A Fable, 1954

ISBN: 0824068289
ISBN 13: 9780824068288
By: William Faulkner Faulkner Willia

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Reader's Thoughts

Celia Pundel

As good as it may be, I cannot stand Faulkner's writing style. Stream of consciousness. Either you hate it or you love it. Personally, I hate it.

Keith Cottrell

This novel is difficult... to say the least. The general idea is that there is this corporal who is very influential (a clear allegory to Jesus Christ) and he convinces a group of soldiers to disobey orders and not fight which causes WWI to take an unplanned 1 day hiatus. Eventually the powers that be get the war back on track and they have to decide what the punishment should be for all the soldiers that didn’t fight and specifically for this corporal and his 12 (yes 12) close followers. This premise could make an interesting story but most of this novel is simply indigestible. Faulkner puts most of this novel completely over everyone's head. Some parts seem really well written and interesting but that might just be because they are refreshingly comprehendible. Ultimately it was unenjoyable. So whether the writing was good or even great seems irrelevant when that it that case.

Hu Barcelos

This is one of those books that, before starting your reading, you should know what you're up against.And that is - beautiful writing, which is some times exhausting (as in the paragraphs are huge, the dialogues are scarce, and so on); and most of all, you should realize this is a depiction of the last days of Jesus Christ, written in a different perspective, and in a differente environment. Faulkner focused so much in this attempt that every scene, every character and every idea that he has written has a purpose, which is very well defined. Once you know that, you will realize the writer's point and intentions throughout this piece of work.Unfortunately, I only realized this in the last 50-100 pages - I didn't manage to figure it out on my own :( - so I spent months reading the book, not knowing exactly what was going on. Then, it all started to make sense.Also, it takes a lot of courage to finish this! So beware!


Am now into the second chapter and stopped to read other reviews. This book needs plenty of space and focus. If you are new to Faulkner do not start here. Start with his other Pulitzer winner THE REIVERS, or THE UNVANQUISHED or even INTRUDER IN THE DUST. Faulkner's density + the fog of war is an unappetizing morsel. More later.....

Trenton Judson

This book was terrible and I have no idea why it won the Pulitzer, short of that it was written by Willy Faulkner. I did not know how you could take the adventure, romance, and tragedy all out of war in a single novel until I read this, but Faulkner manages to do all of it. It was painstaking to finish this one, but I was hoping that there would be that Faulkner pay off where you just love the end of the book, where he brings everything together in a way that blows your mind, but this did not happen in the novel. Save yourself the trouble, stick to Faulkner's gems and leave this one way on the back of the library shelf for Faulkner academics.

Gary Mesick

You may have heard the expression, "since Christ was a corporal." Well, here you have it. JC himself, wandering around in no-man's land, and getting ignored and abused, as usual. Interesting work, but not really representative of Faulker.


I've had a copy of this for over ten years & haven't read it yet. why am i so lamethis is supposed to be one of his greatest if you believe the shit they put on the sleeve


Faulkner is starting to grow on me like unfamiliar music that gets better each time you hear it. It’s unbelievable that A Fable didn’t get the kind of attention it deserved when it was released in 1954. Although it won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1955, it was panned by critics across the board (is this only possible in literature?). A dark allegory to The Passion of Christ, it’s setting in the trenches of World War 1 was probably unsettling to the vast majority of it’s (Christian) readers. But don’t be fooled; Faulker spent 9 years writing it, and some of the passages in here are as starkly powerful insights on the human condition as have ever been written. You can tell he was trying to write the capstone of his career; a career that as profound as it was couldn’t settle for less than divine testimony. A talent such as his gone through life without a perspective on religion or escaping the South just wasn’t meant to be. Many of his die hard fans dismissed the novel because it wasn’t set in the South, as was his traditional role. But aren’t writers supposed to push the envelope and explore new territory? That’s what writing is. Whenever I’m writing I carefully make sure I’m not repeating myself; and it’s easy because I only get the drive to write when it’s about something I haven’t explored before. A Fable faced a lot of scrutiny for all the wrong reasons and it’s unfortunate that it’s not recognized among Faulkner’s better known works.My interpretation (SPOILERS): The last scene at the General's funeral might have confused a lot of people. I think The Runner was the guy on the ground and the Quartermaster was the man above him weeping. The Runner represents the influence of the Corporal, who in turn represents Jesus, and the Quartermaster represents the influence of the General, who in turn represents God. To me the most powerful part of the book was the General's monologue to the Corporal before he sentenced him to death; 'forsakes' him if you will. It was as if God, the Father (and he was biologically his father in the novel too) had been talking down to his naive, rebellious son, bargaining with him and demanding conservation. Maybe this was what turned off a lot of Christians: Jesus and God were on the same side in The Bible, but in A Fable God is depicted as a merciless tyrant holding up the infrastructure of a war driven society. It might be safer to say that this is not an allegory but an allegoric interpretation of The Passion. Anyways, in the last scene we see there is a reconciliation between the two men, which suggests that God and his son finally came to terms even though it happened post-mortem through different people.


Pulitzer 1955 - I finished this two days ago and have been thinking about this review since. When I started the Pulitzer reading I figured there would be some books I didn't like. Fortunately on average it seems to be about 10% - I've ready about 45 and there had been three I didn't like so I was due. And boy was I due. A Fable was Faulkner's 15th book and his first of 2 Pulitzer winners. The other, The Reivers, was for his last book 10 years later - I enjoyed the Reivers...it was readable. A Fable is a book that Faulkner considered his opus and is a retelling of the last days of Christ set in WW I. I had to look that up as I didn't necessarily get it out the book and even knowing this I had a hard time seeing it except in some obvious places. I ended up reading this in 3 parts - I read the first quarter of the book and was getting discouraged so I read the next book in line, went back and read the next quarter, then another book and then powered through the second half just to be done with it. I've read dense novels with tough language and liked them but I felt that Faulkner was just showing off here. If he didn't have a thesaurus next to him during the writing then I applaud his use and knowledge of vocabulary, although not of grammar. The guy didn't like periods, at all. His sentences rambled on for sometime a full page through the use of semi-colons, colons, hyphens, etc. He could have easily broken these into several sentences. However these things in and of themselves were not what made this nearly unreadable to me. It was more that he would describe things over 3 different ways in the same sentence, the same action, the same item, etc. And doing this repeatedly in the same "sentence" I lost track of what he was trying to say and got bogged down in the minutia. After reading this book I felt like Faulkner was just beating me over the head. I'm not sure which Faulkner is the real Faulkner style but I don't think I'm going to read any more to find out.On the 1 star I had started out with 2 - thinking 1 for readability and 1 for language. However after looking through my other reviews and seeing a couple I gave 2 and 3 stars to I dropped this back to just the 1 star.


If this book doesn’t come in dead last among my rankings of the National Book Award winners, I suspect it will be very near the bottom. It’s easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read.Granted, this is William Faulkner, one of the greatest writers of all time, and granted, this novel won both the National Book Award (his second) and the Pulitzer. But having said that, his selection here does more to discredit the independence and courage of the respective juries than it does to give credit to this book. Number one: Since Faulkner had already won the National Book Award and the Nobel Prize in Literature, and since it was well known that he took TEN YEARS to write this novel—that he outlined it on his bedroom wall, that he considered it his masterpiece, and that it was a Christian allegory—someone would have to be fairly revolutionary, here in 1955, to say, “What are you people thinking! This is trash!” Secondly, this book is so unwelcoming—so cold, sterile, emotionally impotent, allegorically aloof and removed from real human senses, from the way real people observe, think and feel—and so removed from anything that is, for all intents and purposes, a story, that I dare say the juries felt extra safe in naming it as the winner. Think about it: Of the very few people who might actually make it through this novel, even fewer might go back to figure out what in the hell they had just read. And of these, even fewer were in a position to both evaluate and persuasively articulate merits. In short, for all the wrong reasons, A Fabel was bulletproof. And I think Faulkner’s inaccessibility goes a long way toward making the author himself, his reputation as one of the greatest writers ever, invincible. So few people have the time, interest, and ability to challenge this assertion. If a group of scientists tells us that a certain Nobel physicist is a genius, sometimes it just easier to take their word for it. And the scientists seem all the smarter for it.All three of Faulkner’s award-winning books (his Pulitzer and National Book Award winners) are now considered to be among his minor works. At the very least, I find this bit of irony amusing, if not altogether disenchanting. Seeing as that the next two National Book Award winners on our list—Ten North Frederick and The Field of Vision—are now both out of print, maybe we should pause for just a moment to question, really, whether winners of the National Book Award are, in fact, the “most distinguished” books of American Fiction. In fact, as posterity consistently shows us, they are not. No one cares or reads a great many of them, including A Fable.Then why were they chosen? For one, the selection process is highly subjective. As explained in the rules, each jury is free to adopt its own criteria, a process which elevates the subjective, if not unexamined, biases of jurors. Secondly, as with any matter that involves voting, the winner is not necessarily the best person qualified for the job. More often, the winner is selected due to the prevailing political and social winds at the time. In this case, what would be the fallout from declaring a highly respected Nobel Laureate’s self-asserted magnum opus as a runner-up, if not an outfight failure?And believe me, A Fable IS a colossal failure because it fails on the most basic and important level of literature—that of a story. When all is said and done, a novel is foremost a story—not an extended metaphor of one’s adopted religion. Stories, foremost, have people we care about, people with whom we identify and support in a struggle of some sort. In A Fable, the name of the Christ figure is mentioned once, and then only toward the end of the novel. In contrast, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man has an extremely good reason for withholding the narrator’s name. That’s the big, stinking point: the narrator is invisible. But with Faulkner, his unwillingness to give most of his characters names obfuscates and forbids emotional attachment, and to no good purpose. In the end, if Faulkner doesn’t care enough about these people to recall their names, then why, oh tell me why, should I?I’ve met some people who have named their cars, or have given first and last names to their pets, thereby bestowing the inanimate object or animal with much more importance, and, for lack of a better word, humanity. Well, in A Fable, Faulkner does the exact opposite, sucking the humanity out of each and every character, giving them all the emotional appeal and importance of furniture. By calling these people—even his “main” characters—“the aide,” “the sentry,” “the man,” “the runner,” “the chief-of-staff,” “the group commander,” “the division commander,” “the sergeant,” “the sergeant-major,” “the Governor General,” “the old general” “the Englishman” “the corporeal,” and “the officer,” Faulkner reduces his cast to objectified instruments of an allegory. These walking-ranks lack depth, personality, self-interest, goals. They are nothing, and thus this novel comes across as a play with props and lighting, but without human beings. Without the ability to identify a single real actor, the reader observes something that, while posing as story, is really an intricate, yet childlike exercise: intricate, because the level of creation is fantastic (much more than “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”) and childlike, because Faulkner, like a child, is oblivious to the real world; self-absorbed in arbitrary and imaginary rules of his own making, rules that no one but him should take very seriously. The problem is that while no one reads this book (and very few teach or study it) so many people might take it seriously. I guess it’s easy to do that if you haven’t read it. But let me be clear, in Faulkner’s attempt to write something more than a story, he created something less than a story. In doing so, he made the same mistake that countless of other literary authors have made.Point number three: I’ve actually heard creative writing teachers profess “It’s not so much what the story is about, but how you convey it,” which is why, I suppose, these teachers make their living teaching, not telling stories. It’s not a bad life, I’m sure. I might even love it. But here’s another idea: “What you write about is just as important as how you convey it.” The sandwich isn’t worth eating unless is has peanut butter AND jelly. The girl isn’t worth marrying unless you find her both attractive AND smart. While all writers should strive for concrete details, active verbs, hair-splitting nuance, economy and veracity, it’s the EMOTION in your stories—the same emotion in campfire and water-cooler stories, the front page story, the ghost story, the shark-attack story, the break-up story, the “I just met someone special!” story, the midnight “Oh-my-God,-I-have-to-tell-you-this!” story—that compels people to pay attention. If you lose that in the process of trying to be sophisticated, then you may very well end up writing a novel like A Fable—which isn’t so bad, I guess, if there happens to be a few academicians on the selection jury. But if you want to impress gifted story-tellers, if you want people to voraciously read and enjoy your work rather than simply “appreciate” it, if you want to create an experience that affects and changes people, leads them to a greater understanding, then don’t, as Faulkner did here, confuse “writing” with the act of telling a story. The later is such a higher calling.

Michael David

I believe that my personal preference with regard to novels is toward those which possess such an intricately-structured chaos that ultimately make sense by the end of the novel. Looking back, I think that Absalom, Absalom! is my most favourite novel because of how it ties the loose ends so well at the end of the novel. I think that the novel is Faulkner at the peak of his powers: he is both extremely dense, and yet extremely sensible. Everything absolutely makes sense at the end of it, and the broken images, jarring shifts in time and purported excursions actually cohere into a beautiful, tragic whole. The same can be said to a lesser extent in his Sound and the Fury. Of course, Faulkner is also pretty good as a minimalist as evidenced by his As I Lay Dying. This dynamism led, among others, Albert Camus to recognize Faulkner as the eminent American novelist of all time. It would have been all right had Fable been as well-constructed as Absalom, Absalom! was. Alas, both brilliance and bathos could be seen in Faulkner here: the prose is extremely rambling at times, that, despite being a relatively seasoned reader of Faulkner (at 13 works and counting), I had a hard time deciphering what he wanted to discuss in the first place. It became eventually worse when I couldn’t see much of a point with his discursions. The ending was frustrating precisely because the novel could have been cut in half and yet still have made a whole lot of sense (or nonsense). The story is, essentially, simple. A corporal convinces twelve men of his not to continue fighting the war which led to the whole battalion stop fighting. This causes the other side, the Germans, to also stop fighting the war and a temporary truce is made after the two sides realize that it takes an aggressor to even have a war. One of the other twelve men betrays the corporal: the corporal is shot dead, left by his followers, along with two other thieves. Marthe and Marya bear witness to the occurrence alongside a prostitute who was answered for by the corporal because of his kindness. The division commander is ordered killed by the generalissimo. The former dies as if a hero: he is shot in his front, by his own men, with a German pistol. Before killing the corporal, however, the generalissimo tempts the corporal to retire to the countryside and abrogate his mission. The corporal declines – and is thus killed. The story is, of course, partly a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ. The thesis is that if a Christ-like figure existed in the 20th century, he’d have been shot dead. It’s similar to the thesis of Dostoevsky’s Idiot. Unlike Dostoevsky’s work, however, this lacked in clarity, plot, and storytelling. There was little coherence right until the end of the novel, and editing could certainly have been done to make the story more readable and fluid. Instead, what I read was a jumbled mishmash of a retelling with little to show for it. I agree with a fellow reviewer of mine: if one sought to read easy, accessible Faulkner, I suggest As I Lay Dying; if one sought to read intricate, difficult, but rewarding Faulkner, I recommend The Sound and the Fury, and, if that was to one’s taste, Absalom, Absalom!, which I believe is his greatest work. If one sought to be frustrated and angry with a difficult and unrewarding work, one should try A Fable. I’ve been such a masochist lately.

Chad Bearden

I don't mind dense and rambling novels, but when combined with 'repetitive' and 'opaque', the results are a far more challenging read than seems necessary. Faulkner was no doubt a brilliant writer, but by the time he wrote this, his fifteenth novel, he was less in need of talent than of an editor.The plot itself is actually pretty straightforward: a French battalion in WWI lay down their arms and refuse to fight at the behest of a Christ-like corporal. Chaos ensues as the military powers-that-be realize that if all the soldiers realize peace is as simple as everybody agreeing to stop fighting, then what's the point of being a power-that-be's.The characters and situations are thinly veiled allusions to the story of Christ, down to the details: Mary Magdalene, the twelve disciples, the betraying Judas, Pontius Pilate, a crown of thorns, and so on. The nuance of the parallels are part of what make Faulkner such an amazing author. Some might call the biblical callbacks heavy-handed, but the manner in which he logically summons all of these elements in such a staggeringly different context is remarkable. And he uses the context of the trenches of WWI to make some original points about the nature of power and honor and responsibility.Faulkner also has an uncanny knack for turning seemingly tangential characters into men and women loaded with deep dark undercurrents of emotion and baggage. There are several key passages where a seemingly unrelated side-story turns into vivid character study, flavoring later events with hints of turbulence that would otherwise be missed.Evidence of William Faulkner's genius is abundant. There is a 5-star novel buried in these pages. The problem is that its hidden amidst pages and pages and pages and pages rambling paragraphs and speeches and descriptions that are circular and repetitive and overly-flowery to the point of being masterbatory. I'm a bull-headed reader and will never skip over a chapter or a page or a paragraph or even a sentence just because I think its boring or unnecessary. 99 times out of 100, they may be unnecessary, but at least they serve the purpose of being baroque flourishes that add to the literary ambience.Huge passages in "A Fable" don't serve a purpose, but also don't really add anything to the proceeding aside from lots and lots of extra words to pour through. I'm sure the author would disagree (Faulkner viewed "A Fable" as his masterpiece), but good lord its tough to get through some of this.It becomes so unnecessarily dense, there are minor plot points that get lost or distorted in the minds of the readers. In one GoodReads review I read, a reader noted that the Christ figure of the story had the initials "J.C.", a further link to Jesus. The Wikipedia summary lists his name as Corporal Zsettslani. Actually, they're both wrong; his name is Stephan. The confusion is understandable though, as most of the characters are seldom referred to by name (Stephan is named once, toward the end), and there is a liberal use of pronouns with ambiguous antecedents, so its easy to lose track of who is who is what they're doing at any given moment. This is the kind of confusion that is borne from trying to maintain focus while mucking through some of the endlessly labyrinthine rhetoric clogging up vast swathes of this book.All you have to do is look at my list of favorite books, and you'll see that I do not shy away from long, dense, meandering novels. But "A Fable" tests one's patience such that what otherwise I would have viewed as an accomplished 5-star work, I can only hesitantly recommend as a frustrating 3-star work.If you want dense, nearly opaque Faulkner that pops instead of trudges, read "Absalom, Absalom".


Did Faulkner ever use punctuation? I would guess that this entire allegory has fewer than eighty sentences in it!! But it was facinating...An allegorical story of World War I set in the trenches in France and dealing ostensibly with a mutiny in a French regiment.


Pretty good. Oddly enough, one of Faulkner's tougher books. It is incredibly formulaic, which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't make it my favorite. That being said, Faulkner still manages to be Faulkner within a very narrow allegory and creates what is ultimately a terrifying tale.


Started because it's the 1955 National Book Award winner. (I'm working on reading all the NBA winners.) I'm not finishing it because while I do like Faulkner, I'm not a huge fan of his war stories. In fact, I'm not really a fan of war stories in general. I wasn't up to reading a 400+ page war novel. Next up on the NBA project: a book I've never heard of! (Ten North Frederick, by John O'Hara)

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