Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Two Heavy Hitters

Next up at the Treasury of Laughter: A writer whose name inspires instant recognition and another writer whose name, for most folks, conjures up no recognition whatsoever, until you realize what characters he created.

First Joel Chandler Harris.

Who, you may ask?

Well, he created these guys:

(Sound of machetes, lucky and not, being unsheathed.)

Yes, the characters of Uncle Remus, Brer Rabbit, and the Tar Baby elicit only two responses: RACIST SLOP and Why hasn’t Disney ever released this movie on DVD? I’m inclined to be in the latter camp. I’ve read Chandler’s stories; he himself wrote he didn’t intend racism when he wrote them, but rather wanted to collect southern folk tales under the guise of Uncle Remus, whom he envisioned as an American Aesop. Harris worked with Henry W. Grady, a fellow journalist who worked to reintegrate the South into the Union after the Civil War and worked to ease racial tension in the South as well. But the haters probably don’t know or dismiss this legacy. No matter.

Then we go on to O. Henry, who, among other things, brought us this:

O. Henry, like Harris, celebrated the uncelebrated: The ordinary folk for O. Henry were the denizens of New York City who never made the papers, never did much more than live and work and raise children and try to get along, much as did the ordinary folk Harris wrote about in his collected folk tales. Both in their way capture the essence of what is good in America and in Americans. For that. I honor them both.

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