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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cover Lover - A Clockwork Orange

Welcome to our first post from Cover Lover -- our book-collecting expert on covers from the past.

Every now and then, a filmed adaptation of a popular novel gets everything right. It’s near impossible to read Harper Lee and not picture Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and—regardless of whether you give a damn—Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh literally burn down the house in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. Dustin Hoffman looked nothing like the blond, good-looking grad student Charles Webb wrote about, but Hoffman will forever be Benjamin Braddock. And when Stanley Kubrick made up his rassoodock and cast Malcolm McDowell as Alex in his real horrorshow version of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, he crafted something malchicks and devotchkas are still keen on viddying almost 40 years later.

The hoodlums depicted on the first Ballantine paperback edition of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange look nothing like the cinematic incarnations of Alex and Pete and Georgie and Dim. There were four delinquents on the U.S. hardcover edition, but this paperback version is clearly one droog short—perhaps the publishers thought placing a female on the cover might sell the idea of the old “in-out-in-out” a bit better. The back of the book carries quotes from such admirers as William Burroughs and Roald Dahl, and positive reviews from Time and The New York Times. The cover promises a “terrifying shocker of a world dominated by teen-age gangs” but I bet more than one mid-1960’s reader tried to recoup his sixty cents after sitting down with Burgess’ book and—even with Stanley Edgar Hyman's helpful glossary—just scratched his greased head.

This psychedelic (cycle-delic?) artwork came along a few years later. Our Pop Art Alex—seen bursting out of the top of his own head—seems more interested in “turning on, tuning in, and dropping out” than “the old ultra-violence.” The cover still promises a “terrifying shocker of teen-age gangs” but there’s no question that this Alex—despite the relative innocence of his John Lennon glasses—is no stranger to the Korova Milkbar. Easy Rider has eclipsed any lingering images of The Wild One.

By 1971, director Stanley Kubrick had already sealed his popularity with the counter-culture by delivering the one-two punch of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). He was no stranger to literary adaptations either, having licked Lolita (oh, grow up!) in 1962. So great was Kubrick’s popularity that his name was mentioned above the book’s title, alerting potential readers that this novel was “soon to be Stanley Kubrick’s first motion picture since 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Notice how the artwork from the previous cover has been toned down, to make room for Kubrick.

It’s interesting to note that after debuting as a mass-market paperback in September 1965, sales didn’t warrant a reprint until February of ’68. The third printing appeared the following September, followed by a fourth printing in June, 1970. Let’s see: that makes intervals of 29 months, 19 months, nine months, and 16 months. This particular printing of the Burgess book—the fifth—arrived in October, 1971. Within three months, more had to be printed—this time, carrying glowing reviews of the Kubrick film from both Time and The New York Times on the back cover.

This last cover illustration—from 1972—was designed by David Pelham for the Penguin UK paperback and remained in use for over a decade. Kubrick’s take on the novel had become so firmly engrained in our consciousness that the book’s title on the cover seems almost redundant.

Nobody thinks director Robert Mulligan “wrote” To Kill A Mockingbird and Victor Fleming could never take Tara from Margaret Mitchell. In the rare case of A Clockwork Orange, however, Stanley Kubrick didn’t simply do justice to his source material. He brought Burgess’ novel to life on the big screen and his powerful vision still lingers in our gullivers. He placed his grazhny rookers over every frame of his film, and in doing so, effectively rivals Burgess for co-authorship of the book.

Cover Lover is currently researching a book on the role of masculinity in the works of Mark Twain, tentatively titled In No Sense A Broad.


the unreliable narrator said...

Hilarious post, Beth! That first cover is one droog short in more ways than one: It's not scary in the least. In fact it's worse than non-scary; it's kind of funny. It's like a late-fifties, terrified-by-hep-cats, made-nervous-by-Beats version of scary. The guy on the motorbike looks about as scary as Potsy. Or maybe Potsy's dad.

Speaking of film adaptations, it makes me think of nothing so much as the Robert Wise-directed West Side Story (1961). We can remind ourselves that the gang members are violent, murderous, hellbent on raping Anita, etc., but with current perspectives it's hard to view them as anything other than sweet-faced European-American guys in matching crew cuts and white t-shirts and (gasp!) blue jeans.

Having said all that, if early paperback covers of A Clockwork Orange had reflected what was inside, probably no one would ever have read it in the first place. Except maybe for Kubrick.

Beth Staples said...

Well said, UN! Now I have "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way..." in my head. Those gang guys make me want to skip and snap my fingers, not hide my daughters (I don't have children).

Incidentally, the author of this post is the anonymous Cover Lover, who is not me. He is a mystery, and wants to remain that way. Now that's a little scary! Sort of.

Guillaume said...

Hey, interesting blog entry. I am a huge fan of Anthony Burgess, which I have first known through A Clockwork Orange (as every man reaching teenage I guess), but I don't think that's his best novel. All the same, both book and movie were my favorite for a long while.

I can understand why they went for a psychedelic cover, but the Easy Rider one was pure treachery. I wonder what people who bought the novel judging by its cover thought of it once they started reading it.