column By: Glen Blackwood | January, 21
In the introduction to The Corey Ford Sporting Treasury (Willow Creek Press, 1987), Dr. James W. Hall III – “Doc Hall” in the “Minutes of the Lower Forty” stories – writes:
“Humor was Corey’s original and sustaining genius. I remember him pointing out to me that the basis of all humor is really pain or misfortune – someone has to slip on the banana peel. However, his artistry with this was always unique and kindly. His skill was such he never needed to resort to profanity or smuttiness for laughter in his writing, and this was typical of his conversations as well.”
Reading this quote, I began to search for the subtlety that is embedded in the best humorous outdoor writings, not just bawdy hunting camp pranks, personal jeering regarding a streak of misses or a canine companion’s flatulence or run offs but humor that was developed by vocabulary and intellect.
Corey Ford relied on dialogue and satire. Other authors rely on irony, self-deprecation or exaggeration to create a believable tale that produces a smile. I believe the common thread among these authors is found in their experiences both in composition and in the field, as they were professional writers and or educators by vocation, and the outdoors was their avocation.
While the time afield may be the overriding theme of many of these stories, the occurrences of non-field life also enrich the comic relief within the realm of sporting writing. Gene Hill’s essays “The Annual Report (Submitted in a Bygone Year)” and “Annual Report (For Most Recent Fiscal Year)” found in A Listening Walk (Winchester Press, 1985) are such examples, as are the yarns “A South Seas Bird” and “The Woodcock Letter” from A Hunter’s Fireside Book (Winchester Press, 1972). These pieces demonstrate Hill’s creativeness and wit.
Another example of intellectual wit in humorous sporting writing is the tongue-in-cheek book review Ed Zern wrote regarding a reprinting of D.H. Lawrence’s classic English novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This short, concise review will cause every bird hunter to chortle aloud and is contained in The Best of Ed Zern (Lyons Press, 2001).
Rereading these authors and other books reminded me that they are all sportsmen first and foremost, as they wrote not exclusively of bird dogs and wing shooting but of hunting and fishing in general, as well as the sun, stars, marshes and mountains. They found a sublime majesty in the outdoors and tried their best to show their audience its value, sometimes utilizing humor and sometimes not. Though I am discussing their humorous voices currently, I would be remiss in not stating that some of the best pieces within sporting literature these authors have written are contemplative, if not sullen. Ford’s classic “The Road to Tinkhamtown” is a prime example, as is the story by Hill titled “Martin.”
Do we sometimes take our avocations too seriously? I know I have and am fairly certain Ford, Hill and Zern did sometimes as well. Only they also were able to use satire, irony and life itself to write of outdoor foibles in a manner that induces laughter or at least a grin, and for that I am grateful.