Mark Twain inspired Chuck Jones to create this Looney Tunes character
The animation legend said that Mark Twain gave him a key concept in creating characters.
Where does inspiration come from? That's a question that creative types get asked a lot. For some, they draw from the world around them. Others may get inspiration from dreams. Inspiration for the greatest classics can come from the most unusual places.
For Chuck Jones, it came from reading Mark Twain.
"From the time I was very young, I have always read a lot," said Jones in a 1996 interview with The Research Library at Animation Art Conservation. "One of the great fortunes of my youth was that I always had books around me. My father always made it a criteria for every house we rented, that it be furnished and have lots of books."
"The way I found Mark Twain, well, I was just browsing around, I was probably about five or six years old, and I ran across this book, Tom Sawyer," Jones continued. "I proceeded to read everything he had written... I loved it all."
"I found the coyote in the fourth chapter of Roughing It, which is a journal he wrote about traveling by stagecoach to Carson City, Nevada. Twain opens that chapter with a description of the coyote, which is about as accurate as anybody has ever described one. He, also, humanized him. And that was kinda news to me. I hadn’t run into anything where I felt that a coyote was like a human being."
A humanized coyote? You can see the framework of the famous Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote taking shape.
"It was a new concept to my young mind, this way of humanizing the coyote’s traits. It’s a concept that stayed with me," Jones said. You can see how this thinking followed him through life, as he humanized not only coyotes, but bunnies, pigs, ducks, chickens, and so much more. "Obviously, I wasn’t looking for ideas when I was five or six years old, but I got them anyway. Mark Twain gave me the whole key to thinking that animated characters think the way we do."
"By the way," Jones added, "I’d like to reiterate that the term, 'animate' as defined by Noah Webster is 'to evoke life.' 'Evoke life.' And that’s what animation is all about."