Several years before I went back to school to get my English degree, I actually graduated from college with a Political Science degree.
I planned on going to law school and blah, blah, blah, and Political Science was just one of the degrees you got if you were going to law school. It was a bad decision, but that’s another story for another day.
But to say the only reason I majored in Political Science was because of my ill-conceived law school aspirations wouldn’t be entirely true. As a teenager and young adult, I had always been strangely fascinated by politics.
I never had any desire to be a politician, but I was fascinated by the game of politics, the organized farce of it all, like a rubbernecker who can’t stop looking at a fatal car crash.
The psychological aspect of politics, the cyclical nature of elections (the public gets tired of one party and votes the other one in—rinse, wash, repeat), and the willingness of the public to believe a man just because he has a nice smile and a convincing tone has always amazed me. Ninety percent of politics is just marketing—plain and simple.
So all of that to say I was heavily predisposed to enjoy All The King’s Men, and it didn’t disappoint. Robert Penn Warren crafted a novel that, in the 1940s, showcases many of the same problems we have with politics and politicians in 2013.
About halfway into reading All The King’s Men, I realized my copy of the book is the “restored” edition.
I noticed this because, in all the other reviews about the book and the movie, the main character is referenced as Willie Stark. In my copy, the character goes by the name of Willie Talos.
When I first noticed this, I thought maybe the character undergoes some kind of name change or something within the context of the story. But, then, I noticed in LARGE letters on the front of the book: RESTORED EDITION.
Basically, the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, decided to overwrite a lot of the changes Robert Penn Warren’s editors made—of which RPW was supposedly not crazy about—and revert the text back to the earlier draft. All of this is explained in the book’s afterword.
One of the main sources of contention between RPW and his editors had to do with the main character’s name. Here’s the letter that one of Warren’s editors sent to him during the process of revisions.
All The King’s Men is said by many critics to be the greatest political novel of all time.
I don’t know about that, but it is a really freakin’ good book. And since I thought I hadn’t tackled that many true political novels as part of reading the Time list, I started wondering what else is out there.
Here’s what I found–and well, it turns out, I have read a few political novels:
Robert Penn Warren is pretty amazing dude.
He’s the only person ever to win Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. Warren won the 1947 Pulitzer for All The King’s Men, and he won Pultizers in 1958 and 1979 for his poetry. Amazing.
I’m not a big poetry guy. I’ve tried and tried, but I’ve just never really gotten into it. But while researching RPW’s poems, I came across this one called “A Way To Love God.”
See what you think:
Despite Robert Penn Warren’s—how shall I put it?—verbose style of writing, I’m really enjoying All The King’s Men.
The novel focuses on the dirtiness of politics, but it really has a little bit of everything—and so much insight into the human mind, as might be expected from a novelist who is also a famous poet.
Last week, I shared a great piece of dialogue about political speeches between “The Boss” and his right-hand man, Jack Burden, who is the narrator of the novel.
Today, let’s take a look at a passage about a totally different topic. This one, which comes from Jack Burden’s perspective, reflects on the nature of parents and their relationships with adult children.
I love it when a novel teaches me something.
For example, I’m learning a lot about history from All The King’s Men–a novel based on the life of Huey Long (nicknamed “The Kingfish”). Call me ignorant, but I had never heard of Huey Long before reading this book.
And while All The King’s Men is simply based on Long–and Robert Penn Warren even rejected that notion to some degree–the book still gives such a feel and flavor for southern politics in the 1920s and 1930s. It has opened my eyes up to a subject I haven’t read that much about.
So what of this Huey Long?
Here’s the thing about movies.
If you’re going to remake a film, a film that won multiple Academy Awards and received rave reviews, then you better do an unbelievably good job.
That’s why I believe the Gatsby film was a success. The previous film versions of the classic novel sucked, so the bar was set pretty low when Baz Luhrmann got around to making the movie. It wasn’t just better than previous Gatsby movies–it was a very good movie on its merit.
On the flip side, what about All The King’s Men?
With the novel, which is also my current read from the Time list, Robert Penn Warren won the Pulitzer in 1947. Playing off that success, Robert Rossen directed the 1949 movie, which won three Academy Awards, including the big one—Best Picture.
Here’s a trailer for the 1949 film, which starred Broderick Crawford.
What I love about All The King’s Men to this point is its brutal depiction of backroom politics.
For a guy, like me, who doesn’t trust a single politician, this type of book is right in my wheelhouse.
Politics is all about marketing and appearance. It’s very little substance.
Here’s a great passage from All The King’s Men that illustrates that. It’s a discussion between Willie—the “boss” who is running for governor—and Jack Burden, his right-hand man.
Willie has just finished giving a speech with lackluster response from the crowd:
All The King’s Men is one of those novels that has always lurked in the background of my reading list.
I’ve heard great things about it. I’ve known it as a political novel that’s highly regarded, and I’ve always wanted to read it.
Now’s that time! Honestly, the majority of my familiarity with this book comes from the Academy Award winning 1949 film.
Here are a few quick facts about All The King’s Men and its author, Robert Penn Warren.