Hunting Stories, by William Faulkner, Limited Editions Club,1988

Hunting Stories are two short stories from American writer William Faulkner, The Old People and The Bear, both of which appeared in his Go Down, Moses from 1942, the collection of which is often considered a loosely structured novel in itself.

The Old People centers around a young boy named Isaac McCaslin, who is being taught to hunt by Sam Fathers, the son of a Choctaw chief and an African American slave. On his first hunting trip with Major de Spain and General Compson, Issac kills his first deer. One gets a good sample of Faulkner’s writing style by this snippet where he describes Isaac first seeing the deer:

Then the buck was there. He did not come into sight; he was just there, looking not like a ghost but as if all light were condensed in him and he were the source of it, not only moving in it but disseminating it, already running, seen first as you always see the deer, in that split second after he has already seen you, already slanting  away in that first soaring bound, the antlers even in that dim light looking like a small rocking-chair balanced on his head.

This story provides the basis for understanding Isaac’s emerging views of nature and man’s relationship to the land, a topic further explored in The Bear. The “old people” of the story’s title, symbolized by the rituals of the hunt being passed to Issac by the elders of the hunting party, represents the basis of moral tradition, that in which values and culture are handed down throughout generations.

And as he (Sam) talked about those old times and those dead and vanished men of another race from either that the boy knew, gradually to the boy those old times would cease to be old times and would become part of the boy’s present, not only as if they had happened yesterday but as if they were still happening , the men who walked through them actually walking in breath and air and casting an actual shadow on the earth they had not quitted.

It is through listening to his elders and watching what they do that Issac learns about life. We could all stand to remember this:

But you can’t be alive forever, and you always wear out life long before you have exhausted the possibilities of living.

In The Bear, Issac is now an expert hunter at sixteen years old. As a hunter, he is a man, and along with the other men, it is about the hunt.

It was of the men, not white nor black nor red but men, hunters, with the will and the hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and relieved against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and immitigable rules which voided all regrets and brooked no quarter…

Issac, Sam and the others are obsessed with Old Ben, a huge monstrous bear that has survived all attempts at killing him over many years. Along with Lion, a huge, strong and savage hunting dog they have brought up specifically for the purpose of hunting Old Ben, the group spends weeks on the hunt. Faulkner writes of Issac tracking the bear:

He had left the gun; by his own will and relinquishment he had accepted not a gambit, not a choice, but a condition in which not only the bear’s heretofore inviolable anonymity but all the ancient rules and balances of hunter and hunted had been abrogated. He would not be afraid, not even in the moment when the fear would take him completely…

And of Issac finally seeing the bear:

Then he saw the bear. It did not emerge, appear: it was just there, immobile, fixed in the green and windless noon’s hot dappling, not as big as he had dreamed it but as big as he had expected, bigger, dimensionless against the dappled obscurity, looking at him. Then it moved. It crossed the glade without haste, walking for an instant into the sun’s full glare and out of it, and stopped again and looked back at him across one shoulder. Then it was gone.It didn’t walk into the woods. It faded, sank back into the wilderness without motion…

{Ed Note: Warning plot spoiler follows}.

Eventually they kill Old Ben, but Lion and Sam also die in the process.

For an instant they almost resembled a piece of statuary: the clinging dog, the bear, the man stride its back, working and probing the buried blade…then the bear surged erect, raising with it the man and the dog too, and turned and still carrying the man and the dog it took two or three steps towards the woods on its hind feet as a man would have walked and crashed down. It didn’t collapse, crumple. It fell all of a piece, as a tree falls, so that all three of them, man dog and bear, seemed to bounce once.

Isaac turns 21, and renounces his inheritance of the plantation, believing the curse of Earth is man’s attempt to own the land. Eventually he marries, and takes back the plantation. After many years, he goes back to the hunting camp where they sought Old Ben. The land has been sold to a logging company and trains come very near. That life, the tradition, is it a thing of the past?

I have always found Faulkner rather tedious, though I did enjoy his Light in August. His writing and thinking seems scattered to me, perhaps just a bit too modern and ‘stream of consciousness’ based for my more traditional mind to follow. There is depth to his stories, but it takes work to mine it, and even then leaves plenty of ambiguity as to his meaning.  The Old People did little for me. I found it boring. In fairness, if I grew up hunting, or in the South, I may have connected with it more. On the other hand, The Bear turned out very enjoyable. Faulkner is at his best in the description of the hunt. His focus on the bear and on Lion (the dog) are excellent, almost personifying them in their battle. His ode to this way of life, to tradition, comes through enough to elicit sympathy for a part of our culture that seems to have been lost.

The Limited Edition Club (LEC) edition of Hunting Stories is very nicely done, especially the quarter bound green leather and natural linen binding, very much representative of a Southern landscape, and the wonderfully soft mold-made paper from Cartiere Enrico Magnani. While I am not a huge fan of the etchings themselves (seems a bit like ‘paint by numbers’ to me), their printing on mold-made Arches paper is without fault. It is a very nicely designed book, and an excellent introduction to Faulkner’s work.

William Faulkner (1897-1962) is generally considered one of the greatest American writers of Southern literature. He spent most of his life in Mississippi, and his southern roots influence all of his work. His best known novels,  The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay DyingAbsalom, Absalom! and Light in August are all considered classics of twentieth century literature. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, and also won the Pulitzer Prize twice (for A Fable in 1954 and for his last novel The Reivers in 1962). Faulkner also wrote poetry and screen plays, contributing to Hollywood scripts for  Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Faulkner is famous as a heavy drinker, though apparently he did not drink while writing, but usually in excess once completing a project.

Neil Welliver (1929-2005) was an American modern artist, mostly known for his large-scale landscape paintings, mostly representing the woods near his home in Maine. His works are represented in many museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of ArtMuseum of Modern Art (in New York City), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

About the Edition

  • Etchings by Neil Welliver, who also signs the edition
  • Text set in 14 point American Monotype Bell at Out of Sorts Letter Foundery in Mamaroneck, New York
  • Story titles and spine in English Monotype Baskerville
  • Printed at Heritage Printers in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Text paper mold-made at Cartiere Enrico Magnani in Pescia, Italy
  • Etchings were printed on mold-made Arches paper, the bear editioned by Peter Pettengill and the deer printed by Paul and Clary Taylor, both in Hinsdale, New Hampshire
  • Designed by Benjamin Shiff
  • Bound in Nigerian Oasis goatskin and natural linen at Jensen Bindery in Austin, Texas
  • Slipcase made of same natural linen with a green-grey ultrasuede lining
  • Introduction by Cleanth Brooks
  • Limited to 850 copies, mine is #121

Pictures

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Hunting Stories, LEC, Book in Slipcase
Hunting Stories, LEC, Spine Close-up
Hunting Stories, LEC, Inside of Slipcase
Hunting Stories, LEC, Front Cover
Hunting Stories, LEC, Title Page
Hunting Stories, LEC, Title Page Close-up
Hunting Stories, LEC, Sample Text #1 from The Old People
Hunting Stories, LEC, Sample Text #1 Detail
Hunting Stories, LEC, Sample Illustration #1 from The Old People
Hunting Stories, LEC, Sample Text #2 from The Bear
Hunting Stories, LEC, Sample Illustration #2, from The Bear
Hunting Stories, LEC, Sample Illustration #2 Close-up
Hunting Stories, LEC, Colophon
Hunting Stories, LEC, Artist signature close-up

8 thoughts on “Hunting Stories, by William Faulkner, Limited Editions Club,1988

  1. Henry, are you sure that the best judge of who was the better writer was Faulkner? Might he be somewhat subjective, even biased?

    In fact, I am not overwhelmed by the sameness of Hemingway. That his style is more readily characterized and discernible than Faulkner’s is true, but is not a cause for disqualification. (If it is, then Stravinsky was a greater composer than Mozart, and Picasso a greater painter than Rembrandt.)

    Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech is probably one of the finest things he wrote, but he seemed to have second thoughts about “man” if you read his comments on the murder of Emmet Till a few years later in his Harper’s article “On Fear.”

    Like Chris, I struggle reading Faulkner. Even having a Southern background does not make most of his work accessible for me. But one certainly admires his dedication to his craft and the high goals he set for himself.

  2. Once you put Faulkner and Hemingway in the same paragraph, comparison is inevitable. When asked who was the better writer, Faulkner said that he was because he tried to do more. Once Hemingway found his style, he stayed the same. He did not grow. Try reading Hemingway’s short stories seriatim, and you will be overwhelmed by the sameness of it all. Faulkner did fail, no question, but he did not choose to stay in the same well-worn path as did Hemingway. Note in one of the quotes the word “endure”; that was an important concept for Faulkner and is exemplified in his Nobel Prize where he said, “Man will not only endure; he will prevail.” Hard to find any sense of that exalted sentiment in Hemingway, who could write a short story about a man with no nose (lost it in a fight as I recall) and blind man they called “Blindy.”

    1. Good points Henry. Not sure why but I just ‘get’ Hemingway, but struggle some with Faulkner. In truth, I probably need to give Faulkner more mental time when reading him, but I do find it laborious. None-the-less, I can see why he is well liked and well respected.

  3. Chris, it’s interesting to compare Faulkner’s hunting stories with Hemingway’s hunting and fishing stories. I don’t want to start up the debate about their relative merits, which has been ongoing since they first achieved a measure of fame, but if you were to compare these stories with “Big Two-Hearted River” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” I think you would get a good idea what interested each writer when dealing with activities which involve ancient notions of what make a man a man, notions that seem pretty much a thing of the past–especially among bibliophiles.

  4. This book has gone up in price recently, usually commanding $350 or more, but much less than most Shiff era LECs. Luckilly, I bought my copy when it was selling for around $100.

    I agree with you about the illustrations. I don’t care for them that much myself.

    Faulkner was quite prolific, and some of his novels are not worth reading, and one can say the same about another Nobel prize winner, Sinclair Lewis.My favorite Faulkner is Absolam, Absolam! But most like As I lay dying or The Sound and the Fury. I can’t abide As I Lay Dying, but The Sound and the Fury is a good read.

    It’s too bad the LEC didn’t publish more Faulkner, and Lewis’ great satire on American business, Babbitt.

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