The Great Brain

The Great Brain

"The Great Brain" is a series of children's books by American author John Dennis Fitzgerald (1907-1988). Set in the fictitious small town of Adenville, Utah, at the turn of the last century, between 1896 and 1898, the stories are loosely based on Fitzgerald's childhood experiences. From Fitzgerald's description of the town of Adenville as the hub of a cattle and sheep ranching region in Utah, it may be reasonable to infer that it was based on Price, Utah.

Unfortunately, both the movie AND the book were given a one and a half star rating.

Chronicled by the first-person voice of John Dennis Fitzgerald, the stories mainly center around the escapades of John's mischievous older brother, Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, whose nickname is "The Great Brain". "The Great Brain" was made into a movie in the late 1970s, with the main character played by Jimmy Osmond.

Mercer Mayer originally illustrated the books except for 1995's "The Great Brain Is Back" (which was illustrated by Diane deGrant). Mr. Mayer did the original cover illustrations for the first seven books also, but Carl Cassler re-did the cover illustrations for some of the re-prints of the first seven books.

eries titles

Titles in order of chronological continuity include:

* "The Great Brain" (1967)
* "More Adventures of the Great Brain" (1969)
* "Me and My Little Brain" (1971)
* "The Great Brain At The Academy" (1972)
* "The Great Brain Reforms" (1973)
* "The Return of the Great Brain" (1974)
* "The Great Brain Does It Again" (1976)
* "The Great Brain Is Back" (Published in 1995 from loose notes after the author's death)

Main Characters

Fitzgerald family

The Fitzgerald family members include:

* John Dennis Fitzgerald (J.D.) - the narrator of the series, and youngest of the three brothers before the adoption of Frankie Pennyworth
* Tom Dennis Fitzgerald (T.D.) - the mischievous middle brother and swindler extraordinaire. His nickname is "The Great Brain", and his escapades form the basis for the series. Throughout the series, Tom demonstrates that he possesses great intelligence and a money-loving heart, but at times, he also demonstrates great humanity and generosity.
* Sweyn Dennis Fitzgerald (S.D.) - the eldest brother; eventually departs for Pennsylvania to live with relatives so that he can attend high school.
* Frankie Pennyworth - a boy who is adopted by the Fitzgerald family after the loss of his own family in a landslide. When he first arrives, he has a mental block stemming from this trauma. John reflects that his name should be "Frankenstein Dollarworth", because, he says, Frankie is "a monster and a dollar's worth of trouble".
* Thomas ("Papa" or "Fitz") Dennis Fitzgerald - patriarch of the family. Owner, editor, and publisher of the town paper, the "Adenville Weekly Advocate". He is an Irish Catholic originally from the Eastern United States who headed west to seek his fortune as a newspaper writer and publisher. He is one of Adenville's leading citizens, and the only one with a college education.
* Tena ("Mama") Fitzgerald - matriarch of the family and homemaker, of Danish-Scandinavian ancestry
* William Dennis ("Uncle Will") Fitzgerald—"soi-disant" black sheep of the family. His brother Thomas came West looking for him after he left home. He won the Whitehorse Saloon in the mining camp of Silverlode in a poker game, and after Silverlode became a ghost town, moved to the east side of Adenville and opened another Whitehorse. Despite his "black sheep" status, he and his brother are on excellent terms, and his nephews admire him.
* Aunt Bertha - not actually the brothers' aunt but family nonetheless
* Uncle Mark - the town marshal
* Aunt Cathie - Mark's wife, who appears only briefly when she and Mark consider adopting Frankie

All the Fitzgerald men have the middle name of Dennis, a reminder of the "Fitzgerald Curse," put upon the family because of the cowardice of an ancestor named Dennis.

In reality, the author had a sister, Belle Fitzgerald Empey [] . In addition, his brother "Sweyn" is fictional; the real John had three elder brothers, William, Gerald and Tom, and a younger brother, Charles [] .

Other characters

Some of the town's other children include:

* Sammy Leeds, who is something of a bully. His father is extremely bigoted and incites him to harass Basil because he is a Greek immigrant.
* Herbie Sties, a fat poet whom Tom sets out to reform
* Danny Forester, son of the town's barber. Danny's left eye always seems half-shut, except when he gets excited.
* Andy Anderson, an amputee who receives assistance from Tom for a price
* Basil Kokovinis, a Greek boy who recently immigrated to America. Upon his arrival in Adenville he has difficulty assimilating, until Tom takes the initiative to show Basil the ropes of being a bona fide American kid.
* Seth Smith, a local Mormon boy about Tom's age. Seth's father owns the empty lot on which the children frequently play baseball and scrub football
* Jimmy Gruber, a diabetic boy who dies in childhood, after stealing Frankie's rocking horse.
* Parley Benson, son of a bounty hunter and the envy of most of the other boys. He possesses his own coonskin cap, a Bowie knife, and his own repeating air rifle. Tom wins Parley's air rifle in a bet about whether Tom can magnetize wood. After reading about boomerangs in an encyclopedia and seeing an illustration of one in a dictionary, Tom fashions a boomerang from a stick, and after throwing it, holds up a magnet to make it appear the magnet is bringing it back. Losing his air rifle gets Parley the "worst whipping of his life" from his father.
* Marie Vinson, daughter of leading citizen, Mrs. Vinson. Sweyn is sweet on Marie, much to John and Tom's chagrin. John refers to her as "that stuck-up Marie Vinson".
* "Britches Dottie," a "tomboy" whom Tom teaches to read and write, and who is given dresses and taught to act like a conventional girl by Tom's mother. Dottie beats up Sammy Leeds when he teases her.
* Polly Reagan, who becomes Tom's girlfriend when he turns 13. She and Tom are co-winners of the town spelling bee.
* Howard Kay, one of John's best friends, who has "a round face like a pumpkin". In the first book, John, wanting to get the mumps before Tom and Sweyn and expose them, sneaks into Howard's bedroom when he is quarantined with mumps and begs him to breathe on him, which Howard eventually does reluctantly. Later, Howard is almost killed when a flood strikes while he is river rafting on Tom's "Explorer", after being pressured by Tom to ride it (and thus pay the five-cent fee) even though the river had turned muddy, which was a sign of a flood.
* Jimmy Peterson, another of John's best friends, whose mother owns the local boarding house and whose mother buys clothes that are too big for him because he doesn't have any brothers who could use the clothes as hand-me-downs. He is almost killed along with Howard Kay on Tom's raft.
* Eddie Huddle, Frankie's best friend and son of the town blacksmith
* Frank and Allan Jenson, who in the first book of the series disappear into Skeleton Cave, along with their dog Lady. Tom rescues them, using his 'great brain.'

Religious demographics

Catholicism is central to the family's life and identity, a recurring theme in a town where Catholics are distinctly in the minority. The breakdown is said to be 2,000 Mormons, 500 or so Protestants, and only about 100 Catholics. All the non-Mormons or "Gentiles" attend a generalized community church, and the Fitzgeralds have to make do with the services of itinerant priests and of the local preacher, Reverend Holcomb, who preaches "strictly from the Bible" so he does not show favoritism to either Protestants or Catholics.

The Jewish population is very small, comprised of an aging itinerant Jewish peddler named Abie who sets up shop in Adenville with tragic results, as chronicled in the first book in the series, "The Great Brain". Abie dies of starvation because his small shop cannot compete with the ZCMI store. Papa explains to the townspeople that it was the fact that Abie was a Jew that no one recognized or helped him with his situation. With Abie's death, it can be inferred that the town no longer has any Jewish people living in it.


*Papa, who had emigrated from the northeastern United States, is the only person in town with a college education.
*Adenville contains a schoolhouse that serves the first through sixth grades. At the end of the first book, the schoolhouse burns down. Papa, wrongly believing that Tom has reformed, doesn't bother to check to see if he is in bed. It is never revealed whether Tom was responsible for the fire.
*When Tom turns twelve, Papa sends him to a Catholic boarding academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, that serves ten boys in the seventh grade and ten boys in the eighth grade.

*Later, a new academy is built in Adenville for seventh and eighth grade, so that other children may get a higher education. Tom attends eighth grade there.

Historical context

Fitzgerald's books describe many issues regarding society and life in the context of the turn of the last century, between 1896 and 1898 in the southwestern United States. Among the topics covered are the following:

* The small-town culture of long ago
* Diabetes
* The banking system in the days before the Federal Reserve,
* Racism, intolerance, and indifference.
**Although blacks do not appear, the issue of nativism arises when some of the kids torment the son of a Greek immigrant.
** Native Americans and their lives on reservations
** The second-class status of Jews
* Mormonism and Catholicism
* Modes of transportation, such as walking, riding horses, and for longer journeys, trains.
* Sewage. Outhouses are not only the norm, they are a mark of social status. When Papa orders a flush toilet (called a "water closet") from Sears Roebuck and has a cesspool built, the whole town becomes fascinated. Tom charges a penny per person to see it flushed.
* Child discipline. Most families gave their children "whippings." In "The Great Brain Reforms," Parley Benson says that his pa "horsewhipped" him for letting Tom cheat him out of his repeating air rifle. The better-educated, more progressive Fitzgeralds are a notable exception with their use of the silent treatment. This means that Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald will not talk to or acknowledge the boy or boys being punished for a day, a week, or longer depending on the circumstances. J.D. frequently describes the silent treatment as worse than a whipping because of the emotional impact of being ignored by his parents, and at times says that he wishes his parents would just give them a whipping and get it over with.
* Non-conformity. Tom and John's fear that they will be seen as a coward, sissy, or welcher by the other boys of the town is a driving factor in more than a few of the stories.
* Leisure time amusements and activities in the days before radio and television.
* Crime. This includes episodes such as the outlaw Cal Roberts escaping from prison and holding Frankie hostage, a bank robbery, a cattle buyer being robbed and murdered on a train, and the citizens of Adenville being defrauded by con men claiming to represent "Alkali Products, Inc." Tom becomes involved in solving these crimes because of the Fitzgerald boys' relationship with their Uncle Mark, the town marshal. In "The Great Brain is Back", Tom also helps prove the innocence of three Native Americans framed for theft, breaks up a dogfighting ring, and escapes kidnappers.
* There is an anachronism in the series about Cracker Jack. In "The Return of the Great Brain", Tom concocts a swindle using a "wheel of fortune," like a roulette wheel, where players win prizes depending on the number on which the wheel stops spinning. Half of the numbers win two boxes of Cracker Jack, with, as Tom says, "the usual prize in each box." However, prizes did not appear in Cracker Jack until 1912; the Great Brain series is set in the late 1800s.
* There are some chapters in the series involving the paranormal, although the events can be explained naturally.
** In "The Great Brain", Tom involves his friends in a plan to frame the new schoolteacher for being a drunk, and makes them swear an oath not to tell on the skull of a purported dead Indian chief, calling upon the chief's ghost to "come back to earth and cut out the tongue of anybody who tells."
** In "More Adventures of the Great Brain", the people of Adenville, including Papa and Uncle Mark, believe that a prehistoric animal is on the loose due to "monster tracks" leading from Skeleton Cave to the river and back. In reality, Tom has created those tracks to scare Parley Benson away from the cave and win a bet.
** Later in the same book, Tom, John, Sweyn, and several of their friends encounter a ghost in the abandoned mining town of Silverlode; the "ghost" is really the uncle of one of their friends dressed in a sheet, for the purpose of scaring them away from the very real physical dangers of that place.
** In "The Great Brain at the Academy", Tom and his friend Jerry win a bet by making it appear that Jerry can read minds.
** In "The Great Brain Does It Again", Tom has Herbie Sties, the "greedy gut", take a "sacred oath" on the Bible to "stop eating ice cream and candy and more than one dessert a day", declaring that "if I break my sacred vow, my soul will belong to the Devil and I'll burn in everlasting Hell". When Herbie still does not lose even one pound, Tom and John investigate and secretly observe him consuming a bag-load of candy. Rather than denounce him on the spot, Tom has John dress up in a devil costume and knock on Herbie's window as he is getting ready for bed. Herbie believes for five days that a devil really has come to claim his soul, although the trick is eventually revealed.

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