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Monday, July 25, 2011

Faulkner's Unvanquished

When I was nineteen or twenty I read William Faulkner's The Unvanquished.  I did not know Faulkner from Fauntleroy in those days, and wasn't intimidated by his reputation.  I was so affected by the story, I rewrote a chapter, switching out word for word, changing it from a Civil War novel into science fiction.  Ringo became Ognir.  Granny became the Ygrann.  You get the idea.  It was really unreadable.  I called it, "The Unvanquished, novel by William Faulkner, more novel by Man Martin."
Yesterday I finished re-reading it, the novel, not my piece, which has mercifully long since been lost.
Lord, why would anyone read anything else ever?
It really is fearsome to try writing when Faulkner, Percy, and Camus are still on the shelves.  You could never top them, can you even hold your own with them?
Reading it a second time, I appreciate how perfectly constructed it is.  The first half or so of the novel is an hilarious picaresque about an upright old lady and two boys outwitting Union Soldiers during the Civil War.  But there are consequences to be paid for their chicanery, and just after the funniest chapter in the novel - the chapter I tried rewriting, by the way - they begin to pay those consequences.  Then, the protagonist has to pay consequences for paying the consequences.  By swift gradations, the novel turns from farce to high drama to tragedy.
The book ends with what is quite properly the archetypal ending of Westerns: law comes to the town and replaces the rule of the gunslinger.  It is a novel about a boy's coming of age, but also the coming of age of the South.
It is a great book.  It pleases me that thirty-odd years ago I was so taken with what a great book it was, I attempted adapting it.

1 comment:

  1. I recently read The Unvanquished. It was part of my goal of reading all the Faulkner I did not think I could read when I was younger. A few years ago a friend explained his view of reading Faulkner's work. "When I was young I thought I was not smart enough to read Faulkner; turns out I was not patient enough." My friend was right.