Amidst all the hoopla about the newly published Harper Lee novel, Go Set a Watchman, Time Inc Books has published a magazine answering all the questions you might ever have about To Kill a Mockingbird, the making of the movie, the world of Harper Lee, and, inevitably, the impact the book and the movie made on racial relations not only in the 50s and 60s but into the future.
This book is full of archival photos and documents that help to bring the history of Mockingbird to life. The endpapers of the book show a copy of the 2nd page of a letter Truman Capote, Nelle’s friend and contemporary (she dropped the Nelle for publication), wrote to his aunt in July of 1959 about Harper Lee and the book she was writing in glowing terms. Facing these pages, front and back respectively, are photos of the covers of Mockingbird and Watchman. In between are fascinating articles about the setting, the times being written about, and the time of the writing. What is so definitely the history of the past for us today, was being written as the near past based on current events. That is one of the things that makes Mockingbird ring so true: immediacy.
While the movie was shot in Hollywood, the sets were very much based on Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, a town of about 1300 citizens when she was born in 1926. Her father was “a state legislator and country lawyer who once defended two black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper; like Atticus Finch, the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, Amasa Coleman Lee proved unable to protect either his clients’ good names or their lives.” Her mother was a homemaker. Several homes in the town were used as a basis for creating the Radley house and there is a fun photo of Harper poised on tiptoe trying to look into the dark window of “a rotting old structure”. It was the old Hodge place, long abandoned and used by kids for club initiations. “They [called] it the haunted house.”
Life deals with the controversy about the publications of Watchman, as well. I’ve read elsewhere that this book was re-written and edited to become Mockingbird rather than Mockingbird being the prequel to Watchman, and rumours and accusations that Lee, today, is mentally unstable. But Life quotes Lee”
her editor was “taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood.” Lee was thus encouraged to write that other, different book. “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”
While she has shunned fame throughout her life, Harper has been anything but a recluse; though she now lives with assistance, that doesn’t make her mentally incompetent. In that same shy, humble attitude, Lee has said, “I am . . . amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”
There are, as one might expect, many wonderful photos of Lee’s early life, Lee on the set of Mockingbird, Lee with Gregory Peck in Monroeville, receiving awards, visiting high school productions of adaptations of her book for the stage, as well as those documenting the equal rights movement of the early 60s. This is a marvellous collection of stories and photos that will be treasured by fans of Lee and Mockingbird, and fill in the gaps between then and Watchman. Whether you plan on reading Go Set a Watchman, or not, The Enduring Power of To Kill a Mockingbird makes a great companion to the original book, and will probably entice you into purchasing the sequel as well. * * * * *