It takes a downright Herculean reader to trudge through Finnegans Wake or Ulysses, two of the most lengthy and arduous works of wordsmithship known to casual literature buffs. But there’s much more to James Joyce than archaic slang and non-sequiturs. Adults who want to absorb one of Joyce’s modern classics without twisting their brains into a pretzel would do well to consider his first collection of stories, 1914’s Dubliners. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man might be a bit more challenging, but comprehending it doesn’t necessarily require giving yourself a cerebral hemorrhage, either.
Children who, in order to get an edge on the competition for placement in future AP English courses, yearned to read an age-appropriate Joyce story used to be stuck with The Cat and the Devil. But in 2012, the author’s labors entered the public domain. Now precocious young’uns have the options of TCATD and the Cats of Copenhagen, although some stakeholders in Joyce’s legacy would’ve preferred if the latter had remained out of bookstores and libraries.
Joyce probably never envisioned either story for publication. He penned the original versions, within the same two-week period, into letters designed to entertain grandson Stephen James Joyce. Incidentally, Stephen J. Joyce grew up to earn a reputation as a particularly litigious proprietor of his genius grandad’s estate.
According to The James Joyce Centre, an old French folktale provided the impetus for TCATD – in which the mayor of Beaugency gets The Devil to construct a bridge across a river, then gyps the Evil One out of the human soul he expected out of the deal. The blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie makes TCATD sound almost like The Devil and Daniel Webster, except much cuter and with a cat in it.
There’s no mention of the Cats of Copenhagen on the Centre’s website, and the Guardian points out that its release prompted the Zurich James Joyce Foundation to accuse publishers Ithys Press of copyright law chicanery. Of course, we doubt young readers would concern themselves with the legal details surrounding expired intellectual ownership.
From what we can surmise from screen grabs on Brainpickings.org, COC is a micro-fiction compared to Joyce’s most famous works. In fact, it’s got a smaller word count than the piece you’re currently reading. Alongside quirky pictures by Casey Sorrow, Joyce’s winking prose details a reimagined capital of Denmark, where cops are too lazy to get out of bed or help old ladies cross the road, and virtually every young boy in town works as a bike messenger. Oddly, that’s pretty much how people who have never been to San Francisco envision San Francisco.
It would be a big stretch to say your kid will, one day, decipher Leopold Bloom’s legendary day of wandering around Dublin if he or she hears these stories before bedtime once in a while. But we’ve been told that children whose parents read to them tend to become more aggressively literate adults. So wouldn’t an early introduction to one of the greatest scribes in global history improve a youngster’s chance of growing into full-blown bookwormhood?