Is Arthur Eerily Similar to Billy Joel? You Be the Judge.

So apparently July is blow the lid off scandals here at The Diamond in the Window (though no doubt this one has been blown before). And to participate in this one, you don't need to worry about working mothers. All you need to do is take a ride down memory lane with me, back to, let's see, 1977? Cue: eerie flashback.

We are in a school bus with my friend Lisa (which makes no sense as I never went to school with my friend Lisa, only camp, but there it is). We are listening to Billy Joel sing "Just the Way You Are," from The Stranger. [For those young 'uns out there, is all about "Don't go changin', to try to please me…" and "Don't make clever, conversation, I never want to work that hard. I just want someone, that I can talk to—I want you just the way you are…" etc etc, don't change the color of your hair, don't try to be all special and fancy, because I just love you as you.] A Valentine's Day all-request show is playing on the radio, and everyone has been requesting Just the Way You Are. "Yeah," Lisa snorts. "He writes that, and then he leaves his wife for Christie Brinkley." [Note to young 'uns: look it up.]

Anyway,  back to the present, and Arthur. Now first let me say that I like Arthur. Truly I do. It's one of those series that is weirdly compelling to kids, and we spent a large chunk of time several years ago rereading and rereading Arthur's Teacher Trouble. But I never minded. It's not onerous, like the Berenstain Bears. Arthur's parents always have a lot of wryness going on, and the author is always writing his children's names in the background, which I find winning, especially as one of the names is the same as my children's name. And if D.W. is somewhat irritatingly irrepresible, well, what can you do? So there I was, happily reading through the happy pages of what turned out to be works of Arthur's later period, when I came across this:


OK, now do you see what I mean? This is, I believe, the very first Arthur book. And what's it about? Take a guess. Right. His nose. It's too big, and he is going to get a nose job. He talks to all his friends, and tries to figure out the right nose for him. He even goes to a plastic surgeon, to try out a whole bunch of different notices. But—spoiler alert!—it turns out that the best nose for Arthur is the one he has in the book! That big, long, aardvarky nose he was born with. So he just has to learn to accept himself, that's all. That's how everyone gets happy. Right? It's all about accepting each other. I love you just the way you are, Arthur, your big long nose and all.

Here's how Arthur looks now:

 Yup. No nose at all. Gone.

Mr. Brown, how do you sleep at night?

Well, probably he sleeps fine. I mean, the truth is they're sweet books, and I have in my mind the image of publishers and publicists browbeating him about it: "You can make a million dollars! All we're saying is give up the nose. Is it so much to ask? It's creepy! It's phallic! Arthur is more than just his dopey old nose! We'll put your kids through college, we swear it!"

And so on. Would I be able to resist a pitch like that? Not likely. No more than Mr. Joel could resist Christie Brinkley, right? It's just that I guess I sometimes wish human nature weren't quite so disappointing. Myself included, of course.

13 thoughts on “Is Arthur Eerily Similar to Billy Joel? You Be the Judge.

  1. We’re at my mom’s house and I found an Arthur book and did a double take. It wasn’t like “Arthur’s Nose”, nor was it like the new one. It looked more like Arthur was a brown pickle. I’ll see if I can find it again for comparison’s sake.


  2. The story I’ve heard (and I have some professional connections to back it up) is that it turned out to be difficult to show a range of facial expressions, and therefore a range of emotions, with that nose in the way, so he reluctantly changed it. But yes, the irony is as plain as the nose on his face.


  3. I can see where it would be harder to draw that fast, too. And once the franchise took off and he was doing more books, etc., speed probably became essential. But yeah, it’s always bugged me a bit, too.


  4. You know what? I have some of both books, before and after, and had no idea they were even the same Arthur. That’s bizarre.


  5. I just put the book on hold at my library and it seems that there is a 25th Anniversary edition from 2006 that has a pictorial evolution of Arthur’s nose and other info about Arthur in it.
    From Amazon: This 25th anniversary edition includes, in addition to the original story, Arthur’s Nose, a scrapbook of fun facts, photos, and letters all about the evolution of Arthur over the years… A special illustrated section demonstrates just how much this friendly fellow’s nose has changed, from a long, droopy, aardvarky nose in 1976, gradually shortening over the years to his nearly nonexistent schnoz today. Arthur has also acquired glasses and a much sunnier disposition over the last quarter century.


  6. Wait a sec–to say that the Aardvark visited a plastic surgeon is a bit of a snipe at Brown’s authorial ingenuity; he goes to a specialist–a horned rhinologist–after visiting other animal physicians who form a nice bestiary. The Arthur transition, if able to be mapped, has other not so hidden roots: it seems mediated by the big filter of the process of starting your own animated show, which lead to the cutifying and formalizing of techniques of drawing and appeal!


  7. I’m actually just kind of relieved to see that once upon a time, Arthur had an aardvark nose. It was only recently that I figure out, among all the animals who inhabit his world, what he was supposed to be. And I was hurt and confused; it was like they had decided to draw Babar without a trunk because it was just too much trouble. An aarvark is most easily identified by its long nose! Not intended as a rant, more that I’m glad he did have the nose once, and it’s not just that Marc Brown never knew what “anteater” meant.


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