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The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol Along the American Highway: 07/27/16

The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol Along the American Highway by Karal Ann Marling

The Colossus of Roads by Karal Ann Marling is a short and intimate study of the oversized roadside attractions in the author's home state (as well as some surrounding states). One of the classic road trip tropes is the stopping at all these different oddly shaped buildings to see them, photograph them, and buy postcards of them. Nowadays that would also include taking selfies with them.

What I hadn't appreciated before reading Marling's book was how regional these structures are. There are a few in the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest, mostly along the older US Highway routes, rather than the Interstates but nothing in the density of the Great Plains.

The star of these colossi is of course, Paul Bunyan. He of the tall tales is a standard subject of the roadside attraction, so much so that among the handful of ones I can think of near me, he and Babe are there more than once. California has a pair at the Trees of Mystery and Oregon has another in Portland. Interestingly both of our west coast examples are taller than the one featured in Marling's book. Paul Bunyan is even included in the opening animation for Gravity Falls.

While I enjoyed the very localized history of the roadside attraction, I'm still testing the waters to see if there is enough here to make it a serious part of my project. By this I mean, there seems to be very little in the way of serious analysis or history of these attractions. The books I've read (with the exception of The Colossus of Roads) are more like A to Z guides to them (where they are and what they offer) or are lengthy interviews with the people who live near them.

Three stars

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