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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

At first, readers may associate W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe with such books as Roger Angell’s The Summer Game (1972) or Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer (1971), books that take a nostalgic view of famous baseball players and teams of the past. Another possible comparison might be with Eliot Asinof’s history of the Black Sox Scandal entitled Eight Men Out (1963), which presents a sympathetic view of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Although perfectly appropriate, such comparisons downplay the fact that Shoeless Joe treats topics much broader than baseball.

When director Phil Alden Robinson adapted this book as the 1989 film Field of Dreams, he made significant modifications beyond simply changing the title. The J. D. Salinger character was renamed “Terence Mann,” and this role was played by the famous African American actor James Earl Jones. Like Salinger, Terence Mann is portrayed as a famous writer who became a recluse, but the motivation for Mann’s retirement from writing is clearer: The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., made Mann so depressed that he stopped writing. The idealism of Ray Kinsella and Doc Graham and the inspiration that he discovers in his conversations with these dead baseball players persuade him to resume writing fiction.