Friday, October 22, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 72

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell TollsSet during the Spanish American War of the 1930s, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel about an American sent on a mission to help guerrilla fighters blow up a bridge.

There. That's the basic plot. It sounds like something out a an action movie, doesn't it. To stop there, however, would be doing the novel and the author a grave disservice.

When it gets down to it, For Whom the Bell Tolls is about death and how to face it. The men on this secret bridge-exploding mission are going to die, and they know it. They will not be coming back from this mission. Each of them will be facing death one way or another, and they each have to deal with it individually. The idea of suicide is even approached from a soldier's point of view; the question is raised, is it preferable to kill oneself than to be captured by the enemy?

For Whom the Bell Tolls also touches upon racism and politics, though not strictly from an American point of view.

Within this tale, violence is to be found in spades, but this is not a simple action story. This is true literature, told in the best writing Hemingway ever did (yes, I admit that's arguable, but it's my opinion ... believe what you want).

As a writer, is there anything not to learn from Hemingway? The man knew how to write tense scenes and deal with weighty subject matters all while using as few words as possible, and most of those short words. No other author in my experience has quite been able to do that.

As an aside, I'll admit that every time I read a Hemingway novel, I always hate it. Until I reach the very last page. Then suddenly I love it. Not sure why that is, but it's always been my reaction.

Up next: Of Mice and Men


Charles Gramlich said...

Have you ever read his collected short stories. Wow, some great stuff in there. But whatever you do, stay away from "The Torrents of SPring." By Crom it is awful. But all his other stuff enthralls me.

Ty Johnston said...

The only shorts collection I've read of Hemingway is "Men Without Women," but I keep meaning to reading more of his short stories.