Anyone Else Think "The Great Brain" was obnoxious?

I’m talking about the titular character in Fitzgerald’s children’s books. He had an enormous ego, and thought nothing of swindling people. He seemed, like a sociopath, to believe whatever he did was justified. I didn’t read the books as a kid myself, but read them to my oldest son when he was 5 or 6. I’ve rarely disliked a character so much. I just wanted him to get his comeuppance in Roald Dahl fashion.

Well, yeah, of course he was obnoxious: he was supposed to be.

I read them when I was really young and liked them, but the older I got the more I realized what a piece of shit he was.

I’d completely forgotten they’d made a movie about the book.

J.D. Fitzgerald thought the Great Brain was obnoxious. Most of the series is about how J.D. half admires and half can’t stand his brother.

The little brother was great as an observer, and the real hero. He would also say that they would visit him someday in either prison or the White House as I recall.

I have a theory that The Great Brain grew up to be Ignatius J. Reilly.

I grew up reading those books, and I alway saw Tom as a flawed character —which was why I liked him so much. Yes, he was vain, greedy and manipulative; he was also fearless, loyal and capable of great generosity, not to mention a natural leader and a lot of fun to be around (since the kids seem to like hanging out with him despite regularly getting taken to the cleaners). He was a complex, exasperating character, far more interesting than the typical boys’ fiction hero. (I once considered writing a story in which Tom Fitzgerald meets his namesake Tom Sawyer, and proceeds to swindle the shirt right off his back.) I think it would be pretty cool to grow up with a friend like Tom, even if you occasionally wanted to punch him in the head.

He was obnoxious, and pretty much always did get his comeuppance in the end. But for all that, he was a kid, and boys will be boys. Hardly a sociopath.

Yup, I agree with this - he was a great character, capable of doing much good and much bad.

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I always knew there was something familiar about old Ignatius, and you nailed it!

I was curious enough to spend 15 minutes googling to see what happened to Tom as an adult.
Turns out not much, the real Tom (Thomas N., not Thomas D.) died a old man ( 1902-1988, the books were only loosely biographical ) and lived mostly an obscure life. There is one site that is blocked by my corporate IT by someone who has been researching the family (
But no wikipedia entry or no list of google hits chronicling the life of a master con artist. :frowning:

His first wife died young giving birth to a daughter, and he had two or three kids with his second wife, who divorced him in 1937 after he developed a drinking problem. As far as I can tell, he lived in Price his entire life.

Ironically, while John D. made his name as a writer chronicling his family, he actually rarely saw them once he grew up and left home. The one he was closest to seems to have been his sister Belle, who collaborated with him (uncredited) on his early “adult” Adenville books and whose experience at a Catholic boarding school in Salt Lake City inspired The Great Brain at the Academy.

On that subject, Papa Married a Mormon (John’s first family memoir) is an interesting read for Great Brain fans, albeit a pretty sentimental and dated one. There’s a chapter in which Tom and his brothers convince a woman she’s being stalked by renegade Indians that reads like a dry run of the Great Brain books.

I read one thing that suggests that the Great Brain books were, in part, an attempt by John Fitzgerald to reconcile with his brother. There had always been a certain level of rivalry between them, partly because John was so smart…John was two years younger than Tom, but they were in the same graduating class because John was skipped ahead. And, John managed to get out…he became a jazz musician, a reporter in New York, a international correspondent, a staffer on the Wilkie campaign, while Tom stayed in Utah and just had all this tragedy (baby dies, wife dies, starts drinking, second wife leaves him, becomes a recluse, son dies, etc.), and the relationship between the two just wasn’t there. So part his motivation in writing them was sort of outreach to his brother.

I haven’t read the books or even thought of them since I was a kid. But as I recall, Tom stood up for Basil (son of a Greek immigrant family that was new in town), then proceeded to swindle Basil and his dad by making them buy all these expensive items so Basil could “fit in”. Nothing Tom did to help people was free, he was the type of person that would turn up at a disaster refugee site with a carload of bottled water…and then sell it for $20 a bottle. He was an obnoxious, scheming, conniving little shit. At least that’s the way I remember it. I’ve lost the books long ago, and have considered trying to find them online to see how they hold up. But I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed.

Of course he was. That was the point!

I loved those books as a child, and am reading them aloud every night to my second set of young kids—11 and 12.

I already read the whole set aloud to my older kids, who are now in their twenties.

A tangent: any other good children’s books for that age that work well read aloud?

You’ll hate him if you imagine having to live in the world with him, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to identify with him himself, so you’re imagining that you’re the one coming up with all these great swindles.

I never read his books as a kid, but clicking through amazon previews–wow. Kid sounds like a preteen Stewie Griffin. “Mr. Standish will rue the day he paddled me because I wouldn’t be a tattletale.”

It was the olden days. Everyone was half-drunk all the time. Especially the Mormons.

For what it’s worth, as a fan of the books growing up—thanks again for the Christmas present, Aunt Kay—while the objections of the OP aren’t entirely unfounded, it’s at least somewhat ameliorated not only by that fact that his marks (child and adult) were often kind of loutish themselves, but that Tom’s schemes sometimes did come back to bite him when he occasionally outsmarted himself, or when he took things too far. The latter being the theme of the book The Great Brain Reforms.

I kind of like to think there’s a memorial statue to him on Ferenginar. With a modest admission fee.