“Rosebud.” The classic symbol of nostalgic longing from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (though I won’t mention what Rosebud is exactly, as I myself had the mystery spoiled by finding out the answer before I had seen the film). Just as William Randolph Hea–oh, I mean, Charles Foster Kane, yearned for the symbol of his lost childhood in his dying moments, many people today become fixated on preserving some memento from their younger, more care-free days when they become adults: sports trading cards, doll collections, Star Wars action figures, etc.
For me, the emblem of my childhood is a set of mini-books called “Moby Books Illustrated Classic Editions.” These were a series of small (5 1/2 x 4″) editions of classic novels published in the 1970’s and 80’s which had been abridged and simplified so that a young reader could grasp the story and encounter key sections of the original dialogue and narration of a classic work of literature. One of the most notable features for me, as a young reader, was the comic-style illustrations that accompanied each page of the narrative, as well as the vividly-depicted covers, which had a simple, Van Gogh-like beauty in their coloring and style.
I have discovered in my wanderings on the sea of human information that is the Google Search Engine that there are others who share in my fascination with these books; however, there has yet to be a definitive site dedicated to these volumes (as was pointed out here–this post was part of my motivation to finally write this!).
While this will not be the final word on Moby Books, I would like to share as much information as I have with my fellow devotees and the world at large; however, there are many more questions that require researchers far better than myself to answer.
My first memory of Moby Books came from opening a McDonald’s “Happy Meal” sometime in the late 1970’s (back when only millions had been served) and discovering a copy of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” inside (smelling of french fries I’m sure). McDonald’s apparently worked with Moby Books on a special promotion tied into a TV series the fast-food company was sponsoring on PBS called “Once Upon a Classic.” After years of searching, I found a copy of this version in quite good condition, which is the crown of my Moby Books collection.
After reading that first book, I pressed my parents to buy more and more of these books (which could be found at grocery stores!) and began to fancy myself quite the literary type. At my elementary school library, I checked out a copy of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers (the unabridged original), believing that I had already taken on his The Last of the Mohicans (in Moby Book form)–I was in for a sharp awakening, as I couldn’t get past the first few pages!! Even though it took me a while to wean myself from the Moby Books versions of classic novels, they were my “gateway drug” to the realms of classic and contemporary fiction which have been a passion ever since.
Around 5 years ago, my mom brought over some of my old Moby Books to give to MY kids and it reawakened so many memories of being lost in other lands and people’s lives in these books that I decided that I needed to obtain the full collection. At this point, I believe I have all of the books that are available to be had (41 total), but I would love to complete the collection if I find any more. Here are some facts about the Moby Books collection I have discovered, as well as some questions that I have, followed by a categorized list (by volume number) of all the Moby Books of which I am aware.
MOBY BOOKS FACTS & FAQS
- There were 36 Moby Books Illustrated Classic Editions published in 3 batches of 12 each in 1977, 1979, and 1983. “Moby Books” was the brand name, published by Playmore Inc. out of New York City in arrangement with I. Waldman & Son, Inc.
- Playmore later released (sometime between 2001-2002) a number of “Illustrated Classic Editions” without the Moby Books imprint and featuring a different style of cover art & illustrations. I do not consider these to be part of the “canonical collection,” however, these later editions were given catalog numbers in sequence with the earlier editions, so there seems to be some sense of intended continuity by the publisher.
- The McDonald’s editions are an interesting puzzle. There seem to have been two sets released of “4 volumes” each in 1977 and 1979; whereas the original series catalog numbers are from 4501-4536, the McDonald’s editions are given catalog numbers from 1001-1004/95. The books I own from the 1977 set include The Wizard of Oz (1001/95, vol. 1), Black Beauty (1003/95, vol. 3), and The Three Musketeers (1004/95, vol. 4). I have never found the 2nd volume of this set. Of the 1979 set, I have Tom Sawyer (1002/95, vol. 2) and A Christmas Carol (1004/95, vol. 4); I have also never come across any other books from this set. Since two books share the same catalog number (1004/95), I am assuming these were completely different sets with no shared titles. I would love to find out about these missing editions if anyone has any information…
- In the back of the 1977 and 1983 books, there are two catalogs of the editions in the series. While the 1983 listing contains the full 36 books from the official Moby Books canon and no more, the 1977 listing includes 5 books that apparently were intended to be part of the series, but were never actually published: Frankenstein (which was later released in a 2002 “non-canonical” edition), Aesop’s Fables, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Kim (by Kipling), and “Stories from the Bible.”
This is the information I have. For those wishing to begin their own collection of Moby Books, I would recommend a frequent search of eBay listings, as you can find people selling 15-20 books for 5 dollars total. There is also a site called Series Books which sell the books, but they are much more expensive. The McDonald’s editions are quite hard to come by and sell for $25-30 a piece (I found mine for around $3-5 a while back!). Below I have listed the books with catalog numbers…any corrections or new information would be greatly appreciated!
Moby Books Illustrated Classics editions
Catalog No./Title/Author/Publishing Date
|4501||Wizard of Oz, The||Baum, L. Frank||1977|
|4502||Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles||Doyle, A. Conan||1977|
|4503||Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The||Defoe, Daniel||1977|
|4504||Black Beauty||Sewell, Anna||1977|
|4505||Kidnapped||Stevenson, Robert Louis||1977|
|4506||Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, A||Twain, Mark||1977|
|4507||20,000 Leagues Under the Sea||Verne, Jules||1977|
|4509||Three Musketeers, The||Dumas, Alexandre||1977|
|4510||Treasure Island||Stevenson, Robert Louis||1977|
|4511||Little Women||Alcott, Louisa May||1977|
|4512||Around the World in 80 Days||Verne, Jules||1977|
|4513||Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The||Pyle, Howard||1979|
|4514||Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The||Twain, Mark||1979|
|4515||Call of the Wild, The||London, Jack||1979|
|4516||Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The||Twain, Mark||1979|
|4517||Oliver Twist||Dickens, Charles||1979|
|4518||David Copperfield||Dickens, Charles||1979|
|4519||Count of Monte Cristo, The||Dumas, Alexandre||1979|
|4520||Moby Dick||Melville, Herman||1979|
|4521||Last of the Mohicans, The||Cooper, James Fenimore||1979|
|4522||Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty||Bligh, William||1979|
|4523||Oregon Trail, The||Parkman, Francis||1979|
|4524||Tales of Mystery and Terror||Poe, Edgar Allan||1979|
|4526||Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The||Doyle, A. Conan||1983|
|4527||Swiss Family Robinson, The||Wyss, Johann||1983|
|4528||Journey to the Center of the Earth, A||Verne, Jules||1983|
|4529||War of the Worlds||Wells, H.G.||1983|
|4530||Time Machine, The||Wells, H.G.||1983|
|4531||Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The||Stevenson, Robert Louis||1983|
|4532||Tale of Two Cities, A||Dickens, Charles||1983|
|4533||Man in the Iron Mask, The||Dumas, Alexandre||1983|
|4534||Great Expectations||Dickens, Charles||1983|
|4535||Prince and the Pauper, The||Twain, Mark||1983|
|4536||Captain Courageous||Kipling, Rudyard||1983|
|4537||Red Badge of Courage||Crane, Stephen||2002|
|4539||King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table||Pyle, Howard||2002|
|4540||Jungle Book, The||Kipling, Rudyard||2002|
|4541||Hunchback of Notre Dame, The||Hugo, Victor||2002|
|4542||Wind in the Willows, The||Grahame, Kenneth||2002|
|4543||Gulliver’s Travels||Swift, Jonathan||2002|
|4544||Invisible Man, The||Wells, H.G.||2002|
|4545||Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The||Irving, Washington||2002|
|4546||Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm||Wiggin, Kate Douglas||2002|
|4547||Alice in Wonderland||Carroll, Lewis||2002|
|4548||Pride and Prejudice||Austen, Jane||2002|