Zadie Smith and Wile E. Coyote

Following on from Rob’s post about Zadie Smith’s essay on libraries, she mentioned how abandoning shared institutions once one no longer needed them was like:

“Wile E. Coyote laying down a rope bridge between two precipices only to blow it up once he’s reached the other side, so that no one might follow.”

Many people will remember spending time as a child sat in front of the TV watching the Looney Tunes cartoons, particularly Wile E. Coyote’s hilarious but futile attempts to lure the Road Runner into a trap so he could eat him. Some may be surprised that in an essay on libraries in which she refers to how many books were present in her home growing up, Smith uses a cartoon character rather than a literary equivalent to illustrate her point. However, the creator of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner drew inspiration from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn author Mark Twain.

In a 1989 interview with The New York Times, Chuck Jones revealed that the coyote was based on Twain’s description of the animal in his 1872 semi-autobiographical work Roughing It:

“The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton…with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck and friendless.”

Zadie Smith may be unaware of the link between the cartoon villain and Mark Twain’s book, but it remains yet another example of how literature can be a source of inspiration to so many people.

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