K.R. in the Blogosphere: Did Kenneth Roberts help inspire the creation of Pepe Le Pew? Not likely.

Below is a post I wrote back in March of 2011.  I had come across a supposed letter from famous animator Chuck Jones in which it stated that one of Kenneth Roberts’ works was the source of inspiration for Pepe le Pew (The post was originally written 3/10/11).

I stumbled upon a blog post at Letters of Note in which the author provides a facsimile of a letter written by Chuck Jones (a “legendary animator”) to a class of students about the benefits of reading.  In this letter he tells where he received inspiration for several Looney Toones characters, such as Wile E. Coyote, Bugs Bunny, etc.  What’s of interest to this blog is his statement: “I found the entire romantic personality of Pepe Le Pew in a book written by Kenneth Roberts, Captain Hook.”

To my knowledge, Kenneth Roberts has never written a book titled Captain Hook.  If the Kenneth Roberts Jones references is indeed the Kenneth Roberts of this site, then he probably meant to reference Captain Caution.  It’s been a while since I’ve read this book to know which character served as inspiration for Pepe Le Pew, so if you have an idea, let me know.

The real mystery, though, would be if the Kenneth Roberts that Jones refers to is another Kenneth Roberts that wrote a book titled Captain Hook.  However, I have yet to come across a book with such title AND author.

Nevertheless, a fun piece of Kenneth Roberts trivia!

***Update 3/16: The letter had apparently been up for auction on ebay (check here) but, according to the seller, was sold as of yesterday.  Here is an image the seller posted of the letter:

Interestingly, the image at Letters of Note still had the address of those to whom the letter is addressed, but the address was pixelated in order to “erase” the address.

So, in the midst of my studies, I periodically try to hunt down this “Captain Hook” that Roberts did or did not write.  This letter has grabbed my attention!

During my search for the supposed “Captain Hook” written by Roberts, I was able to find out the following (written 3/19/11 but not published):

I recently wrote a post that highlighted a supposed letter written by famed animator Chuck Jones in which he lists several books that inspired some of his characters (the original post I referenced was from Letters of Note).  Of interest to this blog was the mention of Kenneth Roberts and his book Captain Hook.

I had stated in my post that Roberts has never written a book titled Captain Hook, and that perhaps Jones had either written the incorrect title (meaning to say Captain Caution) or had the wrong author.  To search for the correct answer, I had written the writer (Robert) for the blog Chuck Redux – a site devoted solely to Chuck Jones’ memory and works – and asked him about this letter.

According to Robert – whose authority I trust regarding the works and life of Chuck Jones – Jones had never stated that he was inspired by a literary work for the character Pepe le Pew.  In light of Jones’ photographic memory, such a mistake in a letter from him causes concern regarding the authenticity of the letter.  Other aspects of the letter have raised red flags as well.

In short, the Roberts reference is not correct and Roberts was not an influence on Pepe le Pew, and the letter’s authenticity is in question.  Unfortunately, the letter is making its way throughout the blogosphere as many have caught on to the post at Letters of Note AND the letter has been sold from the ebay auction.

Hopefully more to come.

By the way, check out Robert’s great blog on Chuck Jones.  As a fan of Looney Tunes (growing up and now), this blog is a great way to know the animator that created those characters we grew up with.

I’d withheld publishing these posts in 2011 as Robert checked out the authenticity of the letter, and as time passed, I forgot to update. So there you go!  A bit of news that’s more than likely untrue, but interesting nonetheless.

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Kenneth Roberts the Man: Why He Wrote Historical Fiction

If you’ve been reading this blog the past few days, there’s been a lively discussion regarding the nature of Roberts’ research, of which I am not an expert to determine the truthfulness or falsity of what he presents.  As such, while I appreciate the comments from Stephen Sniegoski and Mark York, I remain in my belief that Roberts sought to portray information accurately, and will do so until I can read York’s book and weigh the evidence myself.  I do acknowledge, though, that no historian was 100% objective, completely unfettered by his own worldview and biases. Roberts, I am sure, and practically all historians (more some than others, though), struggle with this.  And, to be fair, this is not unusual – we must all, when given facts, interpret them.  At times, we can be spot on, and other times miss the mark.  When it comes to Roberts, the subject of this blog and a writer I am rather familiar with, I believe he did strive to do history well and accurately. 

Thus, in light of the recent discussion, my tendency is to first give Roberts the benefit of the doubt.  In his autobiography I Wanted to Write (particularly pages 166-169), Roberts discusses what brought him to begin writing historical fiction, and not just history.  This journey began when his curiosity was piqued regarding his family’s role in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812.  When he sought answers from his family, he came up empty of answers and overrunning with more questions.  He then turned to histories for answers.

I had tried to get some of these things straightened out in my mind by reading histories that purported to explain them; but in every case–not in most cases, but in every case–I found that the books explained nothing fully or satisfactorily.  They were drab, dull, unconvincing, rich in omissions, and crowded with statements that couldn’t possibly be true (167).

He goes on to mention other historians of ability (Francis Parkman and William Hickling Prescott, both of whom I am unfamiliar), but pointed out their deficiencies when it came to the American Revolution.  At some point, he came to a turning point in his career:

Before the summer ended I was disgusted beyond words by the incredible dullness and scantiness of so-called histories.  I realized that I could never find out what I wanted to know…unless I assembled all the necessary information from every obtainable source; then put all that information together in a book in which characters acted and talked.

That, it dawned on me, was what I must do.  Even though nobody read what I wrote, it ought to be done, because nobody had every done it before–and there ought to be at least one book that would give the good people of Maine an honest, detailed and easily understood account of how their forebears got along.  I hadn’t the slightest desire then to write what is known as an historical novel, not have I ever had any intention of doing so.  In fact, I have always had a profound aversion to most historical novels, because the people in them aren’t real people, and neither act nor talk like anyone I’ve ever known (168).

Based upon this, and other statements Roberts made elsewhere, I don’t think he sought to write a novel that happened to deal with history; I believe he sought to write history that was readable to the general public, and that means was through the novel.  Later in I Wanted to Write, Roberts discusses the time when Oliver Wiswell was being considered for a Pulitzer, giving us a glimpse into how he viewed his own works. 

Roberts had received news that Oliver Wiswell had not received the Pulitzer, having been ruled out “on the ground that it wasn’t really a novel, but history disguised as fiction” (356).  He would later write in one of his journals: “‘Apparently the Pulitzer Committee considers itself privileged to change the rules on literature as well as Pulitzer’s prize rules; but no matter what the Pulitzer Committee things or says, Oliver Wiswell will continue to be a novel as well as history” (356-57, emphasis mine).  I believe what we see here is that Roberts did not see his work as fiction, nor did he see his work as primarily a novel and secondarily a history.  I believe that Roberts truly believed he was writing a novel AND history; perhaps, based upon his earlier comments mentioned above, Roberts saw himself as writing a history through the vehicle of a novel.

Thus, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Roberts embellished things for the sake of his novel.  Did he get facts wrong?  I’m sure he did.  But to argue that it was due to personal bias or any other reason is to judge Roberts’ intent, which cannot be argued with 100% certainty, but rather to argue plausibly – the likeliness of Roberts embellishing fact for the sake of his novel or the factual error existing for other reasons.  To argue Roberts embellished fact for the sake of the novel, then,  is to place the burden of proof on the one making the claim, and this is a rather difficult claim to back, in my opinion.  

I Wanted to Write is an excellent glimpse into Roberts’ reasons for and motivation behind his writings.  It is also a glimpse into the numerous hours (more like months, even years) he put into research before and during his work on a particular book. If what he relays in his autobiography is honest and of unselfish motivation, then I think we should read his works in light of what he tells us, and handle possible factual errors accordingly.

With this said, I would like to reiterate how exciting it is to see Roberts’ work playing a role in today’s scholarship.  Let’s hope that more follow York by taking Roberts’ works seriously and critically.

K.R. in Current Works: Mark York’s “Patriot on the Kennebec”

Today via the comment section of this blog, I was introduced to Mark York and his work titled Patriot on the Kennebec: Major Reuben Colburn, Benedict Arnold and the March to Quebec, 1775 .  According to York, here is a short blurb on his book:

In late 1775, a few months after the first shots of the Revolution were fired, Benedict Arnold led more than one thousand troops into Quebec to attack the British there. Departing from Massachusetts, by the time they reached Pittston, Maine, they were in desperate need of supplies and equipment to carry them the rest of the way. Many patriotic Mainers contributed, including Major Reuben Colburn, who constructed a flotilla of bateaux for the weary troops. Despite his service in the Continental army, many blamed Colburn when several of the vessels did not withstand the harsh journey. In this narrative, the roles played by Colburn and his fellow Mainers in Arnold’s march are reexamined and revealed.

In my reply to his comment, I’d asked Mark if he could provide a short summary on how he interacts with Kenneth Roberts’ works in his own Patriot on the Kennebec.  Mark kindly responded in an email with the following:

The journals of the members of the expedition Roberts collected and compiled in March to Quebec are critical to the study, but some of Roberts’ pet peeves, chinks in his historical armor, that he reveals in the margins of March are also disproven by the journals themselves. For example, the banquet at Fort Western and Aaron Burr’s exploits. The meal happened, and yet since his relative, Edward Nason, was an enlisted man, he would have been sleeping outside in the rain and not feasting inside with the Howards, Reuben Colburn, Burr and other officers. There was also some unflattering portrayals of the guides from my neck of the woods in Arundel that are sort of insulting. Roberts was a man of privilege, but he could be unapologetic and uncaring of anyone not so lucky.

My essay in the opening of Patriot reflects these flaws while praising his efforts and making my job so much easier. Yet, I believe I’ve broken new ground in uncovering things about the expedition that other authors have miscalculated. Robert’s and I agree on the complex story of Natanis and Sabatis, though. He reveals his initial bias against my central Maine people in the dialogue of Arundel. ” I was prepared to mislike Colburn for Washington and Arnold’s fondness for bateaux, but I had wronged him.”

I find this very intriguing.  While Roberts was indeed a great writer and to be appreciated for his research and writing, he was not without his foibles and errors.  What I appreciate about Mark is that despite his appreciation for Roberts (or maybe because of ?), he is willing to critique Roberts and point out possible errors in his works.

I look forward to reading this book and I hope you get a chance to purchase this book.  You can find it via Amazon by clicking here.

Visit Rocky Pastures – Kenneth Roberts’ Estate

I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I’ve last posted on this site.  My apologies for lack of attention to this site!  I must confess, I didn’t realize how busy a Ph D keeps you despite hearing testimonials from friends in the program!

With that said, I received a comment from Paula Robinson Rossouw regarding an opportunity for the public to view Kenneth Roberts’ estate, Rocky Pastures.  Here’s what the comments said:

Rocky Pastures will be open to the public for the first time this summer between June 23 and July 14. The Kennebunkport Historical Society are organizing a Designer Show House. Here’s the link: http://www.kporthistory.org/things-to-do/design-show-house/

I must say that this would definitely be a treat for Kenneth Roberts fans, and I am quite jealous of those who can make it!  If you do happen to go and take pictures, I’ll be glad to post them on this site (giving credit, of course, to the source).

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