Anthological Musings

"Wild and Fair," edited by Thomas McIntyre, Safari Press, 2008.

by Terry Wieland

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the anthology is the red-headed step-child of the publishing world.

Now, before we dive into the particulars of anthologies, let’s deal with the question of red hair and the above reference, which will undoubtedly be viewed as pejorative and have our red-headed readers leaping to their keyboards to chirp defiance.

Many years ago, I found myself in a saloon, sipping beer and reading the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca.  I came across a word I didn’t know, and murmured aloud “What the hell is a penumbra?”  Beside me, a voice growled “Astronomy.  The glow around an eclipse.”  The voice came from a thin, long-haired, walrus-moustachioed, leather-jacketed denizen with whom I’d previously enjoyed only nodding acquaintance, Russ by name, biker by game.

And when I say biker, there could be no doubt:  Aside from riding a vintage Harley that made my mouth water, Russ and his main squeeze, Bev, named their twin sons “Harley Davidson” and “Jim Beam.”  And no, I’m not putting you on.

I got to know Russ pretty well.  One time, the discussion turned to living dangerously, and he opined that “you can hunt Cape buffalo or you can date red-headed women.”  At the time, having married and divorced one redhead, and dated several others, I had no grounds to disagree.

Possibly the most famous redhead in history was Napoleon’s Marshal Ney, who personified “courageous to a fault.”  He seemed to think one could substitute bravery for brains and get away with it indefinitely, which at Waterloo proved his undoing.  Ever since then, the bonapartistas have been blaming him for the French disaster.  How much any of this had to do with his hair color, I leave to history to judge.  At any rate, Michel Ney was executed for treason after the battle—a move opposed by the Duke of Wellington—but later his statue was erected in the center of Paris, so it’s a mixed verdict.

One does not usually seek erudition in a place like McCall’s Roadhouse, a biker bar in one of Ontario’s less sophisticated rock-scrabble townships, but Russ was the exception, and also proved the rule that one should not judge a book by its cover.  Which brings us back to anthologies, after a long digression through poetry, motorcycles, astronomy, and military history.

My old friend Tom McIntyre died in early November, and shortly afterwards I found myself in the hospital with an ailment that may not have been immediately life-threatening but did prompt a certain amount of introspection.  About 20 years ago, Tom asked me to contribute a chapter to an anthology on hunting North American big game.  It was published in 2008 and I was duly sent a copy but, that being a period of upheaval, I put it on the shelf and eventually forgot about it.  In a rush of guilt, I managed to have it brought to the hospital, where I commenced a long-overdue reading.

For those not familiar with the genre, anthologies take many forms.  Some are a compilation of previously published pieces, either fiction or non-, gathered between hard covers; some are all original, and they can have one author or many.  It’s generally accepted in publishing circles that anthologies never sell, which is not quite true.  Anthologies of articles by Jack O’Connor or Robert Ruark invariably sell very well, with the “lost classics” approach being about the easiest way imaginable to create a best-seller.

Tom McIntyre had his stuff from Sports Afield published in several anthologies over the years, and they must have sold well enough for his publisher, the notoriously penurious Ludo Wurfbain and Safari Press, to agree to another.  It’s called Wild and Fair, and includes chapters by such luminaries as Dave Petzal, Steve Bodio, and Don Thomas, as well as novelist Robert F. Jones and playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross).

One thing of which Tom could never be accused was approaching hunting with what José Ortega called the “affected piety” of the animal worshipper who unctuously treats each kill as a sacred rite.  He certainly valued ethics and fair chase, and followed the rules assiduously, but as he points out in one of his introductions, “nowhere was it decreed that hunting demands decorum.”  Tom himself was about the least decorous of men, who never felt that expressing gleeful joy in a successful hunt was in any way disrespectful.

Wild and Fair is still available, new and used, for not much money.  I found one “review” on the web, which gave it two stars out of five on the grounds that “sadly, few of the stories matched the quality of Mr. McIntyre’s own writing.”

Well, pal, sadly, not one writer in a hundred in the last century could match Tom McIntyre’s writing.  Still, the book includes two original pieces by Tom himself, not counting the foreword.  His introductions to each piece are priceless, and if you don’t get a rush out of reading Jim Zumbo on hunting alligators in the dark with a harpoon, Don Thomas on chasing cougars through the snow, on foot with a bow, or Jameson Parker on a lifetime of (mostly unscheduled) dinner dates with bears, well, what can I tell ya?

Buy the damn book.  You’ll thank me.  

Gray’s shooting editor, Terry Wieland, has found that anthologies invariably profit the reader more than the author, unless your name is O’Connor or Ruark.