Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Nobel Prize Novelist On Hockey

I'm going to hazard a guess here and say that the majority of hockey fans may not know who the man to the left is. He is actually considered as one of the most important writers in American history, yet he hated the fanfare and fame that came with his writing and his eventual Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. William Cuthbert Faulkner was certainly an important figure in literary history, but it was his experience with hockey that has me talking about him today. Mr. Faulkner, you see, was born and raised in Mississippi, a place where hockey was unheard of during the early twentieth century. But his experience at Madison Square Garden for a hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers found its way into Sports Illustrated, and the article is a very interesting read!

I'll link the article first so you can read through the piece. Honestly, Mr. Faulkner's writing is an incredibly easy read, and his style is very entertaining even if it seems a little "old-tyme" in its diction. Regardless, have a read through and find out what hockey looks like to a Mississippi-born man who had never experience the majesty and mania surrounding hockey. Here is "An Innocent At Rinkside", written by William Faulkner and published by Sports Illustrated on January 24, 1955.

I'm drawn to a few passages that Mr. Faulkner scribed mainly because of how eloquently he described the game.

"Excitement: men in rapid, hard, close physical conflict, not just with bare hands, but armed with the knife blades of skates and the hard, fast, deft sticks which could break bones when used right. He had noticed how many women were among the spectators, and for just a moment he thought that perhaps this was why—that here actual male blood could flow, not from the crude impact of a heavier fist but from the rapid and delicate stroke of weapons, which, like the European rapier or the frontier pistol, reduced mere size and brawn to its proper perspective to the passion and the will. But only for a moment because he, the innocent, didn't like that idea either. It was the excitement of speed and grace, with the puck for catalyst, to give it reason, meaning."
Is that paragraph not the perfect way to describe the game of hockey to someone who has never experienced it live? Sure, we've all seen it on TV, but nothing is like a live hockey game being played at full-speed. Mr. Faulkner's fantastic description should serve as the mantra for those who are explaining the game to those who are still innocents at the rink.
"We—Americans—like to watch; we like the adrenalic discharge of vicarious excitement or triumph or success."
Is this not the voice of the crowd at a hockey game, or any game for that matter? Mine is not a commentary on American hockey in the sunbelt, but there is something to be said for inexperienced fans and the offering of a winning team playing a violent sport. Hockey thrived in Dallas when the Stars arrived because they were immediately successful. Hockey is thriving in California because of, first, Wayne Gretzky's success in Los Angeles after he was traded there, and then because of the continued success of the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

Teams in Atlanta, Florida, and Phoenix have not had the same success because they make the playoffs and then quickly bow out. Tampa Bay is back to winning, and those fans are turning out once more. Winning attracts more fans than anything else. Faulkner's comments regarding the "adrenalic discharge of vicarious excitement or triumph or success" is a microscopic view of why teams like Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago can survive various problems such as long Stanley Cup droughts, recessions, and fan apathy. Nothing breeds success like winning.

I'm not an English major or a literary expert by any means, but I feel that this article is a very good examination of the game of hockey from a man who can eloquently express his feelings about the game in a manner that isn't derogatory about the confusion he may be experiencing while watching. I recommend everyone to read through "An Innocent At Rinkside", and base your own first experience with live hockey on what Mr. Faulkner has written. I know I have, and I felt some of the same feelings he did in my first experience.

But the players who skated "bizarre and paradoxical like the frantic darting of the weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools" became much clearer in their movements and interactions with every game, and it's one of the reasons why I fell in love with the game of hockey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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