Hitty's Odyssey home

Rumor has it that Rachel Field was so sure of the success of Hitty, Her First Hundred Years that she held a sort of auction among her publishers, to determine which one would produce the work.

The novel was undoubtedly enriched by Dorothy Lathrop's imaginative illustrations, but its enduring popularity rests on Field's knack for historical details, and her genius in bringing out Hitty's calm personality during the many exciting adventures she experiences.

Perhaps Field was so sure of her work because she based it on threads and themes from well-loved classics.  There are many parallels between Hitty's adventures and the thrilling exploits of Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey.  There is also an echo of Sindbad the Sailor's second voyage from the 1001 Arabian Nights.

In Homer's immortal tale, the hero, Odysseus (or in Roman terms, Ulysses) is born on the island of Ithaca.  He sails from home under stress of circumstances -- the Trojan War -- and after Troy is conquered, and the war over, he starts to sail home, but experiences many strange and exotic adventures on land and sea, taking 20 years before finally reaching his native land.

In Rachel Field's version, a tiny wooden doll named Mehitabel, or Hitty for short, substitutes for the Greek hero.  We now know our heroine was also born on an island -- Great Cranberry Island, Maine, the home of the Prebles.  She also leaves home on a sea voyage when Captain Preble somewhat precipitously goes out whaling, with his wife acting as cook, and his whole family on board.  Hitty, too, experiences many adventures, perhaps not so strange as those of Odysseus, but curiously, quite similar.  For example, consider the following comparison table:

Adventures of Odysseus Adventures of Hitty
Leaves island home of Ithaca to fight in Trojan War Leaves Great Cranberry Island home to travel with Capt. Preble to Boston
Leaves Troy aboard ship Leaves Boston aboard whaling ship Diana-Kate
Loss of ships and men until only Odysseus remains Loss of owners as Hitty passes, alone, from hand to hand
Great storm at sea, sails tattered Great storm at sea, sails tattered
Island of the Lotus Eaters: idyllic time until Odysseus forces the men to leave by main force At the Cotton Exposition: idyllic time until Sally Loomis forces Hitty to leave by stealing her
Trapped in the cave of the Cyclops, Polyphemus Trapped in the sofa of the Pryces, or again in the hayloft, or yet again in the dead letter office
Losing men at the hands of the warlike Lestrigonians Losing her owner, Isabella Van Rensselaer, at the hands of the young toughs of New York City
Circe the Enchantress, who turns men into swine The wife of Jim the Ticket Agent, who turns Hitty into a pincushion
The enchanting song of the Sirens The enchanting songs of Adelina Patti
The twin dangers of Scylla and Charybdis The twin dangers of mutiny and fire on board the Diana-Kate
As punishment for eating two cattle from the sacred herd of Hyperion, the ship is destroyed, the crew lost, and Odysseus floats alone to the island of Calypso Perhaps as punishment for a brewing mutiny, the Diana-Kate is destroyed by fire, the crew lost, and Hitty floats alone to the South Sea island
On the island of the sea nymph Calypso, Odysseus is "worshipped" and detained by her for 7 years On the South Sea island, Hitty is worshipped by natives
Nausicaa, princess of the Phaeacians, finds the shipwrecked Odysseus and, with her father's help, he is returned to his native land The old lady finds Hitty in Carrie's store, buys her for $2, and brings her to the summer house -- the Preble house, where Hitty was carved

Adventures of Sindbad the Sailor Adventures of Hitty
On his second voyage, Sindbad is carried into the air by the roc, a giant bird Hitty is carried into the air by the crow -- notice that 'crow' is almost an anagram of 'roc'

-Bruce Komusin

"That Homer should a bankrupt be
  Is not so very odd, d'ye see;
  If it be true, as I'm instructed,
  So ill he had his verse constructed."

Hitty research