Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cult Fiction: Shoeless Joe

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella is probably the most famous novel that only a few people have read.  It was the basis for the hit movie Field of Dreams, and yet far more people have seen the film than read the book.  It can be classified as cult fiction since sales took off in 1988 when Field of Dreams was released.  It retains a loyal cult following and is still in print twenty-seven years later even though sales dropped off quickly.

The book is far different from the movie, although the basic characters and plot structure are in place.  The story revolves around main character Ray Kinsella, who builds a cornfield on his Iowa farm so that Shoeless Joe Jackson and other disgraced members of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox can find redemption by playing ball in the here-and-now.  Ray is accompanied on his mystical quest to find meaning in the experience by J. D. Salinger and former baseball player Moonlight Graham.  In the film, the character of Salinger was changed to Terence Mann in order to avoid a lawsuit from the very unhappy Salinger, who hadn't given permission for his name to be used in Kinsella's novel.

Like John Lennon and the Mercy Street Café, Shoeless Joe is a work of magical realism, blending real history with fictional and supernatural events.  And that's also why this book can be classified as cult fiction.  It appeals to a sense of magic that everyone wants to experience.  Twenty-seven years after the film, people still make a pilgrimage to the cornfield in Iowa where much of the movie was shot.

Kinsella wrote two other novels, neither of which attained the same status as Shoeless Joe.


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