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How Willie Talos Became Willie Stark

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.

…there is one point that came up when the others read this copy that I think is important enough to pass on to you, though not for any immediate decisions. This was the feeling, generally expressed, that Talos was not the right sort of name for the character. It presents an ambiguity in pronunciation, and in addition carries a foreign flavor that suggests a different background for the man than is actually the case. I recognize some metaphorical overtones in the word Talos that may be important to you, but I think this criticism of the name has some point on the practical level. The book might gain by a name of less ambiguous pronunciation, and one that suggested more definitely an American origin. As I have said, this is nothing for immediate decision, and I would suggest that you make no change whatever immediately. If, when the final draft is completed, another name is to be substituted, the change can be taken care of by the copy editing in this office. So there is no need for you to do anything but put the problem in the back of your mind for the present, and let it stew there for awhile.

That’s great insight into the editorial process in publishing.

Makes me wonder why RPW didn’t stand up a little more for his character—and for his story!

Though it’s a different relationship, (author-editor versus author-screenwriter), this reminds me a little of the Anthony Burgess-Stanley Kubrick rift over A Clockwork Orange.

Why don’t these authors stand up for their novels?

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Matt #

    Great piece of info. I love that book and never knew that about the name. You wonder how often discussions like this must go on behind the scenes while a book is in the editing process.


    June 24, 2013
  2. Wow, that’s really interesting 🙂 Does the Afterword mention anything about the author’s response to this editor’s letter, or how he reached the decision in the end to go with the editor’s suggestion?


    June 25, 2013
    • I can’t remember exactly what it says, but the impression I got is that he wasn’t crazy about the change but went along with it anyway.


      June 25, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on williamsen90's Blog.


    July 5, 2013
  4. Hmm. I wonder what else was different. I love that book and I’ll always remember the name Willie Stark, but I suppose that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have remembered Willie Talos. I’m not as disturbed by editorial’s influence over an author because I think, for most, their main interest is making the book better and they’re very aware of serving the reader while maintaining an author’s vision. With an artist like Warren I don’t think they’d pose changes lightly as I think is clear from the letter. If it had been phrased differently, as in: Sales says to lose the name, I think then I’d worry. Who came up with “Stark”?


    August 6, 2013

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