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Mel Gibson and Sean Penn Team For Oxford Dictionary Drama ‘The Professor and the Madman’

Written by on August 2, 2016 

Mel Gibson and Sean Penn

With his directorial and acting career looking up, Mel Gibson is bringing a passion project that’s been stirring for two decades to the big screen. According to THR, Gibson has long since wanted to adapt the best-selling The Professor and the Madman, the story of the inception and creation of The Oxford English Dictionary. Gibson had originally planned to helm the project, but he has since yielded that hat to Farhad Safinia, who penned Gibson’s own Apocalypto, and is also the scribe for this adaptation.

With Gibson now focusing on acting (and producing) as James Murray, the titular professor who compiled the OED, he has brought on Academy Award winner Sean Penn to play opposite as the madman, Dr. W.C. Minor. Penn’s character, who submitted over 10,000 entries to the OED, was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. Should Penn accept — he’s currently in talks — this will be the first time the two actors will have starred alongside one another. Along with Gibson, the film is also produced by Craig FloresZev Foreman, and Nicolas Chartier.

As we await more details, check out an hour-long documentary on the true story that’s the basis of the film, as well as the Amazon synopsis for the book.

Mysterious (mistîe · ries), a. [f. L. mystérium Mysteryi + ous. Cf. F. mystérieux.]
1. Full of or fraught with mystery; wrapt in mystery; hidden from human knowledge or understanding; impossible or difficult to explain, solve, or discover; of obscure origin, nature, or purpose.

It is known as one of the greatest literary achievements in the history of English letters. The creation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857, took seventy years to complete, drew from tens of thousands of brilliant minds, and organized the sprawling language into 414,825 precise definitions. But hidden within the rituals of its creation is a fascinating and mysterious story–a story of two remarkable men whose strange twenty-year relationship lies at the core of this historic undertaking.

Professor James Murray, an astonishingly learned former schoolmaster and bank clerk, was the distinguished editor of the OED project. Dr. William Chester Minor, an American surgeon from New Haven, Connecticut, who had served in the Civil War, was one of thousands of contributors who submitted illustrative quotations of words to be used in the dictionary. But Minor was no ordinary contributor. He was remarkably prolific, sending thousands of neat, handwritten quotations from his home in the small village of Crowthorne, fifty miles from Oxford. On numerous occasions Murray invited Minor to visit Oxford and celebrate his work, but Murray’s offer was regularly–and mysteriously–refused.

Thus the two men, for two decades, maintained a close relationship only through correspondence. Finally, in 1896, after Minor had sent nearly ten thousand definitions to the dictionary but had still never traveled from his home, a puzzled Murray set out to visit him. It was then that Murray finally learned the truth about Minor–that, in addition to being a masterful wordsmith, Minor was also a murderer, clinically insane–and locked up in Broadmoor, England’s harshest asylum for criminal lunatics.

The Professor and the Madman is an extraordinary tale of madness and genius, and the incredible obsessions of two men at the heart of the Oxford English Dictionary and literary history. With riveting insight and detail, Simon Winchester crafts a fascinating glimpse into one man’s tortured mind and his contribution to another man’s magnificent dictionary.


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