Monday, April 21, 2014

Son of Slewfoot

Dear Listeners,

     You may recall, I mentioned reading The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  I read it aloud, to the two fine people I live with; but, we did not complete it aloud, we did not end it aloud.  I stopped believing in its characters, and that the book could tell me any more of the beauty of life.  The words began to ring false, and we determined to finish it or not, each on his own, silently.

You may wonder, since everyone knows how it ends, why read it at all?  I read it because it seemed like the time to, and because I love its regional dialog and the love it has for the out-of-doors.  I love books which love the out-of-doors, because they treat my experience of the world in such a tender and poetic way. 

See, there, the very pointed, triangular hill in the small queue of hills on the left?  Just over the very symmetrical pointed one?  This is where I was a yearling.  And all the rest of this image?  All the space, and sky and plain?  It was mine to fill in any way I wished.  I am still filling that space, even here, even now.   I was very lucky.

     So, to The Yearling.  I read a series of books I fancied enormously (known as the Pig Trilogy, by Joseph Caldwell), because the heroine was a writer, and she "corrected" great novels, giving them the endings she felt they ought to have had.  So, if you'll come along with me now, I will give some idea of the correcting* The Yearling could stand.

Son Of Slewfoot, it shall be titled.  It could be the tale of bloody revenge- a bear, sired by Ol' Slewfoot, learns what has befallen his noble Pa at the hands of rustic homesteader Penny Baxter, and he then terrorizes the Baxter family for 300 or so pages, culminating in a spine-tingling three day tracking of the Baxters, who have lit out of the cabin to take it on the lam through the Florida scrub.

Or, perhaps Son Of decides death is too good for 'em, and he and the wolves that have been living underground since the Baxters and their fiddle-playing neighbors destroyed the pack, decide to keep the three Baxters as slaves.  Forcing them on pain of death, to grow corn and shoats to feed their captors.

Or maybe something more holistic and fantastical:  One of the infants that the Baxters buried in their large familial cemetery in the back yard wasn't actually dead; but has been dug up and brought up, like Mogli, by the bears.  This child's ursine rearing makes Jody Baxter a true brother of Son of Slewfoot.

But since this story is mine to tell, to correct, I fancy something even more implausible- something like Randall Jarrell's The Animal Family- s story of love.  Ory, Ma Baxter, (a rather abused stereotype in The Yearling) awakens to her own power of imagination.  She begins her journey, after her only living son Jody returns.  She visits her dead offspring, in the crowded back forty cemetery, and setting there, in a glade filled with the filtered light of a forest, and ringing with birdsong, insect and reptile life- tilandsias and orchids bursting from anything they can get a toe-hold in, branches gowned in lichen and moss, in all this teeming life of Florida woods, she sees clearly her mistake.  She realizes that hardening herself against the tragedies, the losses of life, has only brought her further suffering and pain.  She suddenly knows that her dead babies are every one's dead babies, and that they were creatures, beings, cells, and just as everyone and everything in the world, they were just trying to grow- and you cannot prevent things from growing.  All you can do is to try and comfort a little, make it a little better; try to get out of the way a little bit. 

She knows this now, and so she seeks out the Son of Slewfoot, and they den up together, because she no longer wishes** to live a life of corn pone superficialities with Penny Baxter and his adoring son, and she goes off into the woods, with her passionate and true paramour, to bloom.

They're making a fool of us.

** When my one and only love....

Books and one film, that I owe careful mention to in this post, include, but are not limited to: 

The Yearling, by Majorie Kinnan Rawlings.
The Animal Family:  Randall Jarrell.
The Jungle Book: Rudyard Kipling.
The Pig Did It, The Pig Comes to Dinner, The Pig Goes to Hog Heaven:  all by Joseph Caldwell.
All of the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Swann's Way:  Marcel Proust.
My Neighbor Totoro:  Hayao Miyazaki.