A Tale of Ratiocination

Cabinet of Curiosities, Domenico Remps, 1690s

 
 

The Gold-Bug is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. The story is often compared with Poe’s “tales of ratiocination” as an early form of detective fiction. Poe became aware of the public’s interest in secret writing in 1840 and asked readers to challenge his skills as a code-breaker. Poe took advantage of the popularity of cryptography as he was writing The Gold-Bug, and the success of the story centers on one such cryptogram.

Poe originally sold The Gold-Bug to George Rex Graham for Graham’s Magazine for $52 but asked for it back when he heard about a writing contest sponsored by Philadelphia’s Dollar Newspaper. Incidentally, Poe did not return the money to Graham and instead offered to make it up to him with reviews he would write. Poe won the grand prize; in addition to winning $100, the story was published in two installments on June 21 and June 28, 1843, in the newspaper. His $100 payment from the newspaper may have been the most he was paid for a single work. Anticipating a positive public response, the Dollar Newspaper took out a copyright on The Gold-Bug prior to publication.

The popularity of the story also brought controversy. Within a month of its publication, Poe was accused of conspiring with the prize committee by Philadelphia’s Daily Forum. The publication called The Gold-Bug an “abortion” and “unmitigated trash” worth no more than $15. Poe filed for a libel lawsuit against editor Francis Duffee. It was later dropped and Duffee apologized for suggesting Poe did not earn the $100 prize.Editor John Du Solle accused Poe of stealing the idea for The Gold-Bug from Imogine; or the Pirate’s Treasure, a story written by a schoolgirl named Miss Sherburne.

The Gold-Bug was republished as the first story in the Wiley & Putnam collection of Poe’s Tales in June 1845, followed by The Black Cat and ten other stories. The success of this collection inspired the first French translation of The Gold-Bug published in November 1845 by Alphonse Borghers in the Revue Britannique under the title, Le Scarabée d’or, becoming the first literal translation of a Poe story into a foreign language. It was translated into Russian from that version two years later, marking Poe’s literary debut in that country. In 1856, Charles Baudelaire published his translation of the tale in the first volume of Histoires extraordinaires. Baudelaire was very influential in introducing Poe’s work to Europe and his translations became the definitive renditions throughout the continent.

 
 

Eyed Click Beetle Alaus oculatus

 
 

The actual “gold-bug” in the story is not a real insect. Instead, Poe combined characteristics of two insects found in the area where the story takes place. The Callichroma splendidum, though not technically a scarab but a species of longhorn beetle (Cerambycidae), has a gold head and slightly gold-tinted body. The black spots noted on the back of the fictional bug can be found on the Alaus oculatus, a click beetle also native to Sullivan’s Island.

Poe’s depiction of the African servant Jupiter is often considered stereotypical and racist from a modern perspective. Jupiter is depicted as superstitious and so lacking in intelligence that he cannot tell his left from his right. Poe probably included the character after being inspired by a similar character in Sheppard Lee (1836) by Robert Montgomery Bird, which he had reviewed. Black characters in fiction during this time period were not unusual, but Poe’s choice to give him a speaking role was. Critics and scholars, however, question if Jupiter’s accent was authentic or merely comic relief, suggesting it was not similar to accents used by blacks in Charleston but possibly inspired by Gullah.

The Gold-Bug includes a cipher that uses a simple substitution cipher. Though he did not invent “secret writing” or cryptography (he was probably inspired by an interest in Daniel Defoe‘s Robinson Crusoe), Poe certainly popularized it during his time. To most people in the 19th century, cryptography was mysterious and those able to break the codes were considered gifted with nearly supernatural ability. Poe had drawn attention to it as a novelty over four months in the Philadelphia publication Alexander’s Weekly Messenger in 1840.

The Gold-Bug inspired Robert Louis Stevenson in his novel about treasure-hunting, Treasure Island (1883). Stevenson acknowledged this influence: “I broke into the gallery of Mr. Poe… No doubt the skeleton [in my novel] is conveyed from Poe.”

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From the Point of View of a Villain

“God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

 
 

 
 

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent, has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

 
 

Theatrical release poster

 
 

On May 12, 2009, it was revealed that Brad Bird was developing a live-action motion picture based on Walt Disney‘s Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman, 1959), retold from the point of view of Maleficent with Angelina Jolie starring as the eponymous character. In January 2010, it was rumored that Tim Burton was to direct the film. Reports surfaced online in May 2011 stating that Burton had left the project to focus on his other upcoming projects; Disney began to look for a replacement director, with David Yates being cited as a potential candidate due to his experience with the fantasy genre, having directed the final four Harry Potter films. On January 6, 2012, Disney announced that Robert Stromberg would direct the film.

 
 

The character is Disney’s version of the wicked fairy godmother from the original French fairy tale, loosely based on Carabosse from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet

 
 

Maleficent (2014) marks the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg after serving as a visual effects supervisor on numerous films, including Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (Peter Weir, 2003), and more significantly, as a production designer of Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010), and Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi, 2013); the first two films earned him consecutive Academy Awards for Best Production Design.

Angelina Jolie also said that “having a director (Robert Stromberg) coming from the world of production design really helped pull me into the fairy tale world. The film is beautiful but also has a sexy, dark edge because the story is coming from the point of view of a villain.”

 
 

By coincidence, Maleficent (2014) was released on May 30, 2014; precisely the same year as the 55th anniversary of Walt Disney’s classic Sleeping Beauty (1959)

 
 

Angelina Jolie worked very closely with Anna B. Sheppard,the costume designer and make-up department to develop Maleficent’s menacing look. Disney executives objected, hoping to take advantage of Jolie’s beauty in marketing the film, but the actress insisted that the character maintain the scarier look of the animated incarnation. Maleficent’s prosthetics and make-up were inspired by singer Lady Gaga, particularly on her Born This Way album cover.

 
 

Single cover designed by Nick Knight

 
 

Angelina Jolie based her character’s speech and accent in homage of the original Sleeping Beauty voice actor Eleanor Audley. Her laughter in the film was also based on the best variation she tried in front of her children and chosen by them.

 
 

Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, who portrays Princess Aurora as a young girl, is the daughter of Angelina Jolie (who plays Maleficent in the movie) and Brad Pitt

 
 

Angelina Jolie was definitely interested to be in the movie to begin with. She repeatedly stated it was because 1.) she grew up on Disney movies as a child, especially Sleeping Beauty (1959); she was quite fond of the character Maleficent: “Since I was a little girl, Maleficent was always my favorite,” Jolie said. “I was terrified of her, but I was also drawn to her. I wanted to know more about her. She had this elegance and grace, yet she was wonderfully, deliciously cruel,” 2.) she wanted to a movie in which her children can go see her in, as well as the fact that her children really also wanted her to be in the movie, 3.) the beauty, warmth, complexity, and strong intelligence of the script, and 4.) she was very impressed with Maleficent’s characterization for this film. In fact, Jolie also served as an executive producer on the film.

 
 

Maleficent marked the first time that Elle Fanning has appeared in a film opposite Angelina Jolie, after starring opposite Brad Pitt, Jolie’s fiancé, in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher, 2008).