“ ‘Sho now,’ Quick said. ‘But suppose a man don’t happen to own a vest.’
“At that moment Jody Varner, followed by the blacksmith, thrust through them again. ‘All right, Buck,’ he said. ‘Better get them on into the lot. Eck here will help you.’ The stranger, the severed halves of the vest swinging from either shoulder, mounted to the wagon seat, the blacksmith following.
“ ‘Get up, you transmogrified hallucinations of Job and Jezebel,’ the stranger said.”—Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and short-story writer William Faulkner (1897-1962), “Spotted Horses,” originally published as a short story, later incorporated into The Hamlet (1940)
A college professor of mine noted that William Faulkner, like James Joyce, may have made enormous demands on readers, but was also one of the great comic writers in the English language. The southerner’s posthumously published The Reivers is the most obvious example of his antic muse, but so, in a more concentrated fashion, was the novella “Spotted Horses.”
In the pre-automotive era in which so much of Faulkner’s work took place, horses took the place of automobiles as all-purpose vehicles of transportation and commerce, and the horse trader was about as trustworthy as user-car salesmen are today in attempting to conceal problems with what they’re selling.
The horse trader in this passage, “the stranger,” intends to pass off some abused and angry horses as “good, gentle ponies.” Naturally, he gets what’s coming to him.
Faulkner himself loved horses only too well. He once admitted to writing Sanctuary, the closest he came to a blatantly commercial novel, because "I needed it to buy a good horse." He kept riding horses and jumping fences into his 60s, even after his doctor and his family had strongly urged him not to.
In a painful irony that Faulkner himself might have appreciated, his own death was precipitated through an equestrian accident from which he never really recovered. Maybe he would have thought it was worth it: For a risk-taker like him, in life as in fiction, no “good, gentle ponies,” thank you very much.
(For those who want a full-scale investigation of the different forms of humor used by Faulkner throughout his career—including Southwestern humor, folk humor, black humor, and classical comedy—a group of scholars contributed to the 1984 book Faulkner and Humor, edited by Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie.)
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