Tarantula Island

By Larry Fyffe

Tarantula Island

In a secret “Untold Dylan” vault is locked a copy of the first edition of ‘Tarantula’ ~ a short book by Bob Dylan, entitled ‘Tarantula Island’.

Exclusive to our readers is a quick summary of the original pulp novelette.

 * * * * *

The book opens at a play where Prince Hamlet is addressing the skull of a court jester:

"Where be your gibes now?
Your gambols?
Your songs?"
(William Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act V, sc.i)

The Prince is compared to gospel singer Lady Aretha Franklin:

(P)rince hamlet - he's somewhere on the totem pole
he hums a shallow tune
"oh, killing me by the grave"
Aretha - lady godiva of the migrants
she sings too

(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

The “Tarantula Island” version simply says that Hamlet’s song lyrics get stolen.

Note: sometime later additional lyrics, claimed to be intended for the first edition, are bootlegged under the label of “The Pig”:

Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song

(Roberta Flack: Killing Me Softly ~ Fox, Gimble, Lieberman)

A reference to a poet who’s admired by another poet (apparently not a very good one) appears in both the new and older editions of the novelette:

(F)ox eyes from abilene
garbage poet from the
greyhound circuit
& who has a feeling for the most lost
pieces of frost

(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)
That poet wrote the following poem:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep

(Robert Frost: Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening)

That poet later alluded to again in the song lyrics quoted beneath:

The evening sun is singing low
The woods are dark, the town is too

(Bob Dylan: Tell Old Bill)

Then there’s the big chapter in the first edition ~ a story about a hard-drinking pirate named Shirley Temple – goes by the nom de plume

“JC Penny”; gets arrested after stealing a big diamond necklace from a Danish ship; it’s hidden around the neck of her long-haired teddy bear.

Mentioned but a bit in the second edition:

(A) water logged pen & a bunch of old Shirley
temple pictures
with her neck in a noose was all I could find

(Bob Dylan: Tarantula)

Things get interesting right about now in the first edition ~

the curly-haired pirate is hanged, and her shack in the woods falls down.

Detailed later in the song lyrics below:

Now the chimney is rotten
And the wallpaper's torn
The garden in the back
Won't grow no more corn
(Was Brothers: Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore: Dylan et.al)

Hanged she is, but not before Shirley tells her three-fingered boyfriend that she stashed the teddy bear with the necklace in a casket, and there’s a map hidden in the shack that’s in the back of the woods that shows the way to the treasure.

The name of Pirate Penny’s mysterious boyfriend is Jerry Day, but, honour bright, he says his name is Jerry Night.

Three-fingered Jerry hooks up with one the many former lovers of pirate Penny, with one who calls himself “Billy Bones”; says he’s from Key West, but he’s really from Key East.

Off they go hunting together for the treasure:

I was thinking about turquoise
I was thinking about gold
I was thinking about diamonds
And the world's biggest necklace
(Bob Dylan: Isis ~ Dylan/Levy)

Not to be  spoiler, I’ll just conclude my review by saying that the casket’s found, but the teddy bear’s gone!!



  1. Note that Julie in “Isis” without a doubt sings “in need of a bear” and not
    ‘of a bed”

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