la editorial, que pagaba por ello a sus autores”. O sea, que nosotros no teníamos derecho absolutamente a nada. Te decían: “Oiga, Ibáñez, aquí se trata de producir, ¿eh?, y si no lo hace usted, pues lo hará otro, ya sabe”.

Era un tiempo en el que centenares de miles de niños españoles acometían, sin saberlo, su primera iniciación a la lectura desde las páginas de aquellas revistillas que costaban cinco pesetas, que se llamaban Tio Vivo, DDT, Pulgarcito o Din Dan, y que alcanzaban tiradas de 350.000 ejemplares… semanales. Luego vendrían Mortadelo Especial, Mortadelo Gigante, Súper Mortadelo…, había que estrujar a la gallina de los huevos de oro. Otros personajes de autores rivales, como Zipi y Zape, Anacleto, agente secreto, Las hermanas Gilda, Carpanta o Sir Tim O’Theo también triunfaban…, pero la comparación con Mortadelo y Filemón era inviable. Una era, definitivamente, ida. “Todo eso acabó, los tebeos han desaparecido. Hubo un tiempo en el que en los quioscos veías decenas de colecciones. En la historieta realista estaban El Capitán Relámpago, El Capitán Tormenta, El Capitán Trueno… ¡Cada fenómeno atmosférico tenía su propio capitán en forma de tebeo! Y en la cosa cómica, el Pulgarcito, el DDT, el Tio Vivo, el Din Dan, había una cantidad tremenda de títulos y personajes. Hoy no hay nada. Ha desaparecido todo. Sólo han quedado las revistas esas, ¿cómo les llaman? Románticas. De autores de tebeos sólo quedamos Jan, que hace el Superlópez, y yo. Pero de mi época, sólo yo, claro, no queda nadie, coño. Me he quedado solo. Es un poco triste”.

–Bueno, yo no diría que es el último superviviente de los tebeos clásicos; usted es más que eso, es el último superviviente de toda una época y de toda una forma de cultura popular. Usted hizo reír al franquismo, al antifranquismo, al tardofranquismo, al posfranquismo, a la Transición, a la democracia…

–¡Je, je, je! Sí, es un poco así, sí. Y la verdad es que guardo buenos recuerdos de aquellos primeros años, a pesar del franquismo; coño, hoy mucha gente dice: “Qué horror, qué mal está todo”. Pero yo les diría: “Joder, pues menos mal que no tuvisteis que vivir el franquismo, que aquello sí que…”. Pero da igual derecha que izquierda, yo he hecho reír igual a todos. Y también les he metido en las historietas, pero con cuidado, ¿eh?, sin intención de molestar.

–Y además, siempre tocando temas de actualidad. En ese sentido, ha sido usted en cierto modo un poco periodista, ¿no?

–Pues sí, pero estoy pensando que voy a dejar este sistema. Es que en un periódico, pum, pasa algo hoy y mañana ya sale publicado. Pero aquí no, a mí hacer un álbum me cuesta dos meses, entre que lo dibujas, lo entintas, lo mandas a imprimir, etcétera. Así que cuando eso sale a la calle, aquel suceso del que he hablado a lo mejor ya no interesa porque mientras tanto han ocurrido 28.000 cosas más. O directamente el personaje en cuestión se ha ido de este mundo. Una vez hice un álbum que, parodiando lo de El señor de los anillos, se tituló El señor de los ladrillos. El protagonista era un señor muy gordo que vivía en Andalucía y que tenía un equipo de fútbol y un caballo que se llamaba Imperioso…, y cuando estaba en las últimas páginas una mañana veo en el periódico que se ha muerto. ¡Hostia, que se ha muerto! Y ya no lo saqué, claro.

A punto de los 79 años –los cumplirá en marzo–, “a lo que uno aspira es a no molestar demasiado a los demás”, sostiene Francisco Ibáñez, que se esfuerza en quitar hierro a la cosa y en no salirse de madre con respecto a la trascendencia a su obra: “El trabajo mío nunca ha sido de crítica social, económica o política; nada de eso, para eso ya están los que hacen los chistes de los periódicos, que por cierto lo hacen magníficamente, aunque poco a poco también esa tradición va desapareciendo. Yo he hecho y hago historietas. Y les gustan. Los chisteros de la prensa hacen a la gente reflexionar sobre la realidad. Yo les hago evadirse de la realidad”.

Mucho más guionista que dibujante según su propia apreciación de sí mismo, hay algo que le llama la atención: la endémica escasez de buenos contadores de historias en un país que, asegura, en teoría está especialmente dotado para ello. “Hoy ya no hay buenos guionistas. Y me choca, coño, vivimos en un país de gente graciosa, tú vas a una reunión y siempre hay el típico tío con una memoria prodigiosa que te cuenta 48 chistes con una gracia que te despatarras de risa, pero yo no sé qué pasa que luego a la gente le das un lápiz y le pones delante de un papel y ¡pssssst! Y es una cosa general, yo creo que en el cine y en la televisión también pasa esto. Y en la literatura. Hay gente con un estilo literario tremendo…, pero un coñazo. Yo creo que Harold Bloom exagera cuando dice que desde Beckett no hay nada nuevo…, pero es verdad que yo ahora mismo no encuentro nada que me interese demasiado”. Y prosigue en su reivindicación a ultranza de los contadores de historias: “Yo nunca he sido un buen dibujante, ¿eh?, a veces me dicen: ‘Mira, Ibáñez, el dibujante’; y no, a lo sumo Ibáñez, el historietista. Hay gente que sí, que hace viñetas que podían colgarse en el Museo del Prado, o en el Louvre, o en la National Gallery, a mí se me cae la baba viendo lo que hacen. No es mi caso. Pero en cambio, a mí se me han dado siempre bien los guiones, contar historias. Y eso es muy dificilillo, ¿eh? Lo más importante en una historieta es el guion, es lo que atrapa al público. Tú puedes dibujar una página bestial, imponente, barroca, magnífica, pero si el guion no engancha, eso no funcionará. Lo que pasa es que después de 60 años… los temas se agotan. Antes cogías un lápiz y un bloc, te inventabas cuatro sketches y cuatro gags, los ligabas y tenías la historia. Ahora te pones delante del papel en blanco y te preguntas: ‘¿Y qué pongo?”.

Cuando toque corneta la evidencia del paso del tiempo y la llegada del descanso, a Ibáñez le quedarán sus criaturas, lo inventado, lo plasmado en papel y lápiz, tantas mañanas, tantas tardes y tantas noches a bordo del tablero de dibujo. Y más cosas, pero sobre todo una: sus lectores, los de antes y los de ahora, los de siempre, incluidos esos padres que compran tebeos a sus nenes para leerlos ellos. Recuerdos, homenajes al público: “Cuando empecé a hacer sesiones de firma de libros casi todos los que venían eran niños; ahora eso ha cambiado mucho, yo me atrevería a decir casi que vienen más adultos que niños, qué curioso, ¿verdad? Vienen médicos, abogados, arquitectos… y me cuentan cómo, algunos días de esos de nubarrones en la cabeza, se meten por la noche en la cama y cogen un albumito de los míos y acaban el día felices. Yo a veces pienso que a Mortadelo y Filemón los deberían vender en las farmacias, en tubitos, como somníferos”.

Se ve caer ya la tarde frente a la ventana de Francisco Ibáñez, por donde muere la Gran Vía y por donde Barcelona enciende sus luces. Debajo de su casa hay un bar de los de siempre y con lo de siempre, Los Porrillos, se llama, que ya es llamarse. Allí se acodará Ibáñez junto a Mortadelo y junto a Filemón Pi, el putilla y el eterno perdedor. A tomar algo y a preguntarse cosas. Cosas como por qué los vejestorios (o jovenzuelos) gerifaltes de la alta cultura nunca pudieron con los tebeos. “Ha habido siempre un desprecio total hacia los tebeos por parte de la alta cultura; yo me acuerdo de una vez que mi editor me hizo ir al Café Gijón a un encuentro de los autores más vendidos. Yo le dije: ‘No me jodas, ¿qué pinto yo en el Gijón, tú sabes qué autores estarán allí?’. Y bueno, bah, al final fui. Y todavía me acuerdo de ver cómo pasó delante de mí aquel autor de teatro, Buero Vallejo, y me miró como diciendo: ‘Pero ¿qué hace este desgraciao aquí?’. ¡Qué caras ponían al verme!”.

Pero oigan: que le quiten lo bailao, que levante el dedo el que haya vendido en este país más libros que Francisco Ibáñez. Que levante el dedo el que haya propiciado más nuevos lectores que él. Que se levante y se reivindique quien crea que ha llegado a más corazones que Mortadelo.


Mortadelo y Filemón, espejo de España

Parte I. Su historia

Es probable que cuando Francisco Ibáñez llegó en 1958 a la Editorial Bruguera con sus ilustraciones bajo el brazo ya no tuviera pelo. El asunto de la calvicie siempre ha estado muy presente en la obra del maestro, tanto en sus personajes como en las recurrentes caricaturas de sí mismo con las que se parodia en algunas de sus historias. De modo que, desde siempre, así lo recuerdan (recordamos) sus seguidores: calvo como una pelota de playa. Contaba solo con 22 años cuando llamó a la puerta de la editorial, pero en el imaginario de sus fans, Ibáñez ya era entonces calvo. Sin duda.

Traía el dibujante un proyecto que consistía en tiras cómicas en blanco y negro de dos detectives bastante torpes. No tenía claro el nombre, así que Ibáñez le comentó al editor que barajaba tres posibilidades: ‘Mr. Cloro y Mr. Yesca, agencia detectivesca’; ‘Ocarino y Pernales, agentes especiales’ y ‘Lentejo y Fideíno, detectives finos’.  Al editor le gustaron las historias en una proporción inversa a los nombres, así que decidió inventar unos nuevos: Mortadelo y Filemón, agencia de información.

Nacían así, sin demasiada fanfarria, dos personajes que ya son historia moderna de España. No es una exageración. O sí, pero no importa.
Las primeras andanzas de Mortadelo y Filemón, agencia de información fueron publicadas en la revista infantil Pulgarcito, de Editorial Bruguera. En concreto –dato para fans-, la primera aventura de la historia de Mortadelo y Filemón se publicó el 20 de enero de 1958, en el número 1.394 de Pulgarcito. Su éxito, desde ese momento, fue progresivo y durante los diez años que duró la publicación, las ventas de la revista no dejaron de aumentar.

En aquella década Mortadelo y Filemón eran dos detectives que se encargaban de casos bastante nimios. Para muchos, en esta primera época, la historieta era una parodia de Sherlock Holmes y el doctor Watson, cuyas aventuras estaban muy de moda por entonces. Mortadelo era el único empleado de la agencia, inocente e ingenuo, y Filemón era el jefe, sin sentido del humor y con fijación en reñir a Mortadelo.

Las historias siempre terminaban con una torpeza de manual de Mortadelo y el enfado de Filemón, que a veces se traducía en una persecución para agredirle. En realidad, Filemón lleva agrediendo a Mortadelo más de cincuenta años y pese a ello este último sigue aceptando este tipo de abusos sin quejarse.

En aquella época Mortadelo vestía traje negro con levita (levita que se mantiene hasta la actualidad), con un bombín en la cabeza y un paraguas del que, originariamente, sacaba los disfraces. Filemón –desde el minuto uno, el jefe– usaba un sombrero de fieltro, chaqueta roja y pipa. Estos portes son una de las primeras muestras de genialidad de Ibáñez, ya que nadie vestía así en la España de 1958. El universo particular y único de Mortadelo y Filemón acababa de nacer y ya era reconocible, sobre todo sus detalles de fondo que siguen vigentes hasta hoy: un perro fumando, una araña mareada o un ratón borracho. Cosas en las que ninguno de los personajes repara nunca, porque forma parte de la normalidad de su mundo.

Mortadelo se disfraza desde la segunda historieta, un recurso que se antojará fundamental en las cientos de historias posteriores de los personajes. Se cuenta –aunque nunca fue confirmado por el autor– que la idea de que Mortadelo se disfrazase fue de Manuel Vázquez Gallego, historietista contemporáneo de Ibáñez y amigo del autor. Los disfraces del personaje se van perfeccionando y ganando en complejidad y llegan a alcanzar su culmen cuando Mortadelo se disfraza de universo en El disfraz, cosa falaz (1995).

En realidad, ¿qué hay después del disfraz de universo? ¿Del disfraz de todo, de toda la materia y no materia? Es más, ¿dónde quedaba el universo real, la realidad material una vez Mortadelo se ha disfrazado de ella? ¿Es un universo-disfraz paralelo o abarca en sí mismo la realidad haciendo que sea una suerte de metadisfraz que contiene todo lo demás? Sea como sea, todo un logro por parte de Mortadelo.

Tres años después de su primera publicación, los personajes pierden los sombreros. El dibujo se estiliza y en 1966 adquieren, prácticamente, su aspecto actual. Filemón (del que se conoce el apellido: Filemón Pi) se despoja de su americana y su nariz disminuye. No así la de Mortadelo, que se mantiene poderosa y actúa como soporte a sus extrañas gafas: unas gafas con unas patillas de unos 15 centímetros hacia afuera, de modo que las lentes quedan notablemente separadas del rostro, algo absurdo, inútil, pero que Mortadelo nunca se detiene a pensar ni se plantea arreglar.

En 1969 el éxito es tan meridiano, que Editorial Bruguera decide crear Gran Pulgarcito, una revista más grande y amplia donde las historias cortas de Mortadelo y Filemón se convierten en aventuras largas. La primera historia extensa es el inolvidable El sulfato atómico.

Cuenta con un dibujo detallado y un trazo cuidado que Ibáñez nunca volvería a usar con tanto esmero (si acaso en Valor y… ¡al toro!, en 1970, pero no al mismo nivel). En esta historia la existencia y realidad de Mortadelo y Filemón cambian: ya no son dos detectives en una agencia cutre, ahora son, por primera vez, agentes especiales de la T.I.A. (Agencia de Investigación Aeroterráquea), al servicio del superintendente Vicente (conocido como el Súper) y con el apoyo logístico del profesor Bacterio, un reputado y desastroso científico que dejó calvo crónico a Mortadelo con un crecepelo infalible.

La aventura narra la misión de los dos agentes en Tirania, una república militarizada que –se supone– está en Centroeuropa y cuyo dictador, el general Bruteztrausen, tiene como ambición nada menos que dominar el mundo. Para lograrlo, el general se sirve del sulfato atómico, un invento del profesor Bacterio que, se suponía, iba a servir para eliminar plagas de las cosechas, pero cuyo efecto verdadero (los inventos del profesor Bacterio siempre producen resultados inversos a los pretendidos) es el de agrandar a los insectos hasta el tamaño de un elefante. El Súper, indignado porque Bacterio se haya dejado robar el potingue, envía a Mortadelo y Filemón a recuperarlo. El final, claro, no se debe contar.

El Sulfato atómico le van a seguir otros clásicos irrenunciables para fans, como Contra el gang del ChicharrónSafari Callejero (ambas también de 1969); la mencionada Valor y… ¡al toro! y E’ (1970) o Chapeau el ‘esmirriau’La caja de los diez cerrojosMagín el mago y ¡A la caza del cuadro! en 1971. Casi todos ellos tienen una estructura similar, con una serie de capítulos cíclicos en los que van resolviendo la misión para al final dar al traste con todo, algo que desencadena la ira del Súper.

Llama la atención la descomunal envergadura de las misiones que les encargan a dos agentes evidentemente torpes (destronar a un dictador, enfrentarse a la mafia italiana, recorrer el mundo en busca de diez llaves escondidas….) y cómo estos se prestan a ejecutarlas sin ningún tipo de garantía para su integridad. Pero en esto ahondaremos enseguida.

El éxito de las aventuras publicadas es tal, que la Editorial Bruguera decide crear en 1970 la revista Mortadelo y en 1971 arranca la colección Olé, tebeos de tapa blanda en el que se editan individualmente cada una de las historietas largas. Los lomos verdes de esta colección y sus portadas ya forman parte de la historia de cualquier treintañero que se precie.

En 1978 hace aparición otro clásico de la Transición: el Súper Humor, tomos de tapa dura en los que se editan dos o tres aventuras largas y que obligaban a pagar el alto peaje de leer a Zipi y Zape si se quería disfrutar de Mortadelo y Filemón.

Cuando arranca la década de los 80, los personajes de Ibáñez saborean la plenitud de su éxito. Incluso trascienden fronteras y se instalan en otros países europeos y latinoamericanos. Mort and Phil en Reino Unido, Paling and Ko en Holanda, Mortadelo e Salaminho en Brasil, Zriki Svargla & Sule Globus en Yugoslavia… y Clever & Smart en Alemania. El país germano fue el más receptivo de todos y el éxito de Mortadelo y Filemón allí fue –y es– casi tan grande como lo ha sido en España. De hecho, Ibáñez publicó en 1981 En Alemania, una aventura dedicada al país en la que los dos agentes recorren la geografía germana en una colección de parodias y estereotipos memorable: en Renania, Ibáñez retrata a los vecinos como unos austeros enfermizos.

El colmo es que Mortadelo y Filemón deben infiltrarse en el club del ahorro donde el tipo que les recibe les dice que solo lee las noches que hay relámpagos y moja el pan en la sombra del huevo frito. “Y solo soy conserje, oiga”. Los miembros del club se leen la mano porque no tienen libros, se sientan en el aire y al preguntarles a Mortadelo y Filemón si quieren tomar algo, se refieren a tomar el aire o tomar la tensión. Por cierto, en este álbum –aquel año– fueron censurados los chistes sobre el Muro de Berlín, al que Mortadelo y Filemón se acercaban por error y eran acribillados a balazos, bombas y granadas al grito de «¡Contraatacan los aliados desembarcados en Normandía!».

La idílica carrera de Ibáñez tropezó en 1985 cuando, tras un enfrentamiento con la Editorial Bruguera, pierde los derechos de sus personajes. El juicio duraría tres años durante los cuales Bruguera encargaría a otros dibujantes seguir realizando aventuras mortadelianas. Así, durante esa época, aparecen historias apócrifas, como A la caza del Chotta o La médium Paquita.

Sin saber exactamente lo que estaba pasando, somos muchos los niños de aquella época a los que algo nos olía mal, muy mal, en aquellas historias de trazo raro y humor desviado. El maestro regresó con sus derechos en 1988 y firmó un nuevo contrato con Ediciones B, del Grupo Zeta, con quien sigue ligado en la actualidad.

En esta nueva etapa Mortadelo y Filemón comienzan a vivir situaciones relacionadas con la actualidad. Sus historias ya no son atemporales y en lugares ficticios: ahora se desarrollan en lugares reales y con personajes que existen de verdad. En este resurgir se publican aventuras como El atasco de influenciasEl nuevo cate o Dinosaurios. Para no pocos lectores, estos títulos suponen los últimos grandes clásicos mortadelianos.

En los 90 el estilo de trazo cambia, desaparecen las revistas y ya no existen historias que no estén pegadas a la actualidad. ¡Llegó el euro!E’ o El carné al punto son la última hornada de historias que perdieron, en opinión de algunos, cierta parte de la esencia que caracterizaba a Mortadelo y Filemón. ¿En qué consiste o consistía esa esencia? Hablemos de ellos. Hablemos del universo paralelo en el que viven Mortadelo y Filemón.

Parte II. Su universo

Lo primero que hay que preguntarse es por qué Mortadelo y Filemón se prestan a llevar la vida que llevan. Dedican su vida a ser agentes encargados de realizar misiones de altísimo riesgo, en la mayoría de ellas se juegan la vida y atraviesan situaciones límite: reciben balazos, granadas, palizas, son atropellados, perseguidos, apresados y torturados. A cambio, reciben un miserable sueldo. Mortadelo y Filemón son pobres. Pobres de solemnidad. Visten siempre igual, compran camisas de quince pesetas y llevan agujeros en los calcetines. No tienen coche. Tampoco tienen casa: viven en una pensión. No siempre comen tres veces al día.

Con todo y con eso, se juegan la vida con encargos inhumanos propios de un boina verde. Por si fuera poco no tienen preparación: no saben pelear, no saben idiomas ni tienen ninguna habilidad especial más allá de la picaresca callejera que enseguida pasaremos a analizar. Y con eso y con todo se les exige lo máximo. Pero se les exige a golpes. Su jefe, el superintendente Vicente, les trata con despotismo. Él es millonario, tiene deportivos de lujo, casa de campo, fuma habanos y colecciona arte moderno. Y los trata a patadas. Les obliga a llevar a cabo sus misiones a la fuerza, apuntándoles con una escopeta o sometiéndoles a torturas (frotar su vientre con un erizo o hacerles ver varias horas seguidas El precio justo).

Mortadelo y Filemón, normalmente, se niegan e incluso huyen a la carrera tras escuchar las órdenes de su superior. Este no les abre un expediente o les echa por el desplante, simplemente encarga que los persigan y los traigan de vuelta. La relación laboral entre Mortadelo y Filemón y el Súper consiste en que este último les obliga a arriesgar su vida a la fuerza, sin recompensa económica y con medios precarios (jamás les proporciona un medio –como mucho les da unas suelas–, siempre tienen que desplazarse como polizones o en autobús de bajísima calidad) y estos terminan siempre aceptando.

Además, si la misión sale mal, el Súper intenta darles una paliza. Todo es esquizofrénico. En ningún momento Mortadelo o Filemón se paran y se plantean lo absurdo de su existencia. No tienen por qué aguantar golpes, miseria y sufrimiento a cambio de nada. Pero lo hacen. Ese es su universo. Su genial, hilarante y tremebundo universo.

La relación entre Mortadelo y Filemón también es asombrosa. Para empezar, se tratan de usted. Llevan décadas trabajando juntos, pero se tratan de usted. Hasta cuando se insultan: «Es usted un pollino» o se amenazan: «Le voy a agujerear el colodrillo». Nunca pierden las formas. En realidad, todo el mundo se trata de usted en el universo mortadeliano. Aunque se eleve la voz y el enfado, el usted se mantiene: «Oiga, eso usted a mí no me lo dice en la calle». Lo del trato de usted es de las pocas cosas que podemos contar de la vida privada de Mortadelo y Filemón.

Aunque en 1998 Ibáñez publicó Su vida privada, un álbum en el que se desvelan algunos detalles desconocidos hasta ese momento, la vida personal de ambos personajes es borrosa, a pesar de conocerlos desde hace más de cincuenta años. Sabemos que la familia de Mortadelo es de pueblo y la de Filemón urbanita. De hecho, en otro giro inexplicable, Filemón tiene relación con la alta sociedad: conoce a condes, duques y burgueses y sabe comportarse en sociedad. Eso, a pesar de que vive de una forma miserable sin que nadie de su entorno le eche un capote.

En 1971 Ibáñez había publicado La historia de Mortadelo y Filemón, pero de nuevo el retrato no es suficiente como para descubrir nada especial. Ese es parte de su encanto: que no está muy claro de dónde salen ni a dónde van estos personajes.

Su lugar de trabajo también es absurdo. ¿Qué es la TIA? ¿Una organización dependiente de qué? Sus agentes son torpes y miserablemente remunerados, pero en cambio la TIA recibe encargos directos del gobierno que les hacen tratar directamente con políticos extranjeros, mercenarios, ejércitos, mafias y supervisar eventos deportivos de primer orden. También les encargan misiones de escolta y hasta de sicarios. Más aún: existen organizaciones enemigas como la ABUELA o la SOBRINA, agencias con sede, perfecta organización y economía que viven –se supone– al margen de la ley. ¿De dónde salen estos entramados? ¿Cómo se financian?

Son respuestas que nunca obtendremos y son preguntas que los personajes jamás se plantean.

La dinámica de sus misiones es reconocible: Mortadelo arguye un plan, Filemón le escucha con emoción, lo ejecutan, fracasa y Filemón sufre terribles accidentes. Acto seguido, Filemón intenta dar una paliza a Mortadelo como represalia. Minutos después, Mortadelo vuelve a proponer otro plan y Filemón lo vuelve a aceptar. Nada ocurre después de las agresiones. Ni del Súper ni entre ellos.

Se dan puñetazos, se arrojan cosas, se tiran por la ventana y se dan todo tipo de golpes espantosos sin que haya absolutamente ningún tipo de rencor, enfado o recordatorio posterior. Golpearse forma parte de su comunicación no verbal normal.

La corrección política no existe: Ibáñez hace chistes con gays, obesas, negros, terroristas árabes, usureros judíos… nadie se libra. Ofelia, la secretaria de la TIA, es una mujer gorda, obsesionada con su imagen, pero esclava de su glotonería y que busca desesperadamente un novio. Un candidato recurrente es Mortadelo, por el que siente un amor-odio polarizado al límite. Mortadelo siempre la humilla. En una ocasión le ofrece un regalo. «Señorita Ofelia, le traigo un pajarito que es su viva imagen». Ofelia desconfía: «Um, ahí llega ese mendrugo calvo», pero enseguida cae rendida. «¿Sí?». «¿Una linda palomita blanca? ¿Un ave del paraíso?», pregunta emocionada. «No, una cotorra mollejuda del Afganistán». Y entonces Ofelia, ofendida, le lanza una plancha.

El universo al que pertenecen Mortadelo y Filemón es la España cañí llevada al extremo. La España todavía vigente de trampas, engaños, ignorancia, golferío y corrupción. Los deportistas españoles siempre ofrecen torrentes de excusas; en las fiestas de alta alcurnia, los invitados de la burguesía devoran caviar a dos manos y rajan sin piedad unos de otros. En El transformador metabólico (1979), la condesa se tropieza accidentalmente y acaba con el plato de caviar en la boca mientras cae con violencia hacia adelante. Dos señores de chaqué que contemplan la escena comentan: «Sí que trae hambre, la andoba».

La calidad de los productos nacionales es nefasta: las camisas son de trapo, el tabaco es Celtas sin filtro, los coches se estropean… Hay robos de gasolina, atracos, mecheros de contrabando de Andorra, inseguridad alarmante en las calles, cacos de manual y quinquis de toda la vida.

Para combatirlos está la policía que, por alguna razón, en la aventuras de Mortadelo y Filemón, van uniformados como bobbys ingleses y son llamados «gendarmes», a pesar de ser españoles. Es un misterio. Su comportamiento, en cambio, tiene poco de británico: la mayoría de policías aceptan sobornos, multan para hacer caja (mientras salivan y su nariz se torna aguileña) y recurren a la violencia a la mínima.

Los políticos, claro, no se libran. Son representados como torpes, vagos y extremadamente corruptos. Siempre llegan tarde a las cumbres mundiales, se quedan dormidos o meten la pata, como cuando el ministro debe anunciar que Barcelona es la sede elegida para los Juegos Olímpicos de 1992, pero se le traspapelan los documentos mientras se le caen las gafas y grita «¡Valdepera!».

En esta España de caricatura también se utiliza lo nacional para parodiar el atraso que vivía (y al fin y al cabo vive) España con respecto a otros países de su entorno. De ahí algunos importantes asuntos políticos que giran en el eje Washington-Berlín-Cuenca o reputados periódicos que lee el Súper como puede ser el Lugo Herald Tribune. Este atraso alcanza su culmen cuando Ibáñez traslada a sus agentes a un pueblo. Los pueblos de la España profunda son un escenario recurrente en las aventuras de Mortadelo y Filemón y en ellos la bruticie se muestra en plenitud. De hecho, el nombre de estas villas ya define a sus vecinos.

En Villacascajo de los Bestiajos, por ejemplo, los vecinos son una suerte de trogloditas que comparten cama con un caballo o agitan la vaca antes de ordeñarla para obtener mantequilla. La mejor caricatura al subdesarrollo rural aparece en Lo que el viento se dejó (1981), donde nada más entrar en el pueblo, Mortadelo y Filemón ven a un vecino haciendo grava a cabezazos contra las rocas.

El lenguaje también es único. Mortadelo, Filemón y todo el elenco de personajes que les rodean usan palabras que muchos de los lectores (muchos de nosotros) no habíamos oído antes ni en realidad hemos vuelto a escuchar. «Andoba, merluzo, rayos y centellas. Sapristi, corcho, sopla». La lista de vocablos que solo se usan en el universo mortadeliano es amplísima y su influencia en toda una generación, innegable.

Lo mismo pasa con los apodos de los villanos, ya sea Mike ‘El Trinchabueyes’ o Johny ‘Aplastayunques’, y los apellidos. Los apellidos mortadelianos son claves en la obra. Todos tienen que ver con la vida del que lo posee, aunque esta se haya definido con posterioridad, Así, el director de una importante compañía de tabacos se apellida Nicotínez, el inspector de Hacienda es Buítrez y dueño de la tienda de cactus se llama Agujeto Pinchúdez. Los agentes también responden a sus características a partir del apellido. El señor Numeríllez es el contable, Remúlez es el agente más fuerte y el agente Carbúrez es el encargado de mecánica. A veces se usa con ironía: Patricio Ardíllez es un agente anciano que no se sostiene en pie sin bastón.

Además de las palabras, las expresiones de Ibáñez vuelven a recurrir a la España profunda. Son constantes y los personajes no dejan de hacer alusiones a ese escenario de la España caricaturizada. A Mortadelo y Filemón les está succionando una turbina mientras tratan de huir y Mortadelo se queja: «¡Rayos! Esto chupa más que Hacienda!». Hay ejemplos a patadas: «Aquí dice que fumar da más disgusto que el RCD Espanyol», «es más débil que la cartera de un pensionista»… Nadie se libra.

Todas estas características van envueltas en un humor propio de Ibáñez y perfectamente identificable: el humor del tremendismo y la exageración. El humor de las caídas y golpes espantosos, de la torre de control diciendo al avión que no se puede aterrizar a ochocientos kilómetros por hora. En síntesis, el humor del llamado ‘fenómeno de la siguiente imagen’. Esto es, el personaje dice algo que prevé o cree que puede ocurrir y la siguiente imagen le muestra en la situación contraria llevada al extremo más bestia. «Saldré a dar una vuelta, que hace sol», dice Filemón sonriente en El huerto siniestro (1988). Y la siguiente viñeta muestra a Filemón bajo una inaudita tormenta de rayos y granizo.

La ‘siguiente imagen’ es un humor creado en España por Ibáñez y que ha influido mucho, muchísimo, en humoristas posteriores de todo ámbito. El señor que sale a la ventana a dar de comer a las palomas «porque es algo que me relaja, la tranquilidad de las palomas, su susurro, y viene muy bien para mi enfermedad grave de corazón». Y acto seguido un buitre loco sobre el que se aferra Filemón cae graznando desesperado sobre su ventana. Ibáñez siempre juega con las palabras y la exageración llevada al límite. Si un personaje busca un rato de silencio, le pasará un avión por encima. Si quiere cazar mariposas, será embestido por un rinoceronte.

Francisco Ibáñez siempre ha repetido que Mortadelo y Filemón no tienen mensaje. Que nada se esconde detrás de sus aventuras y que la intención única de sus historietas es hacer reír y olvidarse de todo lo demás.
La realidad es que, sea la intención del autor o no, las aventuras de Mortadelo y Filemón suponen uno de los retratos más esquizofrénicos e irreverentes que se ha hecho de la España postransición, evidentemente exagerado, pero que encierra una gran dosis de verdad.

Detrás de la caricatura llevada al límite, de las condiciones esclavistas de trabajo, de los políticos torpes y corruptos, los trapicheos de calle y el cutrerío generalizado, detrás de todo eso se encuentra un espejo en el que España refleja sus miserias y que todos reconocemos: reformas laborales, escándalos de corrupción, mafias y delincuentes asentados en España y un muy mejorable funcionamiento de las Administraciones. Una imagen de la que Ibáñez elige reírse. Tal vez sea ese el secreto de Mortadelo y Filemón: una forma de reírnos de nosotros mismos. Algo que, como todos sabemos, es infalible en el humor.


El armario del tiempo

El sulfato atómico

Magín, el mago

El Caso de los Gamberros

El balón catastrófico

Los superhéroes del Profesor Bacterio

El caso de los secuestradores

El caso de los sobornos

Testigo de cargo

Misión de perros

El caso de Billy El Horrendo

Los inventos del profesor Bacterio

El caso de los diamantes

 El caso de la Estatua de la Libertad

Safari callejero

¡Hay un traidor en la T.I.A.!

 La venganza de Ten-Go-Pis

La Brigada Bichera

El ansia del poder

La gallina de los huevos de oro

La elasticina

Casos aéreos

El otro «Yo» del Profesor Bacterio

La máquina de copiar gente

En busca del antídoto


Los cachorros majaretas

La Gran Aventura de Mortadelo y Filemón

Mortadelo y Filemón contra Jimmy el cachondo

Un jeune reporter

Hergé: biographie courte du père de Tintin

Né en 1907 près de Bruxelles, le jeune Georges Remi est un enfant turbulent qui se passionne pour le dessin. Il subit l’occupation allemande de la Première Guerre mondiale. Amateur de scoutisme durant son adolescence, ses premiers dessins sont publiés dans des revues scouts de Belgique. Il prend alors pour pseudonyme Hergé, formé à partir des initiales de son nom et prénom (RG). En 1925, il commence à travailler pour le journal Le Vingtième Siècle. Il se voit confier à partir de 1928 la responsabilité du lancement du Petit Vingtième, un supplément jeunesse comportant des pages de bandes dessinées. Dans cet hebdomadaire, Hergé va créer plusieurs personnages. Le plus célèbre d’entre eux, Tintin, voit le jour en 1929. Les voyages de ce jeune reporter connaissent un succès retentissant en Belgique dès les premières semaines de parution.

En 1932, Hergé épouse sa première femme Germaine Kieckens. Au début de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, la Belgique est annexée par l’Allemagne nazie. Le Vingtième Siècle cesse de paraitre et Hergé est engagé par le journal Le Soir, qui devient sous l’occupation un journal collaborationniste. Après la Libération, Hergé est soupçonné de collaboration et d’antisémitisme, comme beaucoup de personnes ayant travaillé au Soir. Il est pendant un temps interdit de publication. La création des Éditions du Lombard en 1946 permet la diffusion du Journal de Tintin et le retour d’Hergé, nommé directeur artistique du projet. A partir des années 1950, le phénomène Tintin prend une ampleur mondiale. Des adaptations et produits dérivés voient le jour dès 1959. Fatigué par plusieurs épisodes de dépression et des problèmes de santé, Hergé ne peut plus garder la même productivité qu’auparavant. En 1977, il divorce et se remarie avec Fanny Rodwell, aujourd’hui propriétaire d’une partie des droits sur l’œuvre de son mari. Hergé s’éteint en 1983 à l’âge de 75 ans.

Les Aventures de Tintin : l’œuvre majeure d’Hergé

Hergé crée le personnage de Tintin en 1929, alors qu’il cherche de nouvelles idées de personnages à intégrer dans Le Petit Vingtième. L’apparence de Tintin est probablement inspirée du personnage de Totor, dessiné par Hergé entre 1926 et 1930 pour Le Boy-scout belge. Il va faire vivre à ce jeune reporter et son fidèle chien Milou de nombreuses enquêtes à travers le monde. La première se déroule en URSS et est intitulée Tintin au pays des Soviets. L’idée a été soumise à Hergé par le directeur du Vingtième siècle, Norbert Wallez, hostile aux idées communistes et fervent admirateur de Mussolini. Cette bande dessinée hebdomadaire gagne en popularité en Belgique et attire l’attention de la maison d’éditions Casterman. Hergé y signe un contrat en 1934 pour compiler et publier Les Aventures de Tintin en albums. C’est vers cette période que l’auteur commence à effectuer des recherches plus poussées pour ses histoires. Sa rencontre et son amitié avec le sculpteur Zhang Chongren, alors étudiant, a une influence dans sa manière de raconter l’histoire du Lotus bleu. Hergé a collaboré avec d’autres auteurs de bandes dessinées célèbres comme Edgar P . Jacobs et Jacques Martin. Ces derniers l’ont aidé pour la refonte graphique et la colorisation, mais conseillent aussi Hergé sur les histoires de Tintin. La dernière aventure, Tintin et l’Alph-Art, est publiée à titre posthume et demeure inachevée. La série est aujourd’hui vendue à plusieurs centaines de millions d’exemplaires et traduite dans près d’une centaine de langues.

Tintin a été adapté au cinéma à plusieurs reprises. Il a également fait l’objet de plusieurs adaptations en dessins animés. On peut mentionner les histoires originales créées dans les années 60 comme Tintin et le Mystère de la Toison d’Or (1961) et Tintin et les Oranges bleues (1964). Elles sont jouées par de vrais acteurs, avec Jean-Pierre Talbot dans le rôle de Tintin. Un film en images de synthèse réalisé par Steven Spielberg, Les Aventures de Tintin : Le Secret de La Licorne, est sorti en 2011. Une histoire originale en dessin animé intitulée Tintin et le Lac aux requins sort en 1972. Enfin, on dénombre deux séries animées notables qui adaptent les bandes dessinées Tintin. La première, Les Aventures de Tintin, d’après Hergé, commence en 1959 et s’achève en 1964. Elle est produite par les studios Belvision. La plus connue aujourd’hui reste cependant la seconde, Les Aventures de Tintin, commencée en 1991 et plus fidèle aux albums d’Hergé. Elle est le fruit d’une collaboration franco-canadienne, produite par Ellipse et Nelvana.

Les autres séries de bandes dessinées réalisées par Hergé

Même si Hergé est principalement connu pour Les Aventures de Tintin, il est également à l’origine d’autres séries de bandes dessinées. Chronologiquement, Les Aventures de Totor, C. P. des Hannetons sont les premières histoires qu’il publie à partir de 1926. Totor, un scout débrouillard, possède de nombreuses similitudes avec Tintin et semble avoir été une source d’inspiration pour la création de ce dernier. Dès la création du Petit Vingtième, Hergé dessine L’Extraordinaire aventure de Flup, Nénesse, Poussette et Cochonnet (1928-1929), une histoire centrée sur plusieurs enfants et leur cochon gonflable. En 1930, un an après le début de publication de Tintin, Hergé décide de créer une nouvelle bande dessinée, mais avec un format plus court, Quick et Flupke. Centrée sur les farces de deux enfants vivant à Bruxelles dans le quartier des Marolles, la série connaît un certain succès pendant les cinq premières années. Comme les albums de Tintin, elle va subir une colorisation et une refonte graphique, puis être compilée en 12 volumes par Casterman. En 1934 paraît Popol et Virginie au pays des Lapinos. On y suit le voyage de deux oursons en pleine conquête de l’Ouest. Enfin, dans Les Aventures de Jo, Zette et Jocko (1936), deux frère et sœur et leur fidèle chimpanzé Jocko vivent des aventures aux quatre coins du globe. La série compte un total de cinq volumes, encore une fois édités par Casterman.


Hergé à l’ombre de Tintin (vidéo)

Qui sont ceux qui ont inspiré les personnages de Tintin

Avec 230 millions d’albums vendus dans le monde, impossible d’être passé à côté des personnages cultes de George Remi, alias Hergé. 87 ans qu’ils existent et autant de générations qui ont suivis leurs aventures aux quatre coins du monde, du château de Moulinsart au Tibet,en passant par la Lune. Mais les connaît-on vraiment ? Rendu célèbre par sa fameuse ligne claire, son réalisme et son sens de la représentation, celui que beaucoup considèrent comme « le père de la bande dessinée européenne » prenait plaisir à puiser dans son quotidien et dans l’actualité pour inspirer décors, atmosphères et personnages.« Si je vous disais que dans Tintin j’ai mis toute ma vie », on lui répondrait « Et sans doute un peu de celle des autres ». Alors que le Grand Palais rend hommage au dessinateur belge dans une exposition à l’affiche jusqu’au 17 janvier 2017, retour sur ces hommes et femmes, réels ou non, qui ont inspirés ces fameux personnages dont les bulles sont traduites dans plus d’une centaine de langues. Rendons à César, ce qui est à César.

Maria Callas Le fameux rossignol milanais des Aventures de Tintin ne pouvait pas avoir un autre modèle. Librement inspirée par celle que l’on surnommait la Diva, la Castafiore en est sa version cartoonesque. La vraie a boulversée les codes de l’interprétation lyrique par son timbre de voix et l’étendue de son répertoire, devenant ainsi l’une des plus grandes cantatrices du XXème siècle. La fictive est surtout connue pour pourrir la vie de son entourage et plus particulièrement celle du Capitaine Haddock (qu’elle affectionne tout particulièrement) avec son morceau préféré, le seul qu’elle interprète en sept albums de Tintin : L’air des Bijoux, chanté par le personnage de Marguerite dans Faust de Charles Gounod. Si Maria Callas l’a surement interprété au cour de sa carrière, l’Histoire ne dit pas si, comme la Castafiore, elle revint sur scène pour quinze rappels… C’est dans Paris-Match (une de ses sources favorites) que le dessinateur trouvait images et détails sur la vie de la cantatrice la plus célèbre de son époque. Tante NiniePour ce personnage, Hergé se serait également inspirée de sa tante Ninie, qui, lorsqu’il était enfant, avait l’habitude de faire partager à toute la famille la puissance de ses cordes vocales. Traumatisant à vie le petit George Remi et installant à jamais, chez lui, une aversion pour l’opéra.Morceau choisi« Aaaaaaaah ! Je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir! Est-ce toi Marguerite? Est-ce toi ? Répond moi ! Répond , répond , répond, répooooooond ! »

Capitaine Craddock« Quel est celui de tous mes personnages que je préfère ? Je crois bien que c’est le capitaine Haddock. Il a tellement de défauts que je le reconnais presque comme un ami intime […] », voilà ce qu’en disait Hergé. En effet, coups de gueule, maladresse et tempérament de feu sont l’apanage du Capitaine Haddock, sans doute le plus proche ami de Tintin après Milou. Quant aux origines de celui que ses intimes appellent Archibald, il faut aller les chercher dans un obscure film franco-allemand de Hanns Schwartz et Max de Vaucorbeil, Le Capitaine Craddock, avec l’acteur Jean Murat dans le rôle éponyme. Grand fan, Hergé fait même chanter une chanson de ce film à son personnage dans Le Crabe aux pinces d’or : Les Gars de la marine.À poisson fumé Mais d’après la première femme du dessinateur le nom de « Haddock » viendrait simplement d’un « triste poisson anglais ». Le mot français d’origine anglaise désigne également de l’églefin fumé. Sympa.Morceau choisi« Au large, flibustier ! Hors de ma vue, gibier de potence ! Sapajou ! Marchand de tapis ! Paranoïaque ! Moule à gaufres ! Cannibale ! Ornithorynque ! Boit-sans-soif ! Bachi-bouzouk ! Anthropophage ! Cercopithèque ! Schizophrène ! Heu… Jocrisse ! Pirate ! Ectoplasme ! Coloquinte ! Rapace ! Trompe-la-mort ! Ostrogoth! Vandale ! »

Hergé Tintin, 16 ans pour toujours, un chien pour seul famille, reporter que personne n’a jamais vu rédiger un seul article, houpette légendaire et coeur pur, n’a au premier abord que très peu si ce n’est aucune ressemblance avec son créateur. Et pourtant : « Plus ou moins volontairement, je me suis » mis » dans mes héros, dans Tintin surtout, qui m’offre une image parfaite, trop parfaite de ce que je voudrais être […] Tintin c’est moi… Ce sont mes yeux, mes sens, mes poumons, mes tripes ! Je crois que je suis seul à pouvoir l’animer, dans le sens de donner une âme ».L’explication d’Hergé se suffit à elle même.Morceau choisi« Une boîte à conserve + un noyé + cinq fausses pièces + Karaboudjan + un Japonais + une lettre + un enlèvement = un fameux casse-tête chinois… »

Augsute Piccard Dur de la feuille, pour ne pas dire complètement sourd, un peu timbré, portant la moustache, la barbichette, les lunettes rondes et parfois le chapeau melon, ce cher Tryphon doit son physique quelque peu ingrat au physicien suisse Auguste Piccard. Si le premier est pratiquement nain, le second était plutôt élancé. Hergé expliquait cette différence par le fait qu’il avait besoin de faire rentrer Tournesol dans les cases, faisant ainsi de lui un « mini-piccard ». Tout deux partagent une passion commune : l’exploration de la verticalité par des moyens hydrostatiques (pour les non-initiés, grâce à des fusées ou sous-marins). Vaste programme… Yves RocardLes scientifiques qui utilisent un pendule (ce petit poids pendu à un fil que le professeur Tournesol trimballe partout avec lui) ne sont pas si répandus. Concrètement il n’y en a que deux de notoires : Tryphon et le professeur Yves Rocard (1903-1992) du Collège de France, connu pour ses travaux sur la radiesthésie et donc lui aussi totalement fana de pendules.Morceau choisi « C’est inouï ! C’est prodigieux ! C’est incroyable ! Dire que dans quelques minutes, ou bien nous marcherons sur le sol de la Lune, ou bien nous serons tous morts ! C’est merveilleux ! »

Zhang ChongrenAmi de Tintin, Tchang Tchang-Jen a bien existé. Un beau jour de mai 1934, on présente à Hergé un jeune homme brun, fluet, aux traits asiatiques. Il s’appelle Zhang Chongren et a quitté sa Chine natale pour étudier les beaux-arts dans la capitale belge. Pendant plus d’un an, tous les dimanches, Zhang servira de coach à Hergé pour dessiner Le Lotus Bleu. De ce travail commun est né une amitié profonde qui a souvent alimenté les fantasmes d’une relation amoureuse… Le Tchang de papier semble être le premier vrai ami de Tintin, qu’il rencontre durant son voyage en Chine dans Le Lotus Bleu. En le quittant pour l’Europe, le petit reporter belge verse quelques-unes des très rares larmes de sa carrière. Heureusement, ils se recroiseront dans Tintin au Tibet et les Bijoux de la Castafiore.Morceau choisi« Il y a un arc-en-ciel dans mon coeur, Vénérable ! Je pleure le départ de Tintin et je ris de retrouver un papa et une maman ! »

Présents dans pratiquement tous les tomes des Aventures de Tintin (20 albums sur 24), les Dupondt sont en général synonymes de catastrophes en tout genre. Sosies parfaits, les deux policiers ne se distinguent qu’à leur moustache. Dupont la taille droite et Dupond la taille recourbée vers l’extérieur. Facile. Les exégètes de Tintin ont toujours cité le père et l’oncle d’Hergé pour percer le mystère de Dupont et Dupond. Alexis et Léon Rémi qui étaient de véritables jumeaux – contrairement aux deux agents de la police judiciaire qui ne seraient que de simples sosies – s’habillaient à l’identique : canotier, canne et chemise blanche. Sans oublier la belle moustache bien fournie. En créant les Dupondt, Hergé a expliqué vouloir montrer cette catégorie de gens qui « parce que le devoir est censé le leur imposer, arrêtent sans dilemme de conscience particulier un ami et font passer leur conscience professionnelle avant leur humanité ». À chacun de faire ses propres suppositions…Morceau choisi Dupond : « Et hop ! Encore un mirage ! » Dupont: « Tu crois ? Ça n’en a pas l’air. À ta place je ferais une petit virage et… » Dupond: « Moi, faire un virage pour un stupide rimage ? Euh…Un rivage pour un mirage…Non, un mirage pour un virage…euh…Enfin, jamais de la vie : je continue tout droit. »


Les Aventures de Tintin

Tintin au pays des Soviets (1930)

Tintin au Congo (1931)

Tintin en Amérique (1932)

Les Cigares Du Pharaon (1934)

Le Lotus bleu (1936)

 L’Oreille cassée (1937)

L’île Noire (1938)

Le sceptre d’Ottokar (1939)

Le Crabe aux Pinces D’Or (1941)

L’étoile mystérieuse (1942)

Le Secret De La Licorne (1943)

Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge (1944)

Les Sept Boules De Cristal (1948)

Le Temple Du Soleil (1949)

Au pays de l’or noir (1950)

Objectif Lune (1953)

Les Aventures de Tintin (1954)

L’ Affaire Tournesol (1956)

Coke en stock (1958)

Tintin Au Tibet (1960)

Les Bijoux De La Castafiore (1963)

Vol 714 pour Sydney (1968)

Tintin et les Picaros (1976)

Un Hombre Sincero

Guantanamera, una canción cubana cantada por todos

Genial y sencilla, Joseíto Fernandez concibió su canción, catalogada por los expertos como guajira-son. El autor simplemente quería que su obra hablara de cualquier cubano y que todos la cantaran. Tal como lo quiso, pudo disfrutarlo en vida, así lo reconoció en unas declaraciones a la prensa de su época: “Es una melodía que admite versos de cualquier tipo; compuestos en cuartetas o décimas, y lo mismo felicitábamos a la muchacha de Villa Clara, que pedíamos clemencia para un trabajador cesante, por la CMCO”.

No obstante las múltiples polémicas sobre el origen de este canto y su melodía, sin dudas nacido del folclor cubano, lo cierto es que “La Guantanamera” se transformó en diferentes momentos históricos para ser conocida en el mundo entero, sin perder su simbolismo, inequívoco referente de cubanía.

En las décadas del 30, el 40 y el 50 del siglo pasado, difundida en la radio y la televisión comerciales de entonces, esta canción marcó en Cuba un suceso musical, publicitario y hasta de propaganda política en la denuncia de los asesinatos cometidos por las fuerzas policiales y el ejército de la República en esos años.

El norteamericano Pete Seeger incorporó “La Guantanamera” al repertorio de su grupo, The Weavers ,y el 8 de junio de 1963, durante un concierto en el Carnegie Hall de Nueva York, quedó grabado el tema en un disco de larga duración. Desde ese momento comenzó la popularidad internacional de la obra, que a lo largo del tiempo ha florecido en más de 150 versiones realizadas por reconocidos intérpretes e instrumentistas como el Trío The Sandpipers, Richard Clayderman, Libertad Lamarque, José Feliciano, Tito Puente, Julio Iglesias, Marco Antonio Muñíz, Joan Baez, Los 5 Latinos, Celia Cruz, Compay Segundo, entre otros.

Y como el buen arte trasciende fronteras y diferencias idiomáticas y culturales, también esta canción ha sido versionada como “You only sing when you’re winning” (Sólo cantas cuando estás ganando), uno de los cantos más populares de fútbol entre los aficionados británicos.

A Julián Orbón, músico hispano-cubano, se le atribuye un aporte vital a la composición, el reajuste de la melodía para incorporar los versos sencillos de José Martí, un sello sin igual del contenido patriótico de la canción, a partir de que es Martí el Héroe Nacional Cubano. Tal vez inspirados por el espíritu de fundar la República con Todos y para el bien de Todos, 75 artistas cubanos grabaron “La Guantanamera” en una producción musical que abarcó varias ciudades del mundo.

Esta iniciativa impulsada por la fundación Playing for Change, reunió en Cuba las grabaciones de Carlos Varela, X Alfonso, Síntesis, los pianistas Hernán López Nussa y Michelle Fragoso, Luis Conte en la percusión, Gastón Joya en el bajo y la cantautora Diana Fuentes, además de otros músicos y cantantes; mientras que en Miami grabaron Alexander “Pupi” Carriera, el tresero Joel Peña, la cantante Aymeé Nubiola, Carlos Puig y Luis Bofill. Como resultado se estrenó un videoclip en 2014 homenajeando “La Guantanamera”.

Dentro y fuera de la Isla, esta canción representa a los cubanos y su riquísimo folclor, así como rinde homenaje a la obra poética del más universal de todos los nacidos en la Mayor de las Antillas, quien aseguró que la música es la más bella forma de lo bello.


Joseíto Fernández y su Guajira guantanamera

Lo vimos muchas veces por el barrio de Los Sitios, en Centro Habana. Caminaba con elegancia y ritmo aquel hombre alto y huesudo que, vestido invariablemente de guayabera y pantalón blanco y tocado con un jipijapa auténtico, parecía un Quijote tropical. Era Joseíto Fernández, El Rey de la Melodía, el creador de la famosísima Guajira guantanamera, la pieza musical cubana, junto con El manisero, de Simons, y La comparsa, de Lecuona, más difundida en el mundo.

Esa melodía no es guajira ni tampoco guantanamera. Quiere decir esto que no es oriunda de la provincia cubana de Guantánamo ni pertenece al género musical conocido como guajira. Joseíto Fernández la creó en 1928, en tiempos en que se iniciaba como cantante de sones, y la estrenó en la radio en 1935. Fue, a partir de 1940, el tema que identificó a su orquesta hasta que tres años después el cantante era contratado en exclusiva por una firma jabonera para que la interpretara en el programa radial El suceso del día, que escenificaba hechos de la crónica roja. Un poeta repentista componía la décimas o espinelas que recreaban el suceso criminal, y Joseíto las cantaba incorporándole el conocido estribillo de Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera. Aquello llegó a ser tan popular que, aunque el programa desapareció en 1957, todavía se oye decir en Cuba que a alguien le cantaron la Guantanamera cuando ha llevado la peor parte en un incidente desafortunado.

No es esa la Guantanamera que hoy recorre el mundo ni la que se repite en la Isla. Sino la que lleva versos de José Martí. En los años 50 Julián Orbón, compositor español avecindado en La Habana, la versionó con los Versos sencillos del Apóstol de la Independencia de Cuba, cuya métrica se ajustaba a las coplas de ocho compases que interpretaba Joseíto. En 1962, el músico Héctor Ángulo, becado en EE UU por el Gobierno Revolucionario, cantó esa versión en un campamento de verano de ese país. Así la escuchó Pete Seeger y la grabó poco después con el título de La guantanamera.

Sería a partir de esa grabación que algunos musicólogos se aventuraron a decir que Guajira guantanamera era una tonada hecha por el pueblo, un aire folclórico del que Joseíto se había apropiado. No hubo tal cosa. No se trata de un género anónimo, como el guaguancó o el son, sino de una guajira-son escrita en compases de dos por cuatro, a diferencia de las guajiras de Anckermann, que tomó elementos del punto y de la clave de raíces españolas y están escritas en compases de seis por ocho. El hecho de que ningún testimonio literario pruebe su similitud con otra tonada, confirma su originalidad, aunque tenga giros y cadencias parecidos al punto, la guajira y el son.

Hay algo más importante y definitivo. La versión cantada por Seeger tiene los elementos melódicos que se aprecian en la versión de la Guantanamera que para la disquera Víctor hizo Joseíto Fernández con su Orquesta Típica en 1941. En ese mismo año, su autor la registraba con el título de Mi biografía y el subtítulo de Guajira guantanamera.

Para Joseíto fue siempre un honor que versos de Martí se incorporaran a su melodía. Él mismo llegó a cantarla en esa versión y lo hizo como habitualmente se hace en la Isla: incorporando casuísticamente nuevas estrofas martianas y suprimiendo otras, a diferencia de la versión de Seeger, que incluye siempre los mismos versos. Afirmó en una ocasión que la Guantanamera fue siempre una canción protesta, de denuncia, porque recogía la tristeza y la desgracia de un pueblo y que, al pedir bienestar y justicia para ese pueblo, los reclamaba también para sí.

Porque aquel hombre íntegro, complaciente y amable, habanero hasta la muerte, tuvo un origen muy humilde que nunca olvidó. A los doce años había comenzado como aprendiz de zapatero, pero en la Compañía Nacional de Calzado, donde laboraba, solo percibía un peso diario cuando había trabajo, que era durante tres o cuatro meses al año. Vendía periódicos cuando quedaba parado y las serenatas que ofrecía con otros músicos de su edad le ayudaban a acopiar algunos pesos.

Así se convirtió en el cantante del sexteto Juventud Habanera. Trabajó después con otras agrupaciones musicales hasta que alcanzó popularidad con la orquesta de Raymundo Pía. Con ella recorrió la Isla y se presentó en bailes y emisoras radiales. Logró al fin conformar su propia orquesta y fue ahí que empezó a usar como tema la Guajira guantanamera. Con ella, en sus presentaciones en vivo o por radio, lo mismo felicitaba a una muchacha de Cabaiguán por su cumpleaños que pedía clemencia para un chofer de ómnibus involucrado en un accidente de tránsito.

Joseíto Fernández nació el 5 de septiembre de 1908 y murió el 11 de octubre de 1979.



Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crecen las palmas
Yo soy un hombre sincero
De donde crece la palma
Y antes de morir yo quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

Y antes de morir yo quiero
Echar mis versos del alma

Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

No me pongan en lo oscuro
A morir como un traídor
No me pongan en lo oscuro
A morir como un traídor

Yo soy bueno y como bueno
Moriré de cara al sol
Yo soy bueno y como bueno
Moriré de cara al sol

Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
Con los pobres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace mas que el mar
El arroyo de la sierra
Me complace más que el mar

Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Tiene el leopardo un abrigo
En su monte seco y pardo
Tiene el leopardo un abrigo
En su monte seco y pardo
Yo tengo más que el leopardo
Porque tengo un buen amigo

Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera


Guajira Guantanamera
Guajira Guantanamera

Joseito Fernandez

Pete Seeger (1967)

Nana Mouskouri (1967)

Joe Dassin

Quilapayún (1989)

Nana Mouskouri y Francis Lalannes (1991)

Hertzainak (1991)

Die Toten Hosen (1993)

Los Sabandeños (1996)

Compay Segundo (1998)

Celia Cruz (1999)

Wyclef Jean All Stars Jam 2001

Celia Cruz, Jarabe de Palo y Luciano Pavarotti (2001)

Vocal Sampling (2001)

Raíces de América (2007)

Leon Gieco

Mariana Avena (2012)

Zucchero (2012)

75 musicos cubanos en el mundo (2014)

Los Lobos (2019)

Conga Tour y Amigos (2020)

Body Language

What is a Tattoo?

A tattoo is an ink design inserted into the skin, commonly via a needle. In various forms, it has been used ornamentally and religiously by humans for thousands of years, with examples found on numerous preserved prehistoric specimens. Humans also use identification tattoos on domesticated animals, particularly livestock. Examples can be seen in most human cultures, and despite some social stigma, tattoos are becoming ubiquitous in the West, with an estimated 25% of Americans wearing at least one by the end of the 20th century.

The word is likely related to the Samoan tatau, meaning «to strike or mark.» Tattoos became popularized in the Western world when sailors began to explore the Pacific and return with them. In Japan, where there is a long historical tradition of skin art, the word irezumi refers to traditional Japanese tattoos, while tattoo is used in discussions of other types of tattoo art. Tattoo owners sometimes shorten the word to tat or use the terms inkart, or work to talk about the designs they wear.

People receive tattoos for a variety of reasons: to identify themselves with a religious or social group, to adorn their bodies, as protective symbols, to cover skin discolorations, or as ongoing art and social projects. Most tattoo artists are themselves heavily tattooed. Some individuals have been forcibly tattooed, most notably victims of the Holocaust and prisoners.

Prehistoric tattoos were likely created by scoring the flesh with knives and rubbing in ink, ash, or another dye agent. These works were probably more susceptible to infection, and also less detailed than modern versions. Most of the extant examples consist of lines and dots on various points of the body. The introduction of needles made from bone and wood to the art of tattoo began hundreds of years ago and made for more precision, less infection, and less painful work. Many traditional tattoos are still hand poked with tools such as animal bone, sharpened bamboo, or steel.

However, Thomas Edison‘s invention of the autographic printer in 1876 paved the way for an electric tattoo machine capable of striking the skin hundreds of times in a minute, making the designs faster and much more widespread. Modern machines are strikingly different in operation than Edison’s invention, although the same basic principle is followed. An electric tattoo machine operates using an electromagnet, and as the circuit is opened and closed, it causes a bar connected to the needle to move. Depending on the speed setting, the needle can move between 80 and 120 times a second, allowing the artist to penetrate the skin without laborious hand work.

A variety of pigments and inks are used in modern tattoo, ranging from traditional black to a wide range of colors. Some of the colors used for pigment may be toxic, raising concerns about extensive color work. If concerned, ask the artist about what pigments he or she is using and whether any adverse reactions to the inks have been noticed. Many tattoos will also require touchup, as exposure to sunlight and water degrades the inks.

When receiving a tattoo, it is important to make sure that proper hygienic measures are taken. Make sure that the studio is clean and that the artist is wearing gloves and using autoclaved needles. Most tattoo artists keep their work areas scrupulously clean, only laying out the materials they need to perform your work. Artists have varying aftercare instructions for a new tattoo, and it is generally advisable to follow the directions for quick, clean, beautiful healing.


A History of Tattooing Traditions Around the World

Tattoos aren’t always taboo. Discover how they developed in nations around the world, across thousands of years.

Tattoos are so commonplace these days—especially in the United States—that only the wildest, most unusual art attracts attention. Full arm sleeves, face ink, and even brands are so omnipresent that it’s hard to recall a time when tattoos were taboo.

According to one 2019 poll, 40% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 have at least one tattoo. For all other age groups, the number only goes down to 30%.

This kind of ubiquity isn’t universal, however, and neither is the blasé attitude toward having something relatively meaningless inked on an arm or a leg.

In many parts of the world, tattoos are still rare. In others, they’re linked to centuries of cultural and religious tradition.

The rise of casual ink in the last 100 years or so is a blip in the much longer scheme of tattoo history. Otzï the Iceman, one of the oldest mummified humans in the world, had more than 61 tattoos and lived sometime between 3350 and 3105 B.C.E.

Archaeologists discovered tattoos on the mummified body of Amunet, an ancient Egyptian priestess of the goddess Hathor, dating between 2134 and 1991 B.C.

Tattooing has differed in practice and purpose over the millennia, but it remains one of the most popular—and oldest—methods of body modification.

Here, take a look at tattooing traditions around the world, from Japanese irezumi to Māori tā moko and Russian temhota.

Tattooing Traditions in Africa

Africa is home to some of the oldest tattoo traditions in the entire world. Archaeologists have found tattoos on ancient Egyptians dating back to 2000 B.C.E. They were almost exclusively found on women. Archaeologists can only speculate about the meaning of these tattoos but, in some instances, they seem to reflect a desire to associate the wearer with a god or goddess (as with Amunet, the priestess). The designs were relatively simple—thin lines, dashes, and dots—but some scholars believe that the placement, often over the abdomen, reflected a desire for the wearer to protect her children in the womb. 

Farther south, some cultures practiced skin scarification. This involves cutting away skin with a blade to create scars that form intentional patterns.

In some countries—Nigeria and Burkina Faso, for example—these markings were a means of identification, to indicate citizenship with a particular tribe.

The practice declined rapidly in the 20th century. However, scarification still appears in some regions, especially among older people.

Tattoos of Southeast Asia & the Indian Subcontinent

the most popular forms across Thailand and Cambodia is the sak yant.

The sacred, often geometric patterns, hand engraved on the skin by Buddhist monks, were originally meant to provide strength and protection to the wearer. (Angelina Jolie’s sak yant tattoo is arguably one of the most famous present-day examples.)

In the Philippines, batok is a general term for the tattoo style worn by indigenous tribes.

The process of receiving a batok tattoo is very painful and labor intensive. The tattooist taps the design into the skin using a bamboo stick dipped in wet charcoal.

Designs can include geometric patterns, as well as animals and plants native to the islands.

Westerners may also be familiar with the Indian practice of mehndi, which is drawn on the skin with non-permanent henna dye. Mehndi designs, often worn on the hands and arms, are usually ornate and elaborate.

The tradition is still commonly used to commemorate occasions like Hindu weddings and holidays including Diwali, but mehndi is also prevalent in some Muslim communities.

Ink Throughout East Asia

While Southeast Asia has a rich—and culturally accepted—tradition of tattooing, East Asia is a different story. Japan and China, for example, associate tattoos with criminals, and they’re still taboo today. (In contemporary Japan, it’s not uncommon to see signs at pools and gyms warning patrons to cover any visible tattoos.)

Even so, the region has several distinctive styles of ink. Some Japanese gang members, a.k.a. yakuza, are known for having elaborate, brightly colored tattoos that cover their arms, backs, and torsos.

Called irezumi, these designs often include animals, plants, and mythical beasts that you might also find in traditional Japanese woodblock prints. (Though rare, they’re no longer merely the domain of criminals.)

In Taiwan, the indigenous Atayal people are known for a facial tattooing tradition called ptasan. Past recipients previously had to prove they were accomplished at a certain task—weaving or hunting, perhaps—before they could be tattooed.

Men would receive a forehead tattoo upon their coming of age with a chin band added later. Women’s designs usually spanned from their ears down to their lips in a V shape.

As in Japan, modern China isn’t particularly tattoo-friendly. Still, tattooing dates back to ancient times, appearing on mummies from Siberia and Western China.

Known as chi shen, these designs were spiritual in nature and occasionally used to convey social status. (Tattoos of Chinese characters, however, aren’t a traditional form of chi shen and are most commonly seen in the West.)

Designs in Oceania

Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the South Pacific boast some of the most recognizable tattoo traditions in the world. This is fitting, given that the word “tattoo” derives from the Samoan word tatau, which means “to strike.”

In Samoa, men’s tattoos are called pe’a while women’s are called malu. Both involve intricate black designs usually inked across the arms. For a famous example of a traditional Samoan tattoo, have a look at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s left arm, which he had inked over 60 hours by a famous Tahitian artist.

The Māori of New Zealand call their form of tattooing tā moko. The practice was originally reserved for high-ranking members of society, and tattooists were considered secret.

Men were usually inked on their faces, thighs, and buttocks, while women wore designs on their chins and lips.

Tā moko is still prevalent today, though it’s now sometimes done with modern tattoo needles rather than the traditional uhi chisel used by past practitioners.

European & Russian Tattoos

Tattooing in Europe dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans but, as in East Asia, they were usually associated with criminals.

According to the historian Herodotus, Greeks learned the tradition of penal tattoos from the Persians and, subsequently, tattooed slaves and enemies. Some of the cultures the conquerors encountered, however, viewed the tattoos as a mark of pride.

More contemporary, Russia has a complex history of tattoos. 20th century prisoners used prison tattoo designs, or temhota, to identify inmates’ crimes and rankings within the Russian penal system.

American sailor tattoos influenced some of the designs—snarling tigers or anchors, for example—while other, more unique motifs indicated specific areas of expertise.

Tattoos in America

As in other parts of the world, the Americas have a long history of tattooing thanks to indigenous groups in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Heavily tattooed mummies from the pre-Incan Chimú civilization have been discovered in Peru, dating back to 1100 A.D. Archaeologists also found ink on bodies from the Bolivian site of Tiwaniku.

Meanwhile in North America, several tribes were known for their tattoo practices.

Some Inuit women had designs tattooed on their face to symbolize their transition from adolescence to adulthood, while the Osage people used tattoos to symbolize humans’ place within the larger cycle of life on Earth.

Warriors within the Haudenosaunee Confederation often wore tattoos, and sometimes used them to keep track of their victories in battle.

Among non-indigenous Americans, tattoos were mostly taboo until the 20th century. At that point they were still mostly seen on sailors and soldiers.

Norman Collins, a.k.a. Sailor Jerry, helped popularize the sailor tattoos that are still common today, including swallows, nautical stars, and pin-up girls.

In the past 20 years, however, tattoo culture in the U.S. has exploded. Certain artists have become famous in their own right. TV networks air multiple reality shows following artists at parlors in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York City.

Celebrities, meanwhile, have popularized tiny tattoos on fingers and hands (see Miley Cyrus), as well as more traditional forms borrowed from other cultures (Jolie’s aforementioned sak yant tattoo is sometimes credited with causing a surge in the practice’s popularity).

Five millennia in, and it looks like tattoos are just getting started.


Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World (Video)

The Free Dreaming Sitar

13 Fun And Interesting Facts About The Sitar

Dubbed as one of the most popular Indian musical instruments, the sitar, derived from the Persian word sehtar, is a guitar-like stringed instrument with a signature reverberating buzz. It’s often associated with South Asian and Middle Eastern music, frequently appearing in classic and “old-time” movies. The sitar is filled with historic and familial significance. 

1. The Sitar Is Over 700 Years Old 

Although still popular to this day, the sitar is believed to have been invented in the 13th century, over 700 years ago.

It’s one of India’s oldest instruments, up there with the pakhawaj (a barrel-shaped drum), the sarangi (a non-fretted bowed instrument), and the sarod (a stringed instrument).

This makes the sitar older than the piano, the guitar, and the violin. 

2. No One Knows Where the Sitar Originated From

The origins of the sitar are still up for debate to this day.

Indian scholars claim it’s of Indian origins, but Western scholars believe it’s more likely to have originated from West Asia. 

In Muslim tradition, some scholars believe the sitar was invented—or, much accurately, developed—by Indo-Persian Sufi singer Amir Khusrow (c. 1253-1325).

Amir Khusrow is an iconic figure in the cultural history of India and is believed to have pioneered some of the major forms of Hindustani classical music. This includes the Tarana, Khyal, and Qawwali.

It’s likewise likely that the sitar is an evolved version of the Tritantri veena, a long-necked lute instrument that appeared in the 10th century.

Ravi Shankar, one of the world’s most famous sitarists, favors this theory. 

3. The First Sitar Only Had Three Strings

Early versions of the sitar only had three strings. In fact, the Persian word sehtar quite literally means “three-stringed.” 

During the 1700s, the sitar went from three to five strings, as was used in the Hamir-Raso by Rajasthan author Jodhraj.

Today, however, the instrument can have 18, 19, 20, and even 21 strings. 

Despite there being up to 21 strings, the sitar player only plays one set of strings.

The “playable” set comprises five to seven played strings, which pass over rounded frets and tuning pegs at the tip of the neck. 

The other set contains about 13 to 15 sympathetic strings of different lengths.

These strings run under the frets of the tuning pegs at the top edge of the neck.

The sympathetic strings vibrate in tune with the played strings. Each set comes with its own bridge. 

4. The Sitar is Extremely Difficult to Master

The sitar is one of the hardest classical instruments to master. It’s significantly more difficult to play than a guitar.

The pedagogy, the tuning, the fret count, and the entire musical system greatly differ from the latter. 

Although the basics aren’t particularly back-breaking, there’s a lot of interesting “rules” players must follow.

When playing the sitar, players must glide from one note to another while tuning the sympathetic strings.

Even the very act of fretting is challenging. 

The instrument is even tougher by the scope of the subject matter (Indian classical music). In a way, it’s like martial arts.

It takes years of lessons from respected masters to truly learn and master. 

5. Ravi Shankar Is India’s Most Popular Sitar Player

In India, Ravi Shankar was (and still is) considered the most virtuosic player of the sitar, so much so that the fully decorated “instrumental style” sitar is dubbed the Ravi Shankar style. 

He, along with his famous tabla player, Alla Rakha, is believed to have been responsible for introducing the sitar in Western culture in the 1960s.

6. George Harrison Learned the Sitar From Sitar Player Ravi Shankar 

Throughout the 20th century, Ravi had influenced musicians across the world—including the lead guitarist of The Beatles, George Harrison. 

Harrison used the sitar in The Beatles song, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” which contributed to the popularity of Indian music. 

Despite the song’s popularity, Shankar wasn’t impressed when he first heard Harrison playing the sitar.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said, in a BBC interview, “It sounded so strange, like an Indian villager trying to play the violin.” 

Harrison didn’t take offense to this, saying that the sitar on Norwegian Wood was, indeed, “very rudimentary.” He later visited India to master the sitar under Shankar. 

After several months of lessons, Harrison concluded that if he wanted to be acknowledged as a decent sitar player, he’ll have to take decades of lessons.

This further proves that, while anyone can play the sitar, not anyone can play it well. 

7. The Sitar Was Popularized in Pop Music in the 1960s

The 1960s Beatles song, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” is the first pop music that featured the sitar.

Thanks to its booming popularity, other famous bands started using the instrument to add a little flair to their songs.

This includes The Rolling Stones and The Doors. 

8. The Sitar is on of the Most Expensive Musical Instruments in India 

The cost of the sitar is determined by the instrument’s appearance, material, and manufacturer.

Depending on the quality, a sitar can cost anywhere between $300 to a whopping $15,000.

Some of the best sitars by Indian Musical Instruments Maker Heman & Co range from $3,600 to $14,000. 

George Harrison’s sitar, which he had bought for only a couple of dollars in the UK, was sold for $62,500 in the US as a collectible.

9. The Sitar Comes in Multiple Types 

There are multiple types of sitars, with the most popular being Kharak Pancham, Gandhar Pancham, and Surbahar. 

The Kharak Pancham, also known as the Ravi Shankar style, is a sitar with several playable strings and two extra bass strings.

It’s the most popular type of sitar, often decked in jewels and other decorations. 

The Gandhar Pancham, otherwise known as the Vilayat Khan style sitar, contains four drone strings, two melody strings, and 11 sympathetic strings.

It doesn’t contain any bass strings. 

Finally, the Surbahar, also known as the bass sitar, comes with three to four drone strings, four playing strings, and 11 sympathetic strings.

The Surbahar’s strings are thicker than the former two.

It also has a longer neck.

10. The Sitar Is Made Out of Four Primary Parts 

The sitar is approximately four feet long and made out of four primary parts: the Dand, the Tabli, the Gulu, and the Tumba. 

The Dand, also known as the fingerboard, is made out of Sheesham wood.

The Gulu is a block of wood that connects the Tabli, the sitar’s fundamental source of the sound, and the Tumba, the reverberating part of the sitar. 

In a way, the sitar looks fairly similar to the Tambura, another popular long-necked stringed instrument in India. 

11. Sitars Can Last up to 45 Years in Good Condition 

Sitars have an average life expectancy of 30 to 45 years, depending on the quality of care given to the instrument. 

High-quality sitars can last up to 75 to 100 years, but they’re more of a collectible than a playable instrument. 

Over time, the sitar’s neck will bend due to the tension from the strings, making it harder to play.

The neck and the strings of the sitar will have to be replaced every 20 or so years for it to be in playing condition. 

12. The Sitar Is Commonly Played With a Mezrab

The mezrab is the sitar equivalent of a guitar pick.

The mezrab is made of stiff steel and is worn on the index finger of the sitar player.

Some players wear a second mezrab on their middle fingers to assist them with playing. 

13. The Sitar Takes Hours to Make

Not only is the sitar difficult to play, but it’s also difficult to make. 

Most sitars are made by hand to preserve the quality and integrity of the instrument.

On average, it takes up to 12 hours to make a single sitar from scratch.

David Courtney, a teacher of Indian music, wrote a simplified guide for making the sitar. 


Anoushka Shankar: Music Makes The World A Better Place

Esoteric, eclectic and prolific, the Indian sitarist and composer Anoushka Shankar has mapped out an intriguing artistic path by delivering intriguing music that has veered between the modern and the traditional. Her ambitious, progressive and multicultural musical world view has been growing exponentially from a record to record and has taken her on a path of creating music without borders. For the past 20 years, she has been crossing border after border and culture with culture, and most of the time with some truly striking results. Her musical achievements were compiled in a retrospective overview of her career titled Reflections that grasps 20 years as a solo artist and more.

Reflections encapsulates a remarkable and unprecedented career. But, unlike most artists who use compilations as a springboard for gathering their best moments and nothing more, Reflections offers more than that as obviously the criteria for selecting this music is more emotional and personal than merely a greatest hits compilation. The selections’ backgrounds were detailed in the album’s illustrious booklet and they reveal Shankar’s past, present and the future i.e. where she came from, where she is at the moment and what she stands for as an activist, a parent, as a musician and it offers a glimpse where her muse might take her in her future explorations. During the first half of 2019, Anoushka Shankar will be touring the US and in May she will play in Paris at the Philip Glass Weekend where she will perform the music from sitarist Ravi Shankar and composer Philip Glass’ album Passages (Private Music, 1990).

All About Jazz: The choice of songs on Reflections is more emotional rather which makes it more than a mere collection of greatest hits, and the liner note denote that these map different moments in your personal life. What narrative do you feel these songs reflect for you?

Anoushka Shankar: I struggled to choose how to select songs for this compilation. I didn’t know whether to choose my personal favourite songs or which mood I might want to follow; for example most of my albums have songs that are very energetic and also songs that are very mellow and I could have pitched this any number of ways. I ended up choosing an emotional arc and to try and see my own journey as a composer and musician through these albums that I have made over the past 20 years. It was strange to realize it had been that long since I had started making records and I was very grateful to have the opportunity to create this compilation.

AAJ: The music covers a period of 20 years and the selections come from different periods and the playlist isn’t linearly assembled. What does the compilation say about your evolution both as a musician and composer?

AS: I do worry about sounding prideful but I am grateful to see some growth as a composer and musician across these albums; in no way do I feel done with that journey and I hope I will continue to grow over the coming years if I have the opportunity to keep making albums and music. I feel like my choices have changed over the years; and often I can struggle in any given moment when making music between whether I am thinking as an instrumentalist or as a composer as often my choices might be in opposition to each other. On ‘Rise’ for example it was my first album as a composer and I really stepped back as a sitarist. In fact on two songs there is no sitar playing whatsoever. I think this is an area where I have found some comfort over the years and managed to strike a bit more of a balance so that I can tell a story with my instrument and other voices as well.

AAJ: Throughout your career as an artist apart from Indian classical music there is a great deal of shape shifting and a desire to mix different influences and sounds into your own music and you have collaborated with a diverse cast of people. Where did the idea and desire to mix different musics, sounds and cultures come from? What has motivated you to constantly stretch your musical boundaries?

AS: The initial idea and desire to mix different music, sounds and cultures came from a desire to represent myself and my own life experiences within the music I was making as someone who has grown up across three continents and lived a very multicultural life. As far as what’s motivated me to constantly stretch my boundaries: I am interested in growth and learning as a human being and I feel very excited by and grateful for the fact that as an artist I can use my work to interact with new cultures, learn about new people, learn about myself, have catharsis and hopefully have connection with other human beings and possibly even help people through music as well.

AAJ: The record Home (Deutsche Grammophon, 2015) is your returning to classical Indian music after years of experimenting and crossing musical borders.What keeps your interest in Indian classical music alive given all of the types of music you have been exposed to?

AS: Indian classical music is completely unique and has so much to offer the world. It has a fascinating dichotomy and juxtaposition in that it is simultaneously centuries and at times millennia old but also completely of the present moment through its oral tradition and improvisatory nature. It has been an incredible life lesson for me to learn how to be rooted and yet have a sense of my own individuality, to respect traditions whilst also moving forwards in time and also to feel that balance between spirituality and entertainment within music.

AAJ: The album Land of Gold (Deutsche Grammophon, 2016) dealt with issues with refugee crisis and the misfortunes of the uprooted people. How did the subject matter affect you personally and creatively when you explored it so deeply?

AS: Making Land of Gold came about simply by having a very emotional response of rage and heartbreak at watching the refugee crisis unfold as it did. At the time I was making the album I had also recently given birth to my second son and the dire contrast between my experience of raising my children and what I was seeing people go through was what really led me to go deeply into the issue on the album.

AAJ: Since we are live in complex and controversial times, how do you feel music can contribute to making this world to be a better place in this era?

AS: I think art forms in general help people to connect to their spirits, their emotions, and to a place of empathy. Empathy, I think is one of the most important human emotions which leads to compassion and connection between people. Music in particular can be so transcendent and helps people to reconnect to their hearts, to be exposed to different cultures and therefore it plays a hugely important role in making the world a better place.

AAJ: The song «Beloved» reveals a spiritual side to your music. In what way does spirituality inspires the music you do?

AS: Perhaps Beloved reveals a spiritual side to my music in a slightly more overt way simply because it has lyrics. I do try to find a spiritual connection in a lot of my music, or to put it more accurately, find a spiritual connection for myself often through music. Music was really a way through which I learnt about my own personal spiritual path and is of course at the heart of who I am and what I do. On ‘Beloved’ I was inspired by a template of songs I grew up listening to and had seen performed in dance performances when I was a child and I wanted to write a song about the Hindu god Krishna in a way that resonated for myself.

AAJ: The song that closes Reflection «Say your Prayers» (from the Land of Gold) is a lullaby for your second child who was born during the recording of this album. How has being a parent influenced your music?

AS: Being a mother has obviously influenced who I am; has influenced my life in an incredibly dramatic and profound way and therefore has obviously influenced my music as well. In some ways I think it has changed the perception I have about what music is in my life or at least what my music career in my life because it is of course less important than my children. Being a mother has obviously changed my world view and passion for the state of the world and I do believe this comes out in my music as well.

AAJ: Your work with producer and percussionist Karsh Kale has yielded some fantastic music on Breathing Under Water (Manhattan). Please talk your friendship and working partnership with Karsh Kale that helped produce the music on this record.

AS: Karsh and I had been friends and had become close for a good year or two before we decided to start working on ‘Breathing Under Water.’ In fact we had many close friends by that time with whom we had each both worked intensely with, for example Gaurav Raina from the group Midival Punditz. When we worked together for the very first time, it was actually a very impulsive hotel room jam with Gaurav and a couple of other friends but I think we both found a real ease with writing together that night and that song ended up becoming ‘Sea Dreamer’ from the album Breathing Under Water and led to us wanting to develop the whole album together.

AAJ: Throughout your career you had an opportunity to work and learn with such luminaries starting from your father to Yehudi Menuhin, Zubin Mehta, George Harrison, Sting, Concha Buika, producers Javier Limon and Nitin Sawhney, to name but a few. How have these people influenced your views and ideas about music and how have they stretched your own understanding and boundaries?

AS: I have been incredibly blessed to interact with, work with, and learn from incredible artists right from the beginning of my career. Some of the people my father was close to and had artistic collaborations with had a profound impact on me because I saw them making music at close range from when I was young. George Harrison in particular is someone who, in particular, really influenced me as I had a lifetime of being close to him but also got to work with him more intimately on my father’s album Chants of India (Angel Records, 1997) which he produced and I conducted. Working with him and my father together as a fifteen year old was hugely eye opening. Beyond that I have continued to collaborate with people who inspire me from across musical cultures and I count each collaboration as an enriching experience especially when I have had to push myself out of my own skillset in order to find a common language with others.

AAJ: Ravi Shankar is a prominent figure in your life and very early you began studying and working with him. Reflection opens with a song devoted to him sang in duet with your sister Norah Jones and you perform one of his compositions «Pacham Se Gara.» How do you look back at your tenure in his group during your formative years?

AS: I began learning with my father when I was seven and touring with him as part of his ensemble from when I was thirteen. By the time I was sixteen I was opening for all his concerts and continued to be a part of his ensemble for more than a decade even after I had began my own solo career aged eighteen. As anyone might imagine, this was an incredibly intense relationship, because it was decades of learning from and collaborating with someone who was also my parent. When I look back I am blown away by how much I learnt from that experience. It’s a common part of Indian classical music training to continue to be taught on stage in this manner since it is an oral tradition often that is one the best way for a disciple to learn from a guru; to be coached in the art of performing and improvising simultaneously and so those years were really precious for me learning how to be a musician but also leaning how to be a performer and how to go deep within as a musician whilst also being aware of the audience.

AAJ: Why do you think there’s been such an enduring interest in your father’s music?

AS: Because it’s unique, incredible and transcendent, and because he was one the greatest artists of the 20th Century and I think it is impossible to minimize his impact on music around the globe.

AAJ: What are the benefits and drawbacks of being associated with your father’s legacy?

AS: I try not to think in terms of benefits and drawbacks in relation to my father. I have been asked my whole life about whether being his daughter was been a blessing or curse, or whether his legacy was a shadow or a boon and all those years of being asked that question has just meant that I have tried to explain that it was simply my experience of being his daughter and being his student, I have nothing else to compare it to or nothing I can change or would change. I have obviously had huge benefits, primarily through the direct experience of learning under a master and also through the exposure I got at the beginning of my career through being his daughter that equally came with some difficulties because I was very much in the public eye as a very young musician before I had really developed into an adult performer, and also meant that no matter what I may achieve in my career, some people may only think its because of who my father is. Realizing that meant that very early I tried to ignore those external experiences and just try to be clear on why I make music and what I want to do with it.

AAJ: This May, you will be performing in Paris at the Philip Glass weekend where you will be performing the music from the famed Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar collaboration Passages. (Private Music, 1990). This will be its second performance (first time it was in 2017 at the BBC Proms). What it’s like to be performing this music by these two luminaries?

AS: It feels incredible getting to play this music, not just because of the two composers as the giants they are, but also because this is an album that I watched being recorded as a young child and has been one of my favourite albums my whole life. To be a part of its premier and sit in the middle of the music as it were, feeling surrounded by the orchestra, hearing this music I know so well has been absolutely wonderful and I am so excited to be getting to do it again.

AAJ: Will a live recording of you playing this music ever be released?

AS: I certainly hope so.

AAJ: What the future holds for you?

AS:I am currently working a new album, touring quite intensively, and seeking to take on more commission work so that I can be home with my kids more.


Meeting an Indian Actor at a Hollywood Party

Peter Sellers

Peter Sellers, original name Richard Henry Sellers, (born September 8, 1925, Southsea, England—died July 24, 1980, London), versatile English comic actor whose astonishing range of characters earned him international stardom at a time when rigid typecasting was usual.

Sellers was a descendant of legendary Portuguese-Jewish prizefighter Daniel Mendoza and the son of British vaudeville performers. After winning a talent contest, he planned to become a professional drummer, and as such he was hired to perform in Ralph Reader’s “gang shows”—concert units that toured British army bases during World War II. He developed his mimicry skills while serving in the Royal Air Force and ultimately abandoned the drums in favour of comedy, performing celebrity impressions during a six-week run at London’s Windmill Theatre. In 1951 he teamed with Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe to create The Goon Show, a radio comedy sketch series. Emerging as the star of the series with his repertoire of eccentric characters, Sellers also dominated the Goons’ film projects, including the short subject Let’s Go Crazy (1951) and the feature-length Down Among the Z Men (1952).

On his own, he played a handful of supporting film roles before his breakthrough appearance as a doltish crook in The Ladykillers (1955). Following the advice of that film’s star, Alec Guinness, Sellers strove to avoid playing the same character twice. He especially enjoyed disappearing into characters much older than himself (The Smallest Show on Earth, 1957; The Battle of the Sexes, 1959) and playing multiple roles (The Mouse That Roared, 1959). He did some of his best work for the Boulting Brothers in the late 1950s and early ’60s, notably his characterization of obstreperous union shop steward Fred Kite in I’m All Right Jack (1959); it was also during this period that he made his feature directorial debut with Mr. Topaze (1961). Many British observers of the period dismissed Sellers as a glorified radio mimic, while Americans lauded him as a genius. One such American was director Stanley Kubrick, who cast Sellers as the treacherous Clare Quilty in Lolita (1962) and in three superbly defined roles in the brilliant “doomsday comedy” Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Sellers was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor for the latter film.

The role that earned him superstar status was the magnificently inept Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964), both directed by Blake Edwards. The success of these projects was marred by Sellers’s near-fatal heart attack in 1964. Upon his recovery, the quality of his films became wildly erratic, his mercurial offscreen temperament reflected by the unevenness of his cinematic output. Movies from this period included What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), Casino Royale (1967), I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968), and There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970). He would not truly hit his stride again until the mid-1970s, when he repeated the role of Inspector Clouseau in three profitable Pink Panther sequels.

In 1979 Sellers delivered what many consider his finest performance, as the simpleminded gardener Chance in Being There. This Oscar-nominated triumph was followed by one of his worst films, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980). Suffering a series of heart attacks, he died at age 54. His final “performance” in Trail of the Pink Panther (released posthumously in 1982) was a hodgepodge of outtakes from earlier films.


10 Things You Might Not Know About Peter Sellers

We all know and love Peter Sellers for his iconic role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. On what would have been Sellers’ 93rd birthday, here are 10 surprising facts about the actor.


At age 16, Sellers toured the U.K. with several jazz combos. Later, when gigs were harder to find, he branched out, printing up business cards that hinted at his future as a man of a thousand voices. They said: Peter Sellers, Drums and Impressions.


Before he made it in the movies, Peter Sellers recorded two solo comedy albums for EMI Parlophone that were produced by George Martin, who would go on to work with The Beatles.


In 1960, Sellers recorded an album with Italian actress/sex goddess Sophia Loren, entitled Peter & Sophia. It yielded a novelty hit, “Goodness Gracious Me,” that went to number four on the U.K. pop charts.


During the filming of John Huston’s Beat The Devil (1953), lead actor Humphrey Bogart was in a serious car accident and had several teeth knocked out. When he was unable to provide some of his dialogue, Sellers was hired to dub his voice. It remains undetected in the movie to this day.


In addition to being good friends with both George Harrison and Ringo Starr, in 1965 Sellers made the pop charts again with a comic version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” recited as if he were Shakespeare’s Richard III. Further, during the making of The Beatles’ White Album, Ringo gave Peter a tape of rough mixes. Auctioned off after Sellers’ death, it became the source of one of the most sought-after Beatles bootlegs ever—usually called “The Peter Sellers Sessions.”


After a long day of grappling with a troublesome scene in one of the Pink Panther movies, Sellers phoned director Blake Edwards in the middle of the night. “I just talked to God!” the actor exclaimed. “And he told me how to do the scene.” The next day, on set, Edwards let Sellers demonstrate the divine intervention, and it was a disaster. Edwards said, “The next time you talk to God, tell him to stay out of show business!”


When Mel Brooks had difficulty finding a distributor for his first film, Sellers stepped in. He urged top producers to watch the movie, and took out full page ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “This is one of the greatest comedies that’s been made recently.” His championing of The Producers gave it the industry buzz that turned it into a hit. Ironically, the year before, Brooks had pitched Sellers on playing a lead role, but Sellers was supposedly too busy at the time shopping at Bloomingdale’s to really listen.


Green gave Sellers “strange vibrations” and disturbed him. He never wore it, and refused to act with anyone wearing green. Purple was even worse. During the making of After The Fox, director Vittorio De Sica flew into a rage one day when a script girl showed up in a purple outfit. “It’s the color of death!” De Sica told Sellers, and Sellers was haunted by this for the rest of his life.

In later years, Sellers’ aversion to purple produced such volcanic tantrums that publicists would scour his proposed hotel rooms in search of the color, and if they found it, change the room.


For his Oscar-nominated role as Chance The Gardener in Being There, Sellers based the tone and cadence of the character’s speaking voice on one of his comic idols: Stan Laurel.


In 1980, Peter Sellers died from a massive heart attack. But it wasn’t his first—it was his fifteenth. He’d had one in 1977. And in 1964, during the filming of Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid, Sellers suffered a series of 13 heart attacks over a period of a few days. At one point he was pronounced dead for a minute and a half.


10 Hilarious Peter Sellers Films That Had Audiences In Stitches

British cinema can sometimes be a bit niche in terms of its humor but someone as naturally talented as Peter Sellers was able to transcend cultural barriers and connect with audiences from all over. Most people recognize him as Inspector Jacque Clouseau but the man had a long, varied career, playing all types of characters over his decades-long career.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963)

Stanley Kubrick is renowned as one of the most prestigious American filmmakers of all time, and Dr. Strangelove stands as a seminal work of his. A big part of the film’s success, however, has to do with the performances of Peter Sellers. The man effortlessly depicted three distinct characters: Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, United States President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove himself.

Sellers’ comedic genius emanates from each and every frame, even ad-libbing most of his lines, something notoriously difficult to do. Audiences and critics alike were blown away by Sellers and Dr. Strangelove remains one of his most beloved movies.

Being There (1979)

Known for his darkly comedic ruminations on life in the United States post-World War II, Hal Ashby directed Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardiner in 1979’s Being There, an introspective piece of satire. After his employer passes away, Gardiner is forced to move out of his estate and encounters the outside world for the first time. Viewers then see everything from his naive perspective.

A chance encounter with a wealthy business mogul changes the course of Chance’s life forever, even leading him to cross paths with the President of the United States. Being There is remembered fondly by viewers as a return to form for Sellers and even garnered him numerous awards recognition.

The Pink Panther (1963)

Inspector Jacques Clouseau is arguably the role for which Peter Sellers is most famous. His first appearance is in The Pink Panther, a film that, while not exactly displaying him front and center, acted as a vehicle for his comic prowess.

Most audiences remember this first Pink Panther as an ensemble piece but, from the beginning, it was clear that one particular character was stealing the show. The fact that Sellers was able to turn in an incredibly memorable performance despite the lackluster script and outshine his costars is a testament to his abilities as a comedic actor.

The Ladykillers (1955)

Before the 2004 Coen brothers remake, The Ladykillers was a 1955 black comedy crime caper. This was Sellers’ first real starring role in a major motion picture and set the stage for his future career.

In a cast full of eccentric oddball characters, including the likes of icons such as Sir Alec Guinness, Sellers played a more strait-laced character, yet still managed to hold his own and deliver a stellar performance. The Ladykillers is now fondly remembered as being a quintessential example of British comedy.

I’m All Right Jack (1959)

Peter Sellers once again shows his knack for satire in I’m All Right Jack, a razor sharp critique of the industrial boom in England during the 1950s. In it, he plays union leader Fred Kite, a complex character who is neither inherently good nor bad. Audiences and critics at the time were drawn to the sociopolitical commentary that hit a little bit too close to home.

Similar to his role in The Ladykillers, Sellers plays Fred Kite with sensitivity and subtlety, and his performance earned him his first of many BAFTA nominations (and first win) for Best Actor.

The Naked Truth (1957)

Released in the United States as Your Past Is Showing, The Naked Truth, as it was originally titled, features Peter Sellers in another early role; his character is a television show host named Sonny MacGregor who, along with three other individuals, decides to exact revenge on a blackmailer.

Sellers oozes talent and charisma, and his natural comedic chops shine through. The Naked Truth is unfortunately not very widely known outside of England but fans of Sellers and black comedies, in general, would be wise to put this one on their must-watch list.

After the F0x (1966)

This Italian-American crime comedy film is notable among Peter Sellers’ filmography for being one of his most divisive. After the Fox is an English-language Italian film, and the different cultural influences sometimes make it come off as disjointed.

With that being said, with the passage of time, many viewers have come to deeply appreciate it for its hilarious, self-reflexive parodies of avant-garde and pretentious European filmmakers. Sellers is particularly amusing as master of disguise Aldo Vanucci, a conman who pretends to be an Italian Neo-realist director in order to obtain highly coveted gold.

The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

Some diehard Peter Sellers fans turn their head at The Return of the Pink Panther, claiming it does not live up to previous installments. However, most audiences still loved this follow-up in which Peter Sellers reprised his famous role as Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

The English actor decided to go over-the-top in his portrayal of the French police detective, playing him as inept and foolish. The pure, unadulterated slapstick comedy is what makes The Return of the Pink Panther so memorable and beloved for so many filmgoers.

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

Before he charmed audiences as Inspector Jacques Clouseau and Dr. Strangelove, Peter Sellers made waves playing multiple roles in the British satire The Mouse That Roared, based on the 1955 novel of the same name. Just like he would go on to do in Dr. Strangelove, Sellers depicted three distinct characters in this film: Duchess Gloriana XII, Prime Minister Count Rupert Mountjoy, and Tully Bascombe.

The World of Henry Orient (1964)

Based on the novel of the same by Nora Johnson, The World of Henry Orient was a bit of a departure for Peter Sellers in terms of his acting. In it, he portrays an acclaimed concert pianist, having an extramarital affair and is constantly followed by two adolescents girls at the same time.

Hilarity and chaos ensue but this time around, Sellers turns in a much more subdued performance and plays off his fellow actors. The World of Henry Orient is now regarded as a comedy classic in Sellers’ filmography and was a hit with viewers and critics alike.


The Ladykillers (1955)

The Case of the Mukkinese Battle-Horn (1956)

The Smallest Show on Earth (1957)

Tom Thumb (1958)

The Mouse That Roared (1959)

I’m All Right Jack (1959)

The Battle of the Sexes (1960)

The Millionairess (1960)

Mr. Topaze (1961)

Only Two Can Play (1962)

The Road to Hong Kong (1962)

Lolita (1962)

The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963)

The Pink Panther (1963)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The World of Henry Orient (1964)

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

What’s New Pussycat (1965)

Caccia alla volpe (1966)

The Wrong Box (1966)

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968)

The Party (1968)

The Magic Christian (1969)

Hoffman (1970)

The Optimists of Nine Elms (1973)

The Return of the Pink Panther (1975)

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Murder by Death (1976)

Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978)

Being There (1979)

The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980)

Trail of the Pink Panther (1982)

The Creature is Alive!

Five Fascinating Facts about Mary Shelley

1. Her most famous novel, Frankenstein, is widely considered the first science fiction novel. Brian Aldiss certainly thinks so. It’s worth mentioning here that two other leading science (fiction) writers, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov, argued that the honour of ‘first science-fiction novel’ should go to a much earlier book: Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (‘The Dream’), first published in 1634. But Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (Wordsworth Classics) is considered the first work of what we can confidently label modern SF. It was published in 1818, when Shelley (1797-1851) was just 21, and came out of the famous ghost-story competition at Lake Geneva, which involved Shelley and her husband (the poet, Percy), Lord Byron, and Byron’s physician and travelling companion, John Polidori. Polidori’s contribution, The Vampyre (1819), claims the honour of the first vampire novel. One of Mary Shelley’s early influences was one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s poems: on 24 August 1806, Coleridge was visiting Mary’s father, William Godwin, and gave a reading of his poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner‘. Unbeknownst to the adults, a nine-year-old Mary Shelley had concealed herself behind the parlour sofa, and was transfixed by Coleridge’s poem.

2. The ultimate ‘message’ of her most famous book is often missed. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein may be one of the most misread novels in the whole of English literature. What is the book about? The dangers of playing God or the need to be good parents? Shelley herself came from a strong family but also an unconventional one: her mother was influential feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father the radical writer William Godwin. Mary’s mother died a few weeks after her daughter’s birth and Mary had an overly dependent, and sometimes strained, relationship with her father. Then there is her relationship with her husband, Percy Shelley, who is often seen as the model for Victor Frankenstein. (Curiously, Mary’s second novel, Mathilda (1820), would feature a father confessing incestuous desire for his daughter, followed by his death by drowning, thus prefiguring Percy Shelley’s death two years later. Wordsworth Classics recently brought out a cheap reprint of this story along with some other Mary Shelley works: Mathilda and Other Stories (Wordsworth Classics).)

3. As well as inventing modern SF with Frankenstein, Mary Shelley also wrote the first work of modern apocalyptic fiction. Mary Shelley’s favourite among her own books was a later novel, The Last Man (Wordsworth Classics), published in 1826. It tells of a future world where plague has killed off the human population – with, ultimately, one exception. There is, as the title suggests, only one human survivor, Lionel Verney. (There are in fact a number of other characters in the novel: Lionel only becomes the last man right at the end of the narrative.) The book is the progenitor of all later stories in this vein, such as Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

4. Shelley also wrote historical novels later in her career. In 1830, Mary Shelley published The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, about the fifteenth-century pretender to the throne during Henry VII’s reign. Mary was also a prolific writer of biographical and historical non-fiction, and wrote large portions of the Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men, a ten-volume sequence in a much bigger 133-volume encyclopedia, the Cabinet Cyclopaedia. Shelley continued writing until she died in 1851, probably of a brain tumour, aged just 53.

5. Frankenstein was Shelley’s first novel, but not the first book she published. In 1817, a year before her most famous novel appeared, Mary Shelley and her husband Percy published History of a Six Weeks’ Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland; with Letters Descriptive of a Sail Round the Lake of Geneva and of the Glaciers of Chamouni which … well, the title gives a pretty detailed account of its contents. But we’ll add that the volume also included Percy’s celebrated poem ‘Mont Blanc’, and that besides this the book was largely Mary’s work, meaning it should take the mantle as her first book.


eBook of Frankenstein, by Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley

10 Surprising Facts About Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

1. Frankenstein was written by a teenager.

Mary Shelley’s teenage years were eventful, to say the least. At age 16, she ran away with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Over the next two years, she gave birth to two children. In 1816, the couple traveled to Switzerland and visited Lord Byron at Villa Diodati. While there, 18-year-old Mary started Frankenstein. It was published in 1818, when she was 20 years old.

2. The novel came out of a ghost story competition.

The Shelleys visited Switzerland during the “year without a summer.” The eruption of Mount Tambora in modern Indonesia had caused severe climate abnormalities and a lot of rain. Stuck inside, the group read ghost stories from the book Fantasmagoriana. It was then that Lord Byron proposed that they have a competition to see who could come up with the best ghost story: Byron, Mary, Percy, or the physician John Polidori.

In the end, neither Byron nor Percy finished a ghost story, although Polidori later wrote The Vampyre—which influences vampire stories to this day—based on Byron’s offering.

3. Mary Shelley said she got the idea from a dream.

At first, Mary had writer’s block, unable to come up with a good idea for a ghost story. Then she had a waking dream—“I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think,” she said. In the introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein [PDF], she described the vision as follows:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life. … He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains, and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”

Mary opened her eyes and realized she’d found her story. “What terrified me will terrify others,” she thought. She began working on it the next day.

4. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in the shadow of tragedy.

Before she started Frankenstein, Mary gave birth to a daughter, who died just days later. (In fact, only one of Mary’s four children lived to adulthood.) Soon after the baby died, she wrote in her journal, “Dream that my little baby came to life again—that it had only been cold & that we rubbed it by the fire & it lived—I awake & find no baby—I think about the little thing all day.” This circumstance, as well as the suicide of her half-sister, must have contributed to the novel.

5. Frankenstein was the name of the scientist, not the monster.

In the novel, Victor Frankenstein is the scientist. The monster remains unnamed and is referred to as «monster,» «creature,» «dæmon,» and «it.» But if you’ve made the mistake of calling the monster Frankenstein, you’re not alone. As early as 1890 The Scots Observer complained that Frankenstein “presented the common pressman with one of his most beloved blunders”—confusing the two.

6. The novel shares its name with a castle.

Mary made up the name Frankenstein. However, Frankenstein is a German name that means Stone of the Franks. What’s more, historian Radu Florescu claimed that the Shelleys visited Castle Frankenstein on a journey up the Rhine River. While there, they must have learned about an unbalanced alchemist named Konrad Dippel, who used to live in the castle. He was trying to create an elixir, called Dippel’s Oil, which would make people live for over a hundred years. Like Victor Frankenstein, Dippel was rumored to dig up graves and experiment on the bodies. Not all historians are convinced there’s a link, however, pointing out that there’s no indication Frankenstein had a castle in the novel, and that Shelley never mentioned visiting the castle herself in any of her writing about her trip up the Rhine.

7. Many thought Percy Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

Frankenstein was first published anonymously. It was dedicated to William Godwin, Mary’s father, and Percy Shelley wrote the preface. Because of these connections, many assumed that Percy Shelley was the author. This myth continued even after Frankenstein was reprinted in Mary’s name. In fact, some people are still arguing that Percy authored the book. While he edited the book and encouraged Mary to expand the story into a novel, actual authorship is a stretch.

8. Frankenstein was originally slammed by critics.

When Frankenstein came out in 1818, many critics bashed it. “What a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity this work presents,” John Croker, of the Quarterly Reviewwrote. But gothic novels were all the rage, and Frankenstein soon gained readers. In 1823, a play titled «Presumption; or The Fate of Frankenstein» cemented the story’s popularity. In 1831, a new version of the book was published, this time under Mary’s name.

9. Frankenstein is widely considered the first science fiction novel.

With Frankenstein, Shelley was writing the first major science fiction novel, as well as inventing the concept of the “mad scientist” and helping establish what would become horror fiction. The influence of the book in popular culture is so huge that the term Frankenstein has entered common speech to mean something unnatural and horrendous.

Mary went on to write other science fiction, such as her short story Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman, about a man who has been frozen in ice, and her novel The Last Man, about a survivor in a world destroyed by plague, from the same year.

10. Thomas Edison adapted Frankenstein for film.

In 1910, Thomas Edison’s studio made a one-reel, 15-minute film of Frankenstein, one of the first horror movies ever made. It was thought lost until it was rediscovered in the 1980s. 


Frankenstein: how Mary Shelley’s sci-fi classic offers lessons for us today about the dangers of playing God

Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, is an 1818 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Set in the late 18th century, it follows scientist Victor Frankenstein’s creation of life and the terrible events that are precipitated by his abandonment of his creation. It is a Gothic novel in that it combines supernatural elements with horror, death and an exploration of the darker aspects of the psyche.

It also provides a complex critique of Christianity. But most significantly, as one of the first works of science-fiction, it explores the dangers of humans pursuing new technologies and becoming God-like.

The celebrity story

Shelley’s Frankenstein is at the heart of what might be the greatest celebrity story of all time. Shelley was born in 1797. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of the landmark A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), was, according to that book’s introduction, “the first major feminist”.

Shelley’s father was William Godwin, political philosopher and founder of “philosophical anarchism” – he was anti-government in the moment that the great democracies of France and the United States were being born. When she was 16, Shelley eloped with radical poet Percy Shelley, whose Ozymandias (1818) is still regularly quoted (“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”).

Their relationship seems to epitomise the Romantic era itself. It was crossed with outside love interests, illegitimate children, suicides, debt, wondering and wandering. And it ultimately came to an early end in 1822 when Percy Shelley drowned, his small boat lost in a storm off the Italian coast. The Shelleys also had a close association with the poet Lord Byron, and it is this association that brings us to Frankenstein.

In 1816 the Shelleys visited Switzerland, staying on the shores of Lake Geneva, where they were Byron’s neighbours. As Mary Shelley tells it, they had all been reading ghost stories, including Coleridge’s Christabel (Coleridge had visited her father at the family house when Shelley was young), when Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Thus 18-year-old Shelley began to write Frankenstein.

The myth of the monster

The popular imagination has taken Frankenstein and run with it. The monster “Frankenstein”, originally “Frankenstein’s monster”, is as integral to Western culture as the characters and tropes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

But while reasonable continuity remains between Carroll’s Alice and its subsequent reimaginings, much has been changed and lost in the translation from Shelley’s novel into the many versions that are rooted in the popular imagination.

There have been many varied adaptations, from Edward Scissorhands to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (see here for a top 20 list of Frankenstein films). But despite the variety, it’s hard not to think of the “monster” as a zombie-like implacable menace, as we see in the trailer to the 1931 movie, or a lumbering fool, as seen in the Herman Munster incarnation. Further, when we add the prefix “franken” it’s usually with disdain; consider “frankenfoods”, which refers to genetically modified foods, or “frankenhouses”, which describes contemporary architectural monstrosities or bad renovations.

However, in Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein’s creation is far from being two-dimensional or contemptible. To use the motto of the Tyrell corporation, which, in the 1982 movie Bladerunner, creates synthetic life, the creature strikes us as being “more human than human”. Indeed, despite their dissimilarities, the replicant Roy Batty in Bladerunner reproduces Frankenstein’s creature’s intense humanity.

Some key elements in the plot

The story of Victor Frankenstein is nested within the story of scientist-explorer Robert Walton. For both men, the quest for knowledge is mingled with fanatical ambition. The novel begins towards the end of the story, with Walton, who is trying to sail to the North Pole, rescuing Frankenstein from sea ice. Frankenstein is being led northwards by his creation towards a final confrontation.

The central moment in the novel is when Frankenstein brings his creation to life, only to be immediately repulsed by it:

I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.

Victor Frankenstein, like others in the novel, is appalled by the appearance of his creation. He flees the creature and it vanishes. After a hiatus of two years, the creature begins to murder people close to Frankenstein. And when Frankenstein reneges on his promise to create a female partner for his creature, it murders his closest friend and then, on Frankenstein’s wedding night, his wife.

More human than human

The real interest of the novel lies not in the murders or the pursuit, but in the creature’s accounts of what drove him to murder. After the creature murders Frankenstein’s little brother, William, Frankenstein seeks solace in the Alps – in sublime nature. There, the creature comes upon Frankenstein and eloquently and poignantly relates his story.

We learn that the creature spent a year secretly living in an outhouse attached to a hut occupied by the recently impoverished De Lacey family. As he became self-aware, the creature reflected that, “To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being.” But when he eventually attempted to reveal himself to the family to gain their companionship, he was brutally driven from them. The creature was filled with rage. He says, “I could … have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery.” More human than human.

After Victor Frankenstein dies aboard Walton’s ship, Walton has a final encounter with the creature, as it looms over Frankenstein’s body. To the corpse, the creature says:

“Oh Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me? I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst.”

The creature goes on to make several grand and tragic pronouncements to Walton. “My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy; and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change, without torture such as you cannot even imagine.” And shortly after, about the murder of Frankenstein’s wife, the creature says: “I knew that I was preparing for myself a deadly torture; but I was the slave, not the master, of an impulse, which I detested, yet could not disobey.”

These remarks encourage us to ponder some of the weightiest questions we can ask about the human condition:

What is it that drives humans to commit horrible acts? Are human hearts, like the creature’s, fashioned for ‘love and sympathy’, and when such things are withheld or taken from us, do we attempt to salve the wound by hurting others? And if so, what is the psychological mechanism that makes this occur?

And what is the relationship between free will and horrible acts? We cannot help but think that the creature remains innocent – that he is the slave, not the master. But then what about the rest of us?

The rule of law generally blames individuals for their crimes – and perhaps this is necessary for a society to function. Yet I suspect the rule of law misses something vital. Epictetus, the stoic philosopher, considered such questions millennia ago. He asked:

What grounds do we have for being angry with anyone? We use labels like ‘thief’ and ‘robber’… but what do these words mean? They merely signify that people are confused about what is good and what is bad.

Unintended consequences

Victor Frankenstein creates life only to abandon it. An unsympathetic interpretation of Christianity might see something similar in God’s relationship with humanity. Yet the novel itself does not easily support this reading; like much great art, its strength lies in its ambivalence and complexity. At one point, the creature says to Frankenstein: “Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed.” These and other remarks complicate any simplistic interpretation.

In fact, the ambivalence of the novel’s religious critique supports its primary concern: the problem of technology allowing humans to become God-like. The subtitle of Frankenstein is “The Modern Prometheus”. In the Greek myth, Prometheus steals fire – a technology – from the gods and gives it to humanity, for which he is punished. In this myth and many other stories, technology and knowledge are double-edged. Adam and Eve eat the apple of knowledge in the Garden of Eden and are ejected from paradise. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, humanity is born when the first tool is used – a tool that augments humanity’s ability to be violent.

The novel’s subtitle is referring to Kant’s 1755 essay, “The Modern Prometheus”. In this, Kant observes that:

There is such a thing as right taste in natural science, which knows how to distinguish the wild extravagances of unbridled curiosity from cautious judgements of reasonable credibility. From the Prometheus of recent times Mr. Franklin, who wanted to disarm the thunder, down to the man who wants to extinguish the fire in the workshop of Vulcanus, all these endeavors result in the humiliating reminder that Man never can be anything more than a man.

Victor Frankenstein, who suffered from an unbridled curiosity, says something similar:

A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind … If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.

And also: “Learn from me … how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”

In sum: be careful what knowledge you pursue, and how you pursue it. Beware playing God.

Alas, history reveals the quixotic nature of Shelley and Kant’s warnings. There always seems to be a scientist somewhere whose dubious ambitions are given free rein. And beyond this, there is always the problem of the unintended consequences of our discoveries. Since Shelley’s time, we have created numerous things that we fear or loathe such as the atomic bomb, cigarettes and other drugs, chemicals such as DDT, and so on. And as our powers in the realms of genetics and artificial intelligence grow, we may yet create something that loathes us.

It all reminds me of sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson’s relatively recent (2009) remark that, “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”


Why Frankenstein is the story that defines our fears

“It’s alive! It’s alive!! It’s alive!!! – Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)

One night during the strangely cool and wet summer of 1816, a group of friends gathered in the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. “We will each write a ghost story,” Lord Byron announced to the others, who included Byron’s doctor John Polidori, Percy Shelley and the 18-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.

“I busied myself to think of a story,” Mary wrote. “One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror.” Her tale became a novel, published two years later as ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’, the story of a young natural philosophy student, who, burning with crazed ambition, brings a body to life but rejects his horrifying ‘creature’ in fear and disgust.

Frankenstein is simultaneously the first science-fiction novel, a Gothic horror, a tragic romance and a parable all sewn into one towering body. Its two central tragedies – one of overreaching and the dangers of ‘playing God’, the other of parental abandonment and societal rejection – are as relevant today as ever.

Are there any characters more powerfully cemented in the popular imagination? The two archetypes Mary Shelley brought to life, the ‘creature’ and the overambitious or ‘mad scientist’, lurched and ranted their way off the page and on to stage and screen, electrifying theatre and filmgoers as two of the lynchpins, not just of the horror genre, but of cinema itself.

Frankenstein spawned interpretations and parodies that reach from the very origins of the moving image in Thomas Edison’s horrifying 1910 short film, through Hollywood’s Universal Pictures and Britain’s Hammer series, to The Rocky Horror Picture Show – and it foreshadowed others, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are Italian and Japanese Frankensteins and a Blaxploitation film, Blackenstein; Mel Brooks, Kenneth Branagh and Tim Burton all have their own takes. The characters or themes appear in or have inspired comic books, video games, spin-off novels, TV series and songs by artists as diverse as Ice CubeMetallica and T’Pau: “It was a flight on the wings of a young girl’s dreams/ That flew too far away/ And we could make the monster live again…”

As a parable, the novel has been used as an argument both for and against slavery and revolution, vivisection and the Empire, and as a dialogue between history and progress, religion and atheism. The prefix ‘Franken-’ thrives in the modern lexicon as a byword for any anxiety about science, scientists and the human body, and has been used to shape worries about the atomic bomb, GM cropsstrange foods, stem cell research and both to characterise and assuage fears about AI. In the two centuries since she wrote it, Mary’s tale, in the words of Bobby Pickett’s comedy song, Monster Mash, has truly been “a graveyard smash” that “caught on in a flash”.

‘Mysterious fears of our nature’

“All them scientists – they’re all alike. They say they’re working for us but what they really want is to rule the world!” – Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974).

Why was Mary’s vision of ‘science gone wrong’ so ripe a vessel to carry our fears? She certainly captured the zeitgeist: the early 19th Century teetered on the brink of the modern age, and although the term ‘science’ existed, a ‘scientist’ didn’t. Great change brings fear, as Fiona Sampson, author of a new biography of Mary Shelley tells BBC Culture: “With modernity – with the sense that humans are what there is, comes a sense of anxiety about what humans can do and particularly an anxiety about science and technology.” Frankenstein fused these contemporary concerns about the possibilities of science with fiction for the very first time – with electrifying results. Far from an outrageous fantasy, the novel imagined what could happen if people – and in particular overreaching or unhinged scientists – went too far.

Several points of popular 19th Century intellectual discourse appear in the novel. We know from Mary Shelley’s writings that in that Villa Diodati tableau of 1816, Shelley and Byron discussed the ‘principle of life’. Contemporary debates raged on the nature of humanity and whether it was possible to raise the dead. In the book’s 1831 preface, Mary Shelley noted ‘galvanism’ as an influence, referring to Luigi Galvani’s experiments using electric currents to make frogs’ legs twitch. Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini would go further in 1803, using a newly-dead murderer as his subject. Many of the doctors and thinkers at the heart of these debates – such as the chemist Sir Humphry Davy – were connected to Mary’s father, the pre-eminent intellectual William Godwin, who himself had developed principles warning of the dangers and moral implications of ‘overreaching’.

Despite these nuggets of contemporary thought, though, there’s little in the way of tangible theory, method, or scientific paraphernalia in Frankenstein. The climactic moment of creation is described simply: “With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.” The ‘science’ of the book is rooted in its time and yet timeless. It is so vague, therefore, as to provide an immediate linguistic and visual reference point for moments of great change and fear.

Monster mash-up

But surely the reason we turn to Frankenstein when expressing an anxiety about science is down to the impression the ‘monster’ and ‘mad scientist’ have had on our collective brains. How did this happen? Just as the science is vague in the book, so is the description of the creature as he comes to life. The moment is distilled into a single, bloodcurdling image:

“It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.”

With his ‘yellow skin’, ‘watery eyes’, ‘shrivelled complexion’ and ‘straight black lips’ the creature is far from the beautiful ideal Frankenstein intended. This spare but resonant prose proved irresistible to theatre and later film-makers and their audiences, as Christopher Frayling notes in his book, Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years. The shocking novel became a scandalous play – and of course, a huge hit, first in Britain and then abroad. These early plays, Frayling argues, “set the tone for future dramatisations”. They condensed the story into basic archetypes, adding many of the most memorable elements audiences would recognise today, including the comical lab assistant, the line “It lives!” and a bad-brained monster who doesn’t speak.

It’s a double-edged sword that the monstrous success of Hollywood’s vision (James Whale’s 1931 film for Universal starring Boris Karloff as the creature) in many ways secured the story’s longevity but obscured Shelley’s version of it. “Frankenstein [the film] created the definitive movie image of the mad scientist, and in the process launched a thousand imitations,” Frayling writes. “It fused a domesticated form of Expressionism, overacting, an irreverent adaptation of an acknowledged classic, European actors and visualisers – and the American carnival tradition – to create an American genre. It began to look as though Hollywood had actually invented Frankenstein.”

Making a myth

And so, a movie legend was born. Although Hollywood may have cherry-picked from Mary Shelley to cement its version of the story, it’s clear she also borrowed from historical myths to create her own. The subtitle of Frankenstein, ‘The Modern Prometheus’, namechecks the figure of ancient Greek and Latin mythology who variously steals fire from the gods and gives it to man (or makes a man out of clay) and represents the dangers of overreaching. But the other great myth of the novel is of God and Adam, and a quote from Paradise Lost appears in the epigraph to Frankenstein: “Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man?”. And it is above all the creature’s tragedy – and his humanity – that in his cinematic transformation into a mute but terrifying monster, has been forgotten.

Shelley gave him a voice and a literary education in order to express his thoughts and desires (he is one of three narrators in the book). Like The Tempest’s Caliban, to whom Shakespeare gives a poetic and poignant speech, the creature’s lament is haunting: “Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”

If we think of the creature as a badly made and unattractive human, his tragedy deepens. His first, catastrophic rejection is by his creator (man, God),which Christopher Frayling calls “that post-partum moment”, and is often identified as a parental abandonment. If you consider that Mary Shelley had lost her mother Mary Wollstonecraft at her own birth, had just buried her baby girl and was looking after her pregnant step-sister as she was writing the book – which took exactly nine months to complete – the relevance of birth (and death) makes even more sense. The baby/creature is alienated further as society recoils from him; he is made good, but it is the rejection that creates his murderous revenge. As an allegory of our responsibility to children, outsiders, or those who don’t conform to conventional ideals of beauty, there isn’t a stronger one.

“The way that we sometimes identify with Frankenstein, as we’ve all taken risks, we’ve all had hubristic moments, and partly with the creature; they are both aspects of ourselves – all our selves” Fiona Sampson says, “they both speak to us about being human. And that’s incredibly powerful.”

Some modern interpretations, such as Nick Dear’s 2011 play (directed by Danny Boyle for the National Theatre), have highlighted the question of who is the monster and who is the victim, with the lead actors Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating roles each night. And in this shapeshifting context, it’s fitting that the creature is widely mistaken as ‘Frankenstein’, rather than his creator.

So could a new, cinematic version of Frankenstein be on the cards? One which brings together the creature’s humanity, the mirroring of man and monster and contemporary anxieties? Just like the Romantics, we edge towards a new modern age, but this time, of AI, which brings its own raft of fears and moral quandaries. A clutch of recent films and TV shows have channelled Frankenstein, exploring what it means to be human in the context of robotics and AI – Blade Runner, Ex Machina, AI, Her, Humans and Westworld among them. But there is one film director (rumoured to have been developing the story for a while) who might be able to recapture the creature’s lament as a parable for our time.

Collecting a Bafta for a different sci-fi monster fable, The Shape of Water, this year, Guillermo del Toro thanked Mary Shelley, because “she picked up the plight of Caliban and she gave weight to the burden of Prometheus, and she gave voice to the voiceless and presence to the invisible, and she showed me that sometimes to talk about monsters, we need to fabricate monsters of our own, and parables do that for us”.

When the then-Mary Godwin thought up her chilling parable that summer of 1816, she couldn’t have imagined how far it would go to shape culture and society, science and fear, well into the 21st Century. “And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper,” she wrote in the preface to the 1831 edition. The creator and creature, parent and child, the writer and her story – they went forth, and did they prosper? Two hundred years since its publication, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is no longer just a tale of “thrilling horror” but its own myth, sent out into the world.


«Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.»

EBook of Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, (born May 25, 1803, BostonMassachusetts, U.S.—died April 27, 1882, Concord, Massachusetts), American lecturer, poet, and essayist, the leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism.

Early life and works

Emerson was the son of the Reverend William Emerson, a Unitarian clergyman and friend of the arts. The son inherited the profession of divinity, which had attracted all his ancestors in direct line from Puritan days. The family of his mother, Ruth Haskins, was strongly Anglican, and among influences on Emerson were such Anglican writers and thinkers as Ralph CudworthRobert LeightonJeremy Taylor, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

On May 12, 1811, Emerson’s father died, leaving the son largely to the intellectual care of Mary Moody Emerson, his aunt, who took her duties seriously. In 1812 Emerson entered the Boston Public Latin School, where his juvenile verses were encouraged and his literary gifts recognized. In 1817 he entered Harvard College (later Harvard University), where he began his journals, which may be the most remarkable record of the “march of Mind” to appear in the United States. He graduated in 1821 and taught school while preparing for part-time study in the Harvard Divinity School.

Though Emerson was licensed to preach in the Unitarian community in 1826, illness slowed the progress of his career, and he was not ordained to the Unitarian ministry at the Second Church, Boston, until 1829. There he began to win fame as a preacher, and his position seemed secure. In 1829 he also married Ellen Louisa Tucker. When she died of tuberculosis in 1831, his grief drove him to question his beliefs and his profession. But in the previous few years Emerson had already begun to question Christian doctrines. His older brother William, who had gone to Germany, had acquainted him with the new biblical criticism and the doubts that had been cast on the historicity of miracles. Emerson’s own sermons, from the first, had been unusually free of traditional doctrine and were instead a personal exploration of the uses of spirit, showing an idealistic tendency and announcing his personal doctrine of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Indeed, his sermons had divested Christianity of all external or historical supports and made its basis one’s private intuition of the universal moral law and its test a life of virtuous accomplishment. Unitarianism had little appeal to him by now, and in 1832 he resigned from the ministry.

Mature life and works

When Emerson left the church, he was in search of a more certain conviction of God than that granted by the historical evidences of miracles. He wanted his own revelation—i.e., a direct and immediate experience of God. When he left his pulpit he journeyed to Europe. In Paris he saw Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu’s collection of natural specimens arranged in a developmental order that confirmed his belief in man’s spiritual relation to nature. In England he paid memorable visits to Samuel Taylor ColeridgeWilliam Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle. At home once more in 1833, he began to write Nature and established himself as a popular and influential lecturer. By 1834 he had found a permanent dwelling place in Concord, Massachusetts, and in the following year he married Lydia Jackson and settled into the kind of quiet domestic life that was essential to his work.

The 1830s saw Emerson become an independent literary man. During this decade his own personal doubts and difficulties were increasingly shared by other intellectuals. Before the decade was over his personal manifestos—Nature, “The American Scholar,” and the divinity school Address—had rallied together a group that came to be called the Transcendentalists, of which he was popularly acknowledged the spokesman. Emerson helped initiate Transcendentalism by publishing anonymously in Boston in 1836 a little book of 95 pages entitled Nature. Having found the answers to his spiritual doubts, he formulated his essential philosophy, and almost everything he ever wrote afterward was an extension, amplification, or amendment of the ideas he first affirmed in Nature.

Emerson’s religious doubts had lain deeper than his objection to the Unitarians’ retention of belief in the historicity of miracles. He was also deeply unsettled by Newtonian physics’ mechanistic conception of the universe and by the Lockean psychology of sensation that he had learned at Harvard. Emerson felt that there was no place for free will in the chains of mechanical cause and effect that rationalist philosophers conceived the world as being made up of. This world could be known only through the senses rather than through thought and intuition; it determined men physically and psychologically; and yet it made them victims of circumstance, beings whose superfluous mental powers were incapable of truly ascertaining reality.

Emerson reclaimed an idealistic philosophy from this dead end of 18th-century rationalism by once again asserting the human ability to transcend the materialistic world of sense experience and facts and become conscious of the all-pervading spirit of the universe and the potentialities of human freedom. God could best be found by looking inward into one’s own self, one’s own soul, and from such an enlightened self-awareness would in turn come freedom of action and the ability to change one’s world according to the dictates of one’s ideals and conscience. Human spiritual renewal thus proceeds from the individual’s intimate personal experience of his own portion of the divine “oversoul,” which is present in and permeates the entire creation and all living things, and which is accessible if only a person takes the trouble to look for it. Emerson enunciates how “reason,” which to him denotes the intuitive awareness of eternal truth, can be relied upon in ways quite different from one’s reliance on “understanding”—i.e., the ordinary gathering of sense-data and the logical comprehension of the material world. Emerson’s doctrine of self-sufficiency and self-reliance naturally springs from his view that the individual need only look into his own heart for the spiritual guidance that has hitherto been the province of the established churches. The individual must then have the courage to be himself and to trust the inner force within him as he lives his life according to his intuitively derived precepts.

Obviously these ideas are far from original, and it is clear that Emerson was influenced in his formulation of them by his previous readings of Neoplatonist philosophy, the works of Coleridge and other European Romantics, the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, Hindu philosophy, and other sources. What set Emerson apart from others who were expressing similar Transcendentalist notions were his abilities as a polished literary stylist able to express his thought with vividness and breadth of vision. His philosophical exposition has a peculiar power and an organic unity whose cumulative effect was highly suggestive and stimulating to his contemporary readers’ imaginations.

In a lecture entitled “The American Scholar” (August 31, 1837), Emerson described the resources and duties of the new liberated intellectual that he himself had become. This address was in effect a challenge to the Harvard intelligentsia, warning against pedantry, imitation of others, traditionalism, and scholarship unrelated to life. Emerson’s “Address at Divinity College,” Harvard University, in 1838 was another challenge, this time directed against a lifeless Christian tradition, especially Unitarianism as he had known it. He dismissed religious institutions and the divinity of Jesus as failures in man’s attempt to encounter deity directly through the moral principle or through an intuited sentiment of virtue. This address alienated many, left him with few opportunities to preach, and resulted in his being ostracized by Harvard for many years. Young disciples, however, joined the informal Transcendental Club (founded in 1836) and encouraged him in his activities.

In 1840 he helped launch The Dial, first edited by Margaret Fuller and later by himself, thus providing an outlet for the new ideas Transcendentalists were trying to present to America. Though short-lived, the magazine provided a rallying point for the younger members of the school. From his continuing lecture series, he gathered his Essays into two volumes (1841, 1844), which made him internationally famous. In his first volume of Essays Emerson consolidated his thoughts on moral individualism and preached the ethics of self-reliance, the duty of self-cultivation, and the need for the expression of self. The second volume of Essays shows Emerson accommodating his earlier idealism to the limitations of real life; his later works show an increasing acquiescence to the state of things, less reliance on self, greater respect for society, and an awareness of the ambiguities and incompleteness of genius.

His Representative Men (1849) contained biographies of Plato, Swedenborg, MontaigneShakespeareNapoleon, and Goethe. In English Traits he gave a character analysis of a people from which he himself stemmed. The Conduct of Life (1860), Emerson’s most mature work, reveals a developed humanism together with a full awareness of human limitations. It may be considered as partly confession. Emerson’s collected Poems (1846) were supplemented by others in May-Day (1867), and the two volumes established his reputation as a major American poet.

By the 1860s Emerson’s reputation in America was secure, for time was wearing down the novelty of his rebellion as he slowly accommodated himself to society. He continued to give frequent lectures, but the writing he did after 1860 shows a waning of his intellectual powers. A new generation knew only the old Emerson and had absorbed his teaching without recalling the acrimony it had occasioned. Upon his death in 1882 Emerson was transformed into the Sage of Concord, shorn of his power as a liberator and enrolled among the worthies of the very tradition he had set out to destroy.

Emerson’s voice and rhetoric sustained the faith of thousands in the American lecture circuits between 1834 and the American Civil War. He served as a cultural middleman through whom the aesthetic and philosophical currents of Europe passed to America, and he led his countrymen during the burst of literary glory known as the American renaissance (1835–65). As a principal spokesman for Transcendentalism, the American tributary of European Romanticism, Emerson gave direction to a religious, philosophical, and ethical movement that above all stressed belief in the spiritual potential of every person.


15 Facts about Ralph Waldo Emerson

Born in Boston in 1803, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a writer, lecturer, poet, and Transcendentalist thinker. Dubbed the «Sage of Concord,» Emerson discussed his views on individualism and the divine in essays such as «Self-Reliance» and «Nature,» and he emerged as one of the preeminent voices of his generation, both in his lifetime and in the annals of history.


Emerson’s father, Reverend William Emerson, was a prominent Boston resident who worked as a Unitarian minister. But he didn’t focus solely on matters of God and religion. William Emerson also organized meetings of intellectuals, bringing together open-minded people from a variety of backgrounds to discuss philosophy, science, and books. Unfortunately, Emerson’s father died of either stomach cancer or tuberculosis in 1811, when Emerson was just 7 years old. Emerson’s mother, Ruth, and his aunts raised him and his five remaining siblings (a brother and sister had previously died young).


After studying at the Boston Latin School (which is now the oldest school in the U.S.), Emerson began college at 14, a common occurrence at the time. At Harvard College, he learned Latin, Greek, geometry, physics, history, and philosophy. In 1821, after four years of studying there, Emerson agreed to write and deliver a poem for Harvard’s Class Day (then called Valedictorian Day), a pre-graduation event. Was he the best poet in the class? Not exactly. The faculty asked a few other students to be Class Poet, but they turned down the post, so Emerson got the gig.


After graduating from Harvard, Emerson went home to teach young women. His older brother, William, ran a school for girls in their mother’s Boston home, and Emerson helped him teach students. Later, when William left to study in Germany, Emerson ran the school himself. He reportedly disliked teaching, though, so he moved on to plan B: grad school.


In 1825, Emerson enrolled at Harvard Divinity School. He decided to become a minister, following in his father’s (and grandfather’s) footsteps. Despite struggling with vision problems and failing to graduate from his program, Emerson became licensed to preach in 1826. He then worked at a Unitarian church in Boston.


In late 1826, Emerson wasn’t feeling well. He suffered from tuberculosis, joint pain, and vision problems, so he followed medical advice and went south for a warmer climate near the ocean. After spending time in Charleston, South Carolina, Emerson headed to St. Augustine, Florida, where he preached and wrote poetry. He also met and befriended Prince Achille Murat, the nephew of the former French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who had renounced his European titles (though his father had already been overthrown) and immigrated to the United States. Murat was also a writer, and the two young men reportedly discussed religion, politics, and philosophy.


When Emerson was 26, he married 18-year-old Ellen Louisa Tucker. The newlyweds lived happily in Boston, but Tucker was suffering from tuberculosis. Emerson’s mother helped take care of her son’s ailing wife, but in 1831, less than two years after getting married, Ellen passed away. Emerson dealt with his grief by writing in his journals («Will the eye that was closed on Tuesday ever beam again in the fullness of love on me? Shall I ever be able to connect the face of outward nature, the mists of the morn, the star of eve, the flowers and all poetry with the heart and life of an enchanting friend? No. There is one birth and baptism and one first love and the affections cannot keep their youth any more than men.»), traveling, and visiting her grave. The next year, after an extended period of soul-searching, he decided to leave the ministry to become a secular thinker.


In 1833, Emerson turned his love of writing into a career as a frequent lecturer. He traveled around New England reading his essays and speaking to audiences about his views on nature, the role of religion, and his travels. In 1838, Emerson gave one of his most famous talks, a commencement speech to graduating students of the Harvard Divinity School. His «Divinity School Address» was radical and controversial at the time, since he expressed his Transcendentalist views of individual power over religious doctrine. He also argued that Jesus Christ was not God, a heretical idea at the time. In cities such as Boston, he paid his own money to rent a hall and advertise his speaking event. Emerson packaged some of his lectures into a series, speaking on a certain theme for several events. Ticket sales were high, and the «Sage of Concord» was able to support his family and buy land thanks to his lectures.


Although many readers love Jane Austen’s novels, Emerson was not a fan. In his notebooks (published posthumously), he criticized her characters’ single-minded focus on marriage in Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. He also called Austen’s writing vulgar in tone and sterile in creativity. «I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen’s novels at so high a rate,» he wrote. «Never was life so pinched and so narrow … Suicide is more respectable.»


In 1835, Emerson married Lydia Jackson (nickname: Lidian), an abolitionist and animal rights activist. The couple had four children—Waldo, Ellen, Edith, and Edward—and they named their first daughter Ellen Tucker to honor Emerson’s first wife. Besides naming his daughter after her, Emerson also kept his first wife’s rocking chair to remind himself of his love for her.


No biography of writer and thinker Henry David Thoreau would be complete without mentioning Emerson’s impact on the «Civil Disobedience» essayist. Emerson gave Thoreau housing and money, encouraged him to keep a journal, and let him have land to build a cabin on Walden Pond. The two friends often discussed Transcendentalism, and Thoreau thought of Emerson’s wife Lidian as a sister. Although they had some intellectual disagreements, Emerson gave the eulogy at Thoreau’s 1862 funeral.


Emerson was friends and neighbors with Amos Bronson Alcott, the father of the Little Women author. Louisa May Alcott grew up surrounded by Emerson, Thoreau, and other Transcendentalist thinkers, and their works greatly influenced her. Emerson lent her books from his library and taught her about the joys of nature. She apparently wrote about her crushes on the much-older Emerson and Thoreau in one of her earliest works, a novel called Moods, and she was known to leave wildflowers near the front door of Emerson’s house.


Emerson wrote and lectured about the evils of slavery, and he frequently criticized President Lincoln for not doing enough to end it. In 1862, Emerson gave an anti-slavery lecture in Washington, D.C., and was invited to the White House to meet Lincoln. After the meeting, Emerson praised Lincoln’s charisma and storytelling ability («When he has made his remark, he looks up at you with a great satisfaction, and shows all his white teeth, and laughs»), saying that the president «impressed me more favorably than I had hoped.» Emerson also called Lincoln a sincere, well-meaning man with a boyish cheerfulness and clarity in speech.


After reading one of Emerson’s poems, Walt Whitman felt inspired. In 1855, he self-published Leaves of Grass and sent a copy to Emerson. The controversial collection of poems by the unknown poet got horrible reviews—it was routinely called obscene and profane, and one critic called it «a mass of stupid filth.» Sales were dismal. But Emerson read the book and wrote a laudatory letter to Whitman, calling the work a «wonderful gift» and «the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.»

Thanks to Emerson’s encouragement, Whitman published a second edition of Leaves of Grass. However, Whitman printed Emerson’s words on the book’s spine and in a newspaper article. Emerson was reportedly surprised and annoyed that his private letter was made public without his permission, and he remained silent on his thoughts regarding Whitman from then on.


In the early 1870s, Emerson began forgetting things. Given his symptoms, most historians think Emerson suffered from Alzheimer’s, aphasia, or dementia. Although he had difficulty recalling certain words, he continued to lecture until a few years before his death. Despite forgetting his own name and the names of his friends, Emerson reportedly kept a positive attitude towards his declining mental faculties (much as his first wife did while she was dying of tuberculosis).


When Emerson died of pneumonia in 1882, he was buried on «Author’s Ridge» in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (not the same Sleepy Hollow as in the famed Washington Irving story)—a cemetery that was designed with Emerson’s Transcendentalist, nature-loving aesthetics in mind. In 1855, as a member of the Concord Cemetery Committee, Emerson gave the dedication at the opening of the cemetery, calling it a «garden of the living» that would be a peaceful place for both visitors and permanent residents. «Author’s Ridge» became a burial ground for many of the most famous American authors who called Concord home—Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Still Ahead of His Time

Within living memory of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, the authentic cultural voice of America had spoken, outlining the future of American science, philosophy, scholarship, poetry and even landscape design. Today, many people do not know Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many of those who do, consider him at best a 19th-century transcendentalist or, at worst, the Dale Carnegie of belles lettres. But Emerson, who was born 200 years ago this month, prophetically mastered a wisdom that could have saved us all a lot of trouble by clarifying our place in nature.

A gift seems to have been granted to certain people in the moments in history we call renaissance. One can hear the gift in the voice of that time—a confident exuberance, accepting the tragic aspect of life, but also full of hope and belief; capable of a genial irony but devoid of cynicism and academic intellectual vanity. It is a voice that more cynical or exhausted ages find annoying.

Emerson is a renaissance voice. Living in the afterglow of the New England Puritan age of faith, and in the dawn of America’s political, artistic and exploring power, Emerson combined a boisterous energy with a rational and judicious piety. Too intellectually adventurous to remain a Unitarian minister (he became fascinated by Hindu theology), he did not abandon his religious tradition altogether. At the center of his insights was a vision of nature’s intimate relationship with the human and the divine.

In 1836, Emerson caused a stir when he published a long essay, «Nature.» At 33, he had finally broken with his church, moved from Boston, where he was born and grew up, to Concord, Massachusetts, and set out to create his own theology. «Nature,» which Emerson revised and later published in a collection with the same title, would influence European thinkers such as Thomas Carlyle and Friedrich Nietzsche and would become an almost sacred text for Emerson’s American disciples, including Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott (the educator and abolitionist) and Margaret Fuller (the feminist), who went to sit at the feet of the prophet.

The ideas Emerson put forth in a second, more prophetic essay also entitled «Nature,» published in 1844, boil down to two concepts: first, that a purely scientific understanding of our physical being does not preclude a spiritual existence; second, that nature embodies a divine intelligence. Reconciling those views, he argued that we need fear neither scientific progress nor the grand claims of religion.

In one of his most striking prophecies, the Sage of Concord seems to have anticipated the theory of evolution by natural selection as it would be developed by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Species, published in 1859. Like Darwin, Emerson emphasizes the importance of the newly discovered antiquity of our planet: «Now we learn what patient periods must round themselves before the rock is formed, then before the rock is broken, and the first lichen race has disintegrated the thinnest external plate into soil, and opened the door for the remote Flora, Fauna, Ceres, and Pomona, to come in. How far off yet is the trilobite! how far the quadruped! how inconceivably remote is man!»

Emerson combines this idea with the observation by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) that organisms tend to multiply beyond their resources, giving us a capsule version of natural selection. «The vegetable life,» Emerson says, again prefiguring Darwin, «does not content itself with casting from the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish, thousands may plant themselves, that hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity; that, at least one may replace the parent.» Certainly, with the parable of the sower, Jesus beat Emerson to the punch; but as Emerson himself might have said, there is a kinship among prophets, and they speak to each other across the millennia.

Emerson also seems to have anticipated by about 80 years Erwin Schrödinger’s and Albert Einstein’s discovery that matter is made of energy. «Compound it how she will, star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, it is still one stuff, and betrays the same properties,» Emerson writes, adding: «Without electricity the air would rot.»

Recognizing the mathematical basis of physical reality, he seems aware that the apparent solidity of matter is the illusion that physicists would later show it to be: «moon, plant, gas, crystal, are concrete geometry and numbers.» (I imagine Emerson would have been pleased by the discovery of quarks, which are bits of math spinning in a mathematical space-time field.) He already seems to intuit the Big Bang, the theory of the universe’s birth that would not appear for another hundred years. «That famous aboriginal push,» as he calls it, anticipating today’s scientific understanding of the universe, is a continuing process that «propagates itself through all the balls of the system; through every atom of every ball; through all the races of creatures, and through the history and performances of every individual.»

But Emerson is skeptical about the then-fashionable idea that nature was like a clockwork, a deterministic machine whose future—including our thoughts, feelings and actions—could be predicted if we knew everything that was happening at a prior moment. He, too, felt the «uneasiness which the thought of our helplessness in the chain of causes occasions us.» But instead of accepting our fate as parts of a machine, he exalts nature’s wonderful waywardness, which defies science’s attempts at perfect prediction.

Emerson is no less perceptive of human matters. He anticipates Abraham Maslow, the 20th-century psychologist, recognizing that we will pursue our higher, freer, more spiritual goals only after sating our lower ones. «Hunger and thirst lead us on to eat and to drink,» he says, «but bread and wine…leave us hungry and thirsty, after the stomach is full.» Before Freud, before the sociobiologists, Emerson realized the psychological implications of our animal descent. «The smoothest curled courtier in the boudoirs of a palace has an animal nature,» he says, «rude and aboriginal as a white bear.» But he draws conclusions that even now we have difficulty accepting—for example, that there is no meaningful distinction between the natural and artificial (or man-made). «Nature who made the mason, made the house,» he says. There is no point trying to go back to nature; we are already there.

America largely ignored Emerson’s insights about what is «natural» for a century and a half. Instead, we divided the world into the populated urban wasteland and the «empty» untouched wilderness. Thus we felt justified in uglifying our cities while attempting to eradicate all change and human agency from our national parks. If we feel alienated from nature, it is because we are suffering a hangover from a certain vanity of thought that would raise us above and out of nature. But Emerson sees nature as potentially improved by human beings and human beings as the epitome of nature. Such a view would lead, as it has begun to do recently, to an environmental ethic in which human activity can enrich nature, rather than just lay waste to it or fence it off. «Only as far as the masters of the world have called in nature to their aid, can they reach the height of magnificence,» he writes. «This is the meaning of their hanging-gardens, villas, garden-houses, islands, parks, and preserves.»

If we had heeded Emerson, we might also have avoided the huge and costly mistake of dividing academic life into two fire-walled regimes, the humanities and the sciences. The consequence was not only that we have had generations of ill-educated young—scientists who know no poetry, poets who know no science—but something even graver. Free will, if isolated from the controlling gentleness and complexity of nature, readily becomes the will to power, which can serve (and has) as a rationale for genocide. We are only now beginning to see the madness of where Western philosophy has led us. Emerson’s genial sanity can perhaps provide an antidote. As he says in «Politics,» published in 1844, «the wise know that foolish legislation is a rope of sand, which perishes in the twisting; the State must follow and not lead the character and progress of the citizen….»

Perhaps Emerson’s most exciting prophetic insights are ones that have not yet been fully realized. Consider David Bohm’s idea of the «implicate order,» still only a gleam in the eye of physics, that all of physical reality might be thought of as a holographic projection. Emerson, intuiting that concept a century and a half ago, says that, «from any one object the parts and properties of any other may be predicted.» Like Stephen Wolfram, whose 2002 book A New Kind of Science advances a view of cosmology as the playing-out of a simple algorithm, Emerson suggested that the world is the result of a simple computational process repeated over and over. Emerson, like Wolfram, cites the seashell, saying of the «whole code of [nature’s] laws» that «Every shell on the beach is a key to it. A little water made to rotate in a cup explains the formation of the simpler shells; the addition of matter from year to year, arrives at last at the most complex forms….»

Emerson’s greatest challenge to contemporary thought may be his view of evolution as a purposeful natural process—an idea vehemently rejected today. He argues that evolution harbors its own divine spirit and, therefore, that the universe is bursting with meaning. In his own time, Emerson was accused of being a pantheist, or a believer in the idea that nature is God, but that accusation misses its mark. For Emerson, nature is not God but the body of God’s soul—»nature,» he writes, is «mind precipitated.» Emerson feels that to fully realize one’s role in this respect is to be in paradise. He ends «Nature» with these words: «Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after a long time.»

Certainly, Emerson’s prophecy did not encompass cell phones, nuclear radiation and molecular genetics. But the American renaissance, of which he could fairly be called the founder, deserves to be revisited if we ever gather our culture together again for another bout of supreme creativity.


eBook of Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson