During the lockdown read The Plague, turned page next to The Book of the Dun Cow. Not an immediately clear connection not least because Dun Cow is far lesser known. Both chronicle communities within a larger one within a larger world. First, of course, is the full circle vicious and virtual, during a pandemic; latter looks largely at before the war.
In this time (he intoned) was the first time for Camus’ brilliance and plenty of people had a similar idea in our respective burrows: the book was unavailable for weeks so I listened to an audio version; so, too, Walter Wangerin’s animal fable … books on tape, as they usedta be called, are pretty darn convenient.
I’d made it about two-thirds through Dun Cow the first time, scads of underlining because the writing is so accomplished; but didn’t hear it, didn’t heed it. Still haven’t and it will require two or three more readings, hearings, and there are others, as it’s part of a trilogy.
One thing it’s about is heroes. Not capital H and not heroism.
When one encounters an –ism, one ought to run.
Unless one is a hero.
Dun Cow has several heroes, including a weasel, a rooster, several hens, a mouse, and — last, best of all — a woeful dog, which term here is redundant. A woeful hero, what one is when mournful countenance is what one has, long as one is a knight.
Flaws are part of the plague package and more prosaic than flamboyant.
Hemingway’s are impotent or visibly broken; here are real flaws heroes.
Pride, foolishness, dithery, self-pity, sillying about, and sheer dopiness …
Courage, resolve, speed, pure dope.
Shorter list, but stronger.
An appended note, something of an excursus really but Dun Cow being as good as it is we permit it. And for those who read Chaucer when they were supposed to (it was in the stack with Camus when I was in college or I don’t recall, which is worse) he has to cop to the source material; Chaucer cribbed a bit, too, turns out.
Others in the line of playing out yarn include Animal Farm of course, and Wangerin emphasizes, as past others accused of it have as well, that Dun Cow is not an allegory — not a puzzle or a game or an intellectual exercise. Adding from the other end I’d add neither is it a comic book or a superhero franchise. Just heroes.
There are no badasses in Dun Cow.
This was one of the lessons of No Country for Old Men … now headed seemingly far afield from The Plague and the like.
An idea therein, book and film, is if we ain’t up to it when it comes, whatever it is, by then it will be too late. Just go. The men aren’t and in one way or another they go, with one recalling in a dream what once was, and might still be. A woman somewhat is but chaos reigns and she goes too, and then that chaos, which the evil seemed to wield as a weapon, turns it back on the guy who is, in the end, just a guy.
The might still be part might be key. There are no badasses in No Country either, though self-deception and posturing are present on all sides, and the lesson comes out most boldly, that is meekly, in all those departures. But there is that dream.
The dream is of a small h hero who prolly doesn’t even think of herself as such, he is simply doing and done, being and one.
Neither tanned nor particularly rested but certainly ready.
This is, over-simplified, how it happens in Dun Cow. The heroism comes unexpectedly and from everywhere. The craven is present as well because these animals are merely human.
And that needs to be all here or this will descend into moral and message, but this is enough.