Still Life with Woodpecker

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Still Life with Woodpecker
Cover of Still Life With Woodpecker, echoing the design of the Camel cigarette packet
Author Tom Robbins
Country United States
Language English language
Publisher Bantam Books
Publication date
October 1980
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 277 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-553-27093-1 (first edition, paperback)
OCLC 6683767

Still Life With Woodpecker (1980) is the third novel by Tom Robbins,[1] concerning the love affair between an environmentalist princess and an outlaw. The novel encompasses a broad range of topics, from aliens and redheads to consumerism, the building of bombs, romance, royalty, the moon, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. The novel continuously addresses the question of "how to make love stay" and is sometimes referred to as "a post-modern fairy tale".[citation needed]

Plot summary[edit]

Princess Leigh-Cheri, a redheaded vegetarian liberal princess and former cheerleader, lives with her exiled royal parents Max and Tilli and their last loyal servant Gulietta in a converted farmhouse in Seattle. While attending a liberal CareFest in Hawaii with scientific and political speakers (including Leigh-Cheri's idol, Ralph Nader) Leigh-Cheri meets Bernard Mickey Wrangle, an outlaw bomber known as the Woodpecker. Like Leigh-Cheri, he is a redhead, and unlike her, he plans to blow up the CareFest.

At the Care Fest, Leigh-Cheri is approached by a beautiful blonde who claims she is from the planet Argon. She informs Leigh-Cheri that redheads are considered evil on her planet and that red hair is caused by "sugar and lust." As it turns out, the Woodpecker has a passion for tequila that inadvertently causes him to bomb a UFO conference instead of his intended target. After the UFO conference is destroyed, a number of people see lights in the sky which seems to prove that the ambassadors from Argon were real.

Meanwhile, Gulietta witnesses the Woodpecker's bombing and rats him out to Leigh-Cheri, who places him under citizen's arrest. Leigh-Cheri demands to know why Bernard wanted to destroy the CareFest, a cause dear to her heart. Bernard explains his outlaw philosophy, which is that freedom is more important than happiness. Leigh-Cheri is still skeptical, but begins to fall in love with Bernard. She takes him home to meet her parents, but after Bernard accidentally murders Queen Tilli's pet lapdog, he slips out in disgrace. Soon after, his outlaw past catches up with him, and he is taken back to prison.

In solidarity, Leigh-Cheri transforms her attic bedroom into a copy of Bernard's prison cell, leaving her alone with only a bed, a lamp, and a package of Camel cigarettes. While contemplating the Camels, Leigh-Cheri deciphers a secret message, which she believes is from a line of red-haired Argonians. The message reads CHOICE. Bernard learns of Leigh-Cheri's self-imposed exile, since it has drawn media coverage and led to many other people locking themselves away in attics for their lost loves. Bernard hears this news in prison, and sends Leigh-Cheri a scathing letter denouncing her practices.

After a revolution in the homeland, Gulietta is crowned the queen (they had wanted Leigh-Cheri, but after the whole attic incident, thought her too flaky) and Leigh-Cheri leaves her attic exile and agrees to marry the handsome, wealthy Prince A'ben Fizel, on the condition that he will build her a pyramid as a wedding gift. A'ben Fizel suspects that Leigh-Cheri still loves Bernard and sets spies to follow her. While exploring the completed pyramid the night before the wedding, Leigh-Cheri discovered Bernard, alive, preparing to set up dynamite to destroy the pyramid. While the two reconcile, A'ben Fizel seals the pyramid, trapping the lovers inside, and announces to the world that the princess has been kidnapped.

In the meantime, Bernard and Leigh-Cheri, trapped in the pyramid, are living on wedding cake and champagne while they discuss the pyramids, redheads, the moon, and the Argonian message on the box of Camel cigarettes. When they are almost completely out of supplies, Leigh-Cheri decides to use the dynamite to make an opening while Bernard sleeps, sacrificing her own life to save him. He tries to stop her, but the dynamite goes off anyway. They awaken in the hospital where they discover that they are both deaf. Max is so shaken by Leigh-Cheri's capture and reappearance that his heart gives out on him. Tilli goes back to Europe. Leigh-Cheri and Bernard move back to Seattle where they spend the rest of their days.


  • Max – the deposed king, former gambler, sports fanatic, enemy of blackberry brambles, and father of Leigh-Cheri.
  • Leigh-Cheri – the former princess, an idealist, nature lover, and Ralph Nader supporter.
  • Queen Tilli – a former Queen, silly and simple by nature, who listens to opera and plays with her dog; her favorite Americanism is "oh-oh, spaghetti-o".
  • Gulietta – a maid who does not speak English, is dependent upon cocaine, and is a secret heir.
  • Bernard – known by the title, "Woodpecker", he has anarchist leanings, is a self-proclaimed outlaw, and employs explosives to destroy buildings; his mantra is "Yum".

Major Themes[edit]

This novel is about the primacy of the individual and "metaphysical outlawism."[2]


The Dan Fogelberg song, "Make Love Stay," was inspired by Still Life with Woodpecker and the lyrics to the La Dispute song, "One," consist of quotes from the novel.[citation needed]

In the movie, 50 First Dates, Drew Barrymore's character is found reading the book each morning during her breakfast, while also making waffle houses at the Hooki Lau cafe.

The cover to the first edition is modeled after a pack of Camel cigarettes.

The post-hardcore Band La Dispute used the Lyrics from still Life with Woodpecker in their EP Here, Hear..

Release details[edit]


  1. ^ Rush Payton (1995). "And the Two Become One: A Discourse on Transcendance and the Role of the Meta-Narrator in Three Novels by Tom Robbins". Bohemian Ink. Bohemian Ink. Retrieved 15 August 2012. 
  2. ^ Siegel, Mark (1980). Tom Robbins. University of Wyoming. ISBN 978-0884300663. Retrieved 25 August 2015.