The Great Brain

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The Great Brain is a series of children's books by American author John Dennis Fitzgerald (1906–1988). Set in the small town of Adenville, Utah, between 1896 and 1898, the stories are loosely based on Fitzgerald's childhood experiences. Although John D. Fitzgerald was born in Price, Utah, several references in the stories suggest Adenville is located in Utah's "Dixie" in the southwestern corner of the state, near St. George. The town was indeed a village located west of Cedar City about which little is known. The town is mentioned by Dr. Stephen L. Carr in his book, The Historical Guide to Utah Ghost Towns, published 2009 by Western Epics.

Chronicled by the first-person voice of John Dennis Fitzgerald, the stories mainly center on the escapades of John's mischievous older brother, Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a. "The Great Brain." The Great Brain was made into a movie released in 1978, with the main character played by Jimmy Osmond.[1]

Mercer Mayer originally illustrated the books except for 1995's The Great Brain Is Back (which was illustrated by Diane deGroat). Mr. Mayer did the original cover illustrations for the first seven books as well, but Carl Cassler re-did the cover illustrations for some of the re-prints of the first seven books.

Publication history[edit]

The Publisher's Note in The Great Brain Is Back, published after the death of the author, recounts the story of the series' original publication. Fitzgerald had published the best-selling Papa Married a Mormon and its sequel, Mama's Boarding House, in 1955 and 1958 respectively. Those books were set in Adenville, Utah, at the end of the 19th century. A third book was requested by the editor, E.L. Doctorow, but he changed jobs before the manuscript was completed. Fitzgerald submitted the new novel, which focused on the children of Adenville, to Doctorow at The Dial Press but by then family stories were out of favor with adult readers. The new editor for children's book offered to publish the novel if it were cut in half and eliminating some passages aimed at adults. The result was The Great Brain.

Series titles[edit]

Titles in order of chronological continuity include:

  1. The Great Brain (1967)
  2. More Adventures of the Great Brain (1969)
  3. Me and My Little Brain (1971)
  4. The Great Brain At The Academy (1972)
  5. The Great Brain Reforms (1973)
  6. The Return of the Great Brain (1974)
  7. The Great Brain Does It Again (1976)
  8. The Great Brain Is Back (Published in 1995 from loose notes after the author's death)

Main characters[edit]

Fitzgerald family[edit]

The Fitzgerald family members include:

All the Fitzgerald men have the middle name of Dennis, a reminder of the "Fitzgerald Curse," put upon the family because an ancestor named Dennis helped the British during the Revolutionary War. His father decreed that all male Fitzgeralds should have Dennis as their middle name to remind them of his son's loyalty to the Crown.

In reality, the author had an older sister, Belle Fitzgerald Empey.[2] In addition, his brother "Sweyn" doesn't have that name; the real John's two elder brothers were named William and Tom, and he had two younger brothers, Gerald and Charles.[3]

Religious demographics[edit]

Catholicism is central to the family's life and identity, a recurring theme in a town where Catholics are distinctly in the minority. The breakdown is said to be 2,000 Mormons, 500 or so Protestants, and only about 100 Catholics. All the non-Mormons or "Gentiles" attend a generalized community church, and the Fitzgeralds have to make do with the services of itinerant priests and of the local preacher, Reverend Holcomb, who preaches "strictly from the Bible" so he does not show favoritism to either Protestants or Catholics.

The Jewish population is almost nonexistent, consisting solely of an aging itinerant Jewish peddler named Abie Glassman who sets up a shop in Adenville with tragic results, as chronicled in the first book in the series, The Great Brain. Abie dies of starvation because his small shop cannot compete with the ZCMI store. Papa explains to the townspeople that it was because Abie was a Jew that no one recognized or helped him with his situation. With Abie's death, it can be inferred that the town no longer has any Jewish people living in it. It is also not known if Basil Kokovinis and his family are Greek Orthodox.


Historical context[edit]

Fitzgerald's books describe many issues regarding society and life in the context of the late 19th century, between 1896 and 1898 in the southwestern United States. Among the topics covered are the following:


External links[edit]