McCullough, Colleen: The Thorn Birds
(researched by Karen Walker)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
1. Harper & Row, Publishers New York, Hagerstown 1977 (A portion of this work may appear in Family Circle) Source: 1st edition
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
2. Published in paper with a dust jacket Source: 1st edition
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
4. Pagination: 144 leaves and 536pp. <12pp> 3-47, <48-50> 51-162, <63-64> 165-214, <213-216> 217-326, <327-328> 329-401, <402-404> 405-500, <501-502> 503-530, <531-533>, <3pp> * < unoted pp.> Source: 1st edition
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
4. Pagination: 144 leaves and 536pp. <12pp> 3-47, <48-50> 51-162, <63-64> 165-214, <213-216> 217-326, <327-328> 329-401, <402-404> 405-500, <501-502> 503-530, <531-533>, <3pp> * < unoted pp.> Source: 1st edition
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
6. NA
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
8. The cover is meant to be attractive. Personally, I find the the book cover more attractive than the dust
jacket. The type is readable and well printed in Times New Roman.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
10. The paper is cream in color and coarse. The paper i
s also translucent. Judging from the crumpled edges, ragged binding, and stains I would say the book has been well read. It has held up well over time but then again, itís only twenty-one years old.
11 Description of binding(s)
11. The binding is hard back.
12 Transcription of title page
12. The Thorn Birds | Colleen McCullough |[ornament]| HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS | New York, Hagerstown, | San Fransisco, | London
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
No MSS holdings
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
The original publisher, Harper & Row (also known as Harper Collins) published the book in two editions. The first edition published in May, 1977 was bound in trade cloth and is in English just as the subsequent edition in September of 1998 however the 1977 edition is out of print.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Buccaneer Books, Incorporated : February 1998 Warner Brothers Publications: October 1986 Warner Brothers Publications: September 1984 G.K. Hall & Company: June 1978 Avon Books: May 1978 Avon Books: May 1978
6 Last date in print?
Random House Value Publishing, Incorporated September 1998
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
590,287 copies were sold in 1977.
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
The Avon Books editon made $1.9 million dollars. The book maintained the top spot on national bestseller lists through- out the summer and remained number two on the lists for the remainder of 1977.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
New York Times: May 18, 1977 p.31 Found in the Literature section Ad reads:"McCullough makes her characters and their concerns come alive . . .a fine book." -Elliot Freemont-Smith
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
A21019980225145505.jpg
11 Other promotion
NA
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
film, 1983 (color) The Thorn Birds (PG) 486 min Director: Daryl Duke Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Simmons Richard Kiley, Mare Winningham, Laurie Piper, and Bryan Brown
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
No known translations.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
Serialized in Family Circle Magazine This magazine is not carried by the University due to it's non-academic nature. I'll have to do further research in the Public Library and update this site.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Sequel to the movie: The Thorn Birds: The Missing Years ("midqual") Premiering February 11th and 13th on CBS Starring: Richard Chamberlaine and Amanda Donohoe
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Colleen McCullough was born June 1, 1937 in Welling, New South Wales, Australia. She was raised chiefly in Sydney. Her father, James McCullough was a sugar cane cutter and her mother, whose name is never given, a housewife. McCullough attended convent school for twelve years and then went on ot graduate from Holy Cross University. She enrolled in the University of Sydney to pursue a career in medicine but her father, who opposed medical careers for women, made her withdraw. While in Australia McCullough did various sorts of work including teaching, bus driving, and working as a librarian. Later she returned to the University of Sydney and obtained a bachelor's degree as a medical technician with a concentration in neurophysiology. In 1963, at the the age of twenty-six Mcullough moved to England. For four years she cared for epileptic and retarded children at the Hospital for Sick Children in London. In 1967 she was offered a chance to manage the neurological research lab at Yale and moved to the United States. In her spare time she began writing The Thorn Birds. It was her way of achieving catharisis after an unhappy love affair. She began the book in June of 1975. The book, published by Harper and Row, eventually sold more than ten million copies. The rights to the book were sold to Avon Books for a record $1,900,000. McCullough has written multiple novels (mostly bestsellers) and penned an Australian cookbook. She now lives on Norfolk Island, about one thousand miles off the coast of Australia. It is small and secluded with no telephones or televisions. McCullough still writes. Between her books she takes a few years to recuperate and pursue garedening, painting, and reading.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds, sold millions of copies and acheived instant success. As a specimen of literature the book fell short of the quality mark but no one could deny its appeal. "For whether it's good or worthless or in-between, everybody loves the page-turner."(Caplan, The National Observer) Critics said of it:
"By all reports, the trade loved it-reviews perhaps excepted, having put it aside to read a little later. Booksellers laughed, wept, and couldn't put it down. Paperback publishers laughed, wept, could put it down, and started slavering over what it might do in mass-market reprint." -Elliot Fremont-Smith, Village Voice
"a wowser of a novel"; full of "people a reader really cares about" including "the most fascinating fictional male since Rhett Butler" -Rober Hale, manager of Hathaway House bookstore in Wellsey, MA
"Company loves misery, and the publishers are prboably justified in their gamble that readers by the millions will press The Thorn Birds to their bosoms. "The Thorn Birds offers big, simplified emotions, startling coincidences and thumping hammer blows of fate." -Walter Clemons, Newsweek
"This is not merely bad writing; it is true innocence, and it should be respected. For Collen McCullough. . .shares the same appetites as the average reader and indeed does much to satisfy them. . . .It is in fact a good bad book, and it deserves a suspension of the critical faculties." -Anita Brookner,
"The fate of The Thorn Birds will certainly not hang on literary merit." -Paul Gray, Time
"The book is definitely no page-tuner, though Instead of villainy , intrigue, or danger, McCullough offers silliness and easy resolutions." -Pat Caplan, The National Observer
"It all sound promisingly dreadful, if a little corny (rhymes with thorny)," yet "I am here to testify that the Thorn Birds is a success both in terms of unhappiness and uniqueness. . . It is romantic and clean enough to make an ideal present for Aunt Tillie, while you won't regret making room for it in your own beach bag." -Alice Turner, New York Times
Sources: America-v.136-My 21'77-p468 Booklist-v73-my 1'77-p1327 Book World-Ap 24'77-pE1 Christian Science Monitor-v70-My 31'78-p22 Commonwealth-v104-Jl 22'77-p72 Critic-v37-D'78-p4 Harper's Magazine v255-Jl'77-p78
Horn Book Magazine-v54-Ag'78-p492 National Observer-v16-Je 20'77-p18 Newsweek-v89-Ap 25'77-p93 New York Times-v126-My 2'77-p37 New York Times Book Review -My 8'77-p13 Publisher's Weekly-v211-F 28'77-p119 Time-v109-My 9'77-p85 Time Literary Supplement-O 7'77-p1135 Village Voice-v22-Mr 28'77-p93 Wall Street Journal-v189-My 13'77-p12 Wall Street Journal-v190-D 15'77-p20
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds, sold millions of copies and acheived instant success. As a specimen of literature the book fell short of the quality mark but no one could deny its appeal. "For whether it's good or worthless or in-between, everybody loves the page-turner."(Caplan, The National Observer) Critics said of it:
"By all reports, the trade loved it-reviews perhaps excepted, having put it aside to read a little later. Booksellers laughed, wept, and couldn't put it down. Paperback publishers laughed, wept, could put it down, and started slavering over what it might do in mass-market reprint." -Elliot Fremont-Smith, Village Voice
"a wowser of a novel"; full of "people a reader really cares about" including "the most fascinating fictional male since Rhett Butler" -Rober Hale, manager of Hathaway House bookstore in Wellsey, MA
"Company loves misery, and the publishers are prboably justified in their gamble that readers by the millions will press The Thorn Birds to their bosoms. "The Thorn Birds offers big, simplified emotions, startling coincidences and thumping hammer blows of fate." -Walter Clemons, Newsweek
"This is not merely bad writing; it is true innocence, and it should be respected. For Collen McCullough. . .shares the same appetites as the average reader and indeed does much to satisfy them. . . .It is in fact a good bad book, and it deserves a suspension of the critical faculties." -Anita Brookner,
"The fate of The Thorn Birds will certainly not hang on literary merit." -Paul Gray, Time
"The book is definitely no page-tuner, though Instead of villainy , intrigue, or danger, McCullough offers silliness and easy resolutions." -Pat Caplan, The National Observer
"It all sound promisingly dreadful, if a little corny (rhymes with thorny)," yet "I am here to testify that the Thorn Birds is a success both in terms of unhappiness and uniqueness. . . It is romantic and clean enough to make an ideal present for Aunt Tillie, while you won't regret making room for it in your own beach bag." -Alice Turner, New York Times
Sources: America-v.136-My 21'77-p468 Booklist-v73-my 1'77-p1327 Book World-Ap 24'77-pE1 Christian Science Monitor-v70-My 31'78-p22 Commonwealth-v104-Jl 22'77-p72 Critic-v37-D'78-p4 Harper's Magazine v255-Jl'77-p78
Horn Book Magazine-v54-Ag'78-p492 National Observer-v16-Je 20'77-p18 Newsweek-v89-Ap 25'77-p93 New York Times-v126-My 2'77-p37 New York Times Book Review -My 8'77-p13 Publisher's Weekly-v211-F 28'77-p119 Time-v109-My 9'77-p85 Time Literary Supplement-O 7'77-p1135 Village Voice-v22-Mr 28'77-p93 Wall Street Journal-v189-My 13'77-p12 Wall Street Journal-v190-D 15'77-p20
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Karen Jestine Walker ENTC 312/ Unsworth Assignment #5
On May 8, 1977 the New York Time Book Review ran an ad for Colleen McCullough's newest novel, The Thorn Birds. The ad read,
Through fifty years of love and laughter, tears and exaltation...from Australia's rugged landscape to the halls of the Vatican and the world of the London stage ...Collen McCullough "makes her characters and their concerns come alive [and] gives them intelligence and complexity and dimension...The Thorn Birds is a fine book." (Smith)
The Thorn Birds is also "one of the most compelling, un-put-downable novels so far this year...The interweaving of love stories...the dramatic plotting, the sense of steadily mounting tension, the believable characters...are well-nigh irresistible". (Bannon)
Why was the Thorn Birds such a hit? Why did it stay on the best seller list for eight months? In regards to the books literary elements, the ad says it all. The characters are endearing. You sympathize with them, cry with them, laugh with them. The A
ustralian outback is superbly described thanks to Ms. McCullough's Australian origins. The various animals, vegetation, and weather are so clearly depicted there are times when you feel you could reach out and touch them. Finally, by far the most impr
essive thing about The Thorn Birds is the intensity and epic scope of the plot. The story goes from one side of the globe to the other and the action occurs at a break-neck pace. The reader can't help but be engulfed. The 10 million+ copies sold and
Avon's $1.9 million dollar bid for the paperback rights attest to this fact. However, it is not just the books literary merits that make it a best-seller. There are a host of other outside elements that made the book a success. One of the keys to this book's appeal is the authors involvement. She too, was engulfed by the book. After the failure of her first novel Tim she was determined to succeed. In an interview with the Village Voice (Smith) McCollough candidly recounte
d the story of the book's conception. She began the Thorn Birds in June of 1975. Each night she typed at least 15,000 words. During the process her legs swelled and she had to wear long gloves. These protected her arms from being chafed by her sides
and her fingers from blistering and cracking on the keys. The book was written in the aftermath of an unhappy love affair and McCullough's feelings about the relationship come through. The book revolves around how the "character's impale themselves on
self-induced miseries." (Clemons) The prologue reads,
There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself on upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smile. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain ...Or so says the legend. Misery loves company. (As the popularity of soap operas suggests.) Everyone who's ever been in love and lost or stepped out on faith to reach for the impossible only to fail can relate to the book. In fact, that is the book's appeal the particular
circumstances of your experience doesn't matter. Everyone can relate to the sentiment. Another key element of the book McCullough's personal life plays a part in is the description. McCullough was born in Wellington, New South Wales, Australia. Her father was a sugar cane cutter and her mother a housewife. Like Meggie, as a child McCu
llough attended convent school, was raised chiefly around men. (In McCullough's case they were uncles not brothers), and is bold and non-conformist. McCullough's life and experiences in Australia shine through in the novel's descriptions. McCullough's passages describing the landscape and various animals conjure up mental pictures as vivid as those in National Geographic Magazine. Perhaps this i
s the factor that led to a successful television miniseries. McCullough also does a remarkable job of describing the life and work of sugar cane cutters and sheep herders/shearers. She goes into the details of the work including names of tools, the prop
er seasons for harvesting, and the bodily demands involved without boring the reader. Lastly, there is an element of McCullough's character in Meggie. Though raised in the shadow of eight brothers, Meggie Cleary is definitely not a character to be overlooked or relegated to the shadows. For her time, she extremely liberated. For this
reason women especially, relate to and are endeared to her character. During the seventies when this book was written, Women's Lib was at a highpoint. Women no longer wanted to be characterized as housewives and mothers. They instead focused on havi
ng careers and self-understanding outside of society's traditional definition. Meggie, though at times in her life a mother and wife, never conforms to the traditional role expected of women. She sees her mother and what it's done to her and vows never to be victim. Meggie rides with her brothers on the farm, leaves her neglecti
ng husband, and has an illegitimate child with a much older priest. She is a valiant woman who is determined to get what she wants. Colleen McCullough is regarded as a spit-fire too. She is 39 years old, five foot ten and weighs 200 pounds. When asked about her weight she told People magazine "but at least I have a waistline and a good pair of knockers." This response is typical
of McCullough. She is a candid woman who is confident in herself and her abilities. In a letter from Robert Hale, manager of the Hathaway House bookstore in Wellesley, MA, wrote to Harper & Rowe he wrote, "but do what you can to get Colleen on. She is such a character and she will appeal to all of those people who should read her book...[she would have] at least as much entertainment value as many who are regulars on the tube. She is truly funny and original and bold as brass." (Smith) As Hale notes, McCullough's boldness and non-conformity make her a hit with her fans. She is a role model for the Women's Liberation movement yet not so outrageous as to turn people off. While sticking to her guns about women's roles she doesn't den
ounce romance and the literary styles that have traditionally been popular with women. To further excite Women' s Libers McCullough indulges in minor male bashing throughout the book. With lines like, "She eyed his flaccid penis, snorting with laughter." (p83) An article in Time magazine notes, The ambitious men are silly and the steady ones are inconsequential. Meggie's eight brothers either die or disappear into the woodwork. Women seem to live forever, while every hundred pages or so another man is burned alive or disemboweled by a wild boar or drowned or unsexed by gunshot wounds. None of this carnage is required by the plot. The males are punished because their punishment is what romantic fiction requires. (Gray) An additional appeal of the Thorn Birds is its lack of perversion. Though sex is a key element of the book it is not talked about in a raunchy style. In Book World, Alice K. Turner writes, "it's both romantic and clean enough to make an ideal present
for Aunt Tillie, while you won't regret making room for it in your own beach bag." (Turner) The seventies was a time of sexual freedom. Single's Clubs, Coed Housing, and Gay Rights demonstrations were prevalent to the displeasure of many. McCullough'
s subtlety was a relief for many who long for the purity of the fifties. It is the appeals to the time period like these that made the book so wildly popular. Another draw of the book is its comparison to an earlier best-seller and hit movie. Often The Thorn Birds is compared to another historical romance novel of epic proportions, Gone With the Wind. It is frequently called "the Australian "Gone with the Wind"" (Caplan) Though the book was written in the late thirties, there are striking s
imilarities. A strong female heroine, star crossed lovers, red-headed twins, a long suffering mother, love of the land, war, and a story that spirals through multiple city. Though the books share striking similarities the one commonality most commented
on is that between Rhett Butler and Archbishop Ralph de Bricassart. Critics and Reviewers alike note that there is a shortage of quality male heroes in romance novels. Not since Rhett Butler has there been a male so dashing, articulate, or attractive to
audiences. However similar, the books aren't perfectly parallel. The Times Literary Supplement notes, "those in interested in role reversal will notice that the petulance and whimsy that made life at Tara so taxing haven taken an unexpected turn [i
n the Thorn Birds]". This book's photographic recollection of scenery, dashing male hero, and suspenseful plot made it ideal for adaptation into film. In 1983 "The Thorn Birds" aired on ABC. It was the second most-watched miniseries in television history. It was direct
ed by Daryl Duke and starred Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Barbara Stanwyck, and Jean Simmons. It's success once again peaked interest in the book. It's popularity also spawned a sequel aired on CBS "The Thorn Birds: the Missing Years" in 1996.
Most of the cast and director returned for this "mid-quel". Much to the disappointment of the network and original Thorn Birds fans this miniseries was a flop and did nothing for book sales. Perhaps this failure can be attributed to the authors anger a
t having her book once again turned into a film and rewritten. The "mid-quel" made up a story to fill in missing gaps the original book failed to account for. McCullough loudly protested and there was much scandal involved.(People On-Line) There are various technical reasons for this book's appeal but the main reason is not at all complicated. The reason Colleen McCullough's "Thorn Birds" has been translated into multiple languages and is still in print with an upcoming edition set t
o be released in September of this year is "Everybody loves the page turner."(Caplan) In The National Observer he writes, trash can be fun too, as deliciously addictive and sinful as bon-bons. We have squandered secret, sheepish afternoons in seagull heaven or the valley of the dolls. The trashy novel's literary demerits only underline its compulsive quality. Romance, adventure, suspense, or horror keeps those page turning-and makes a publishing success. For whether it's good or worthless or in-between, everybody reads the page turner. (Caplan) His assessment is true. One look at the best-sellers list would corroborate his statement. In The Times Literary Supplement Anita Brookner writes, "Something I can get my teeth into",the woman in the library said to me the other day. The analogy with eating is fairly important, as is the grass-roots conviction that novels should be long, pleasurable, and nourishing. The Thorn Birds,...has arrived in time to save a sizeable part of the population from malnutrition. (Brookner) The Thorn Birds' success is easily defined. It sells because trash is interesting and fun to read. The literary merits of the book are often criticized or down played by critics but none of them deny its appeal or its impact. It is a bad good book whi
ch is chiefly the role of romances. They are read by the reader with the advance knowledge that the characters will be stock, the plot formulaic, and overly stylized writing yet the American audience craves them they are break from reality. It's more f
un to wallow in others misery and to ignore or down-play our own for a while.
Bibliography
Bowker's Annual Family Circle New York Times Books in Print (Virgo) Videoflicks.com The Thorn Birds 1st edition People Online E-Online Bucaneer Books, Incorporated: February 1998 Book World Ap.24 '77, Turner Times Literary Supplement O. 7 '77, Brookner National Observer Je. 20 '77, Caplan New York Times Book Review My. 8 '77, Bannon, Smith Time My 9 '77, Gray Village Voice Mr. 28 '77, Smith
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