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10 Classic Facts About Wishbone

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Between 1995 and 1998, PBS fed kids classic tales like Ivanhoe and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow through a wise-cracking dog named Wishbone. The imaginative Jack Russell Terrier inserted himself into the plots of countless books and always found a way to connect even the most esoteric tome to the real-life problems of his owner, Ellen Talbot, and her teenage son, Joe. But how did PBS pull off this canine-focused, kiddie Masterpiece Theatre? Find out which famous faces appeared on the show and how Wishbone saved college GPAs with these 10 facts.

1. THE CREATOR WAS INSPIRED BY HIS OWN JACK RUSSELL TERRIER.

Wishbone creator and executive producer Rick Duffield was long intrigued by the concept of telling kids stories from the point of view of a dog, like his own Jack Russell Terrier. It just took a fateful glance at his own library for the full idea to take hold. “I had gotten into the habit of giving voice to my own dog’s expressions and exploits around the house,” Duffield told The New Yorker. “One afternoon, as I struggled to convert that impulse into a show, I gazed at the row of books on my credenza. The one that caught my eye that day was Frank Magill’s Masterpieces of World Literature. Well, what if a little dog with a big imagination could take us into some of the greatest stories ever told? And, why not make him the hero?”

2. FIVE DOGS PLAYED WISHBONE.

The coveted role of Wishbone went to a Los Angeles-based pup named Soccer. But Soccer couldn’t be in every shot. Although he did the bulk of the screen work, the studio also employed three other Jack Russell Terriers for stunts (Phoebe, Slugger, and Shiner) and another just for publicity stills (Bear).

3. THE MAIN DOG WON THE PART WITH HIS BACKFLIP.

According to an “interview” Soccer gave to Boys’ Life magazine, he was chosen out of a pool of about 100 dogs for his personality—and his impressive tricks. During the 1994 casting call, Soccer did a backflip that bowled over the producers. Admittedly, he had a great teacher. Soccer’s owner, Jackie Kaplan, was a seasoned dog trainer who also coached the Dobermans that chase Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies.

4. JENSEN ACKLES GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

You can currently see Jensen Ackles on TV as Dean Winchester, one of the ghost-hunting brothers on Supernatural. His first television credit, however, came from Wishbone. Ackles got his big break playing Michael Duss, the preppy teen with a knack for “mechanical things,” in the season one episode “Viva Wishbone!” Check him out in the clip above.

5. AMY ACKER APPEARED IN THREE EPISODES.

Similarly, one of director Joss Whedon’s favorite actresses got her start on Wishbone. Amy Acker (of Angel and Dollhouse fame) showed up in the book fantasy sequences of three different episodes. This gave her famous literary roles such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, Priscilla Mullins from The Courtship of Miles Standish, and even Venus from The Aeneid. Here’s her turn as that Roman goddess.

6. THE SHOW WASN’T JUST FOR KIDS.

Duffield received tons of letters from young children, parents, and teachers while Wishbone was on the air. But the series hit another, unexpected audience. “We were tickled that so many college students liked the show,” he said. “Some would write us thank you notes for helping them pass freshman lit class.”

7. MO ROCCA WROTE FOR THE SERIES.

You’ve probably caught comedian Mo Rocca on I Love the ‘80s, The Daily Show, or CBS Sunday Morning. Back in 1995, though, he was just another writer for Wishbone. As Rocca recalled in his 2016 commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College, “Writing on that show meant taking some of the greatest stories ever told—the books I was supposed to read in college but hadn’t and which I’m sure you have—and retelling each in a half-hour for kids, with a dog in the lead role … It was storytelling boot camp.”

8. THE VOICE ACTOR FOR WISHBONE GOT A CAMEO.

Wishbone was voiced by Larry Brantley. The actor appeared in voice only throughout the series—with one exception. In the episode “Rushin’ to the Bone,” Brantley has a brief cameo as an actor named Larry Brinkley. This Larry is also dubbing for Wishbone, as he shoots a dog food commercial involving a fake Scottish castle and period garb. Sound familiar? Watch Brantley’s meta role above.

9. WISHBONE WENT ON A NATIONAL MALL TOUR.

In between the first and second seasons of Wishbone, Soccer hit the road. He appeared in malls across America, greeting his fans from a red armchair. And his accommodations were none too shabby. While traveling, Soccer flew first class, stayed in four-star hotels, and had his own security detail. People noted that the handlers even gave Soccer a codename: The President.

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF MOVIE AND SEVERAL BOOK SERIES.

Wishbone was mostly an episodic kind of dog, but he did manage to score one feature-length film. Wishbone’s Dog Days of the West premiered on Showtime in the spring of 1998. It was based on the O. Henry short story collection Heart of the West, and it went directly to video soon after its television debut.

One movie may be a slim filmography, but Wishbone’s bibliography is much larger: Between 1996 and 2001, there were nine different Wishbone book series. The first franchise, Wishbone Classics, consisted of straightforward novelizations of the TV series. But soon there were Adventures of Wishbone, Wishbone Mysteries, and even Wishbone: The Early Years, a series that followed Wishbone as a puppy. The last spate of Wishbone books came in 2000 and 2001, all by the same author (A.D. Francis). You can get those now for literal pennies on Amazon.

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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