Monday, July 9, 2012

Roger Zelazny Book Review: Wilderness

In situations where Roger Zelazny has expanded a shorter story into a longer version, I generally only review one of them, and it's usually the short one. No sense in looking at The Dream Master when I've just covered He Who Shapes, especially when I think that Shapes is the better work. Same deal with Damnation Alley, though in this case, I prefer the short version because there's less of it. (Stupid Tanner).

And those were my initial thoughts regarding Wilderness when I had already covered The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass. What was I going to say? "The Long Crawl, now with 60% more crawling!"

And while I think that Zelazny is one of the great genre novelists, I think his short stories are even better than his longer works.

But both of the Chrises who comment here seemed to prefer Wilderness over Crawl and they do know their Zelazny, so I thought I'd give it another shot. I'm glad I did.

The differences between Wilderness and The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass

The big difference is that Wilderness is a full length novel, and it tells not only the story of Hugh Glass, but of John Colter, scout for Lewis and Clark, one of the first mountain men, and probably the first white man to set foot in Yellowstone.

And according to Amazon, it looks like Wilderness is back in print, in both hard copy and Amazon kindle edition, and it looks like Speaking volumes has released it on CD.

The Colter stories are the only fiction I've read by Hausman. I think they mesh extremely Zelazny's chapters about Glass. I guess it's a little like putting together a mix tape. You want theme similar enough that they don't clash, but not so similar that they blur together. Not being familiar with Hausman's other work, I couldn't say to what extent he changed his usual style in order to achieve this, but it works. The first chapter is a Colter one and I thought, "Hey, this reads like a Zelazny story!" and then I got to the second chapter, which was a Hugh Glass chapter by Zelazny, and I realized that Hausman's voice was distinctly his own.

(I reread the book over the course of this past weekend and I would stick a bookmark between the pages whenever I needed to do something else, and when I picked it back up again, I found that each author's voice was distinctive enough that I had no trouble figuring out which mountain man I was reading about before I got to a section where he's mentioned by name.)

I enjoyed Glass's story more than Colter's. That's not a huge surprise, given the purpose of the blog, and it's certainly not to say that I didn't like the Colter bits. I just liked Glass more.

(However, in doing a little bit of research on Hausman, whom I had only known in the context of his collaboration with Roger Zelazny, I learned that he's an enormously nice guy who teaches about nature and folklore. Anyone with a testimonial from MISTER ROGERS is okay with me. Hausman actually reminds me more than a bit of Tom Chapin.)

Also, he has a blog. People with blogs are awesome.

Oh, I see he posted about Wilderness too!

Anyway, before I completely forget what this post is about, I enjoyed the Colter sections. It's a fictionalization of the account of John Colter's flight from a large number of Blackfoot braves, after he was captured and stripped of everything but a loincloth. It's a Man vs Nature story with some elements of Man vs Man in the form of the relentless Flint In The Face.

I think that's why I preferred Hugh Glass a little more, but again that's not to knock Hausman. I had read Hugh Glass first, and Zelazny's take on it was my standard for this kind of story, and any deviation from that format was a net negative, but I do like the Colter chapters. Their biggest failing, if you can even call it that, is that they're not written by Roger Zelazny.

They are, however, written by Gerald Hausman, and he's pretty great, with passages like:

From a Mandan runner he once learned the trick of fixing the eye on a distant ridge, keeping it there until all else shrank from view. The fusion of leafy gold, the great cottonwoods by the river juncture, now became Colter's leafy compass. On these huge overarching trees, he merged his mind, and the fire of the October leaves became the sole content of his brain...

On now on to the Glass parts. I have have to agree with DeVito and Kovacs. Having read the novel, I think I'll always prefer it to the short story. It's still a very good story, but it's got great big chunks out of it, including most of the fabled crawl and the ending. It gets in Hugh's head a little more, too, showing how his thirst for revenge twists his soul even as his body heals. Ah, and the ending. The ending is so wonderful. Fitting. I can see why it was not included in the short story, because it would have made for a very lopsided story, but now, having read it, I can't imagine Hugh's journey ending any other way.


  1. "But both of the Chrises who comment here seemed to prefer Wilderness over Crawl and they do know their Zelazny, so I thought I'd give it another shot. I'm glad I did."

    See, you need to listen to us more often!


  2. Hm . . . dunno why I've never commented on this before, but what the hay. I really just LOVE this book. I feel the dirt grinding into me, feel my chest burning, feel the desperate fear and hunger and rage and despair. What an awesome and terrible thing it is to exist, and to try to keep existing . . .

  3. The hawk soared.

    I love that more every time I read it.

  4. I have two items left on my list of unread Zelazny books (well, three if you count the final installment of the Millenium trilogy, but since I couldn't get through FAUST, I'm just not planning on trying the one that follows it), and WILDERNESS is next. I'm really looking forward to reading it (I enjoyed what I read in "The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass"), and Mr. DeVito's comment only makes me want to read it MORE!

  5. Huh, had no idea there was a short story version of Zelazny's part of this! I suppose I'll get to it eventually -- I'm taking my time through the collected short stories, savoring the odds bits I've not read before.

  6. Jaysus, two years on and I'd managed to forget there was a short story version again. Time to pick up my pace on the collected short stories, I guess!