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Where ‘Mockingbird’ goes to Dye

"You know, Tom, Harper Lee ain't smart enough to write a character like you."

Wall Street Journal columnist and friend of the site Allen Barra took the 50th anniversary of the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” to commit what plenty of Alabamians would consider an even greater sin then shooting an actual  mockingbird: he shot “To Kill a Mockingbird” all to pieces.

“It’s time to stop pretending that ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature,” Barra wrote last Friday in a WSJ column that also claims that – despite the PR blow to Alabams’ literary heritage – Harper Lee should not be included among the ranks of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor (whom he quotes in reducing the value of “Mockingbird” to that of a nice children’s book) and other great southern writers claimed by our neighbors.

Fans of “To Kill a Mockingbird” seem ready to lynch Barra – when The New York Times is reviewing your review, you know you’ve struck a nerve. Yet he refrains from the even greater sin of referencing the persistent rumor (not-so-irrefutably refuted by Auburn’s Wayne Flynt in a 2006 NPR interview) that Lee’s lifelong – and much more prolific – pal Truman Capote actually penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

Pat Dye, in a recent interview, does not.

Not that he was aware of it.

Dye’s “friendship” with Harper Lee, arranged (via relatives in Monroeville) after he was re-smitten with “Mockingbird,” has recently supplanted the legend of The Pants as the angle of choice for blurbs on Coach in retirement community newsletters and small-town feature sections.

Even Southern Living decided to take advantage of it, wrapping up a July feature on Monroeville’s commemoration of its famous hermit with a story from Dye about his catfish supper with ‘Nelle’ in 2008. Dye took the opportunity to tell her in his folksy, roundabout way that it had to have taken heart and soul to write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” not just brains.

“I told her, I said, ‘you know, ma’am, you ain’t smart enough to write a book like that,'” Dye said. “She looked at me kinda funny a little bit, but not too bad. She was looking for the next sentence.”

We’ve all been looking for that next sentence.

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About Jeremy Henderson

Jeremy Henderson is the editor of The War Eagle Reader and co-host of Rich and Jeremy in the Mornings on Wings 94.3 FM in Auburn. Follow him on Twitter: @wareaglereader / @jerthoughts / @RichandJeremy

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