A Fable, 1954

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

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Reader's Thoughts

Christopher Sutch

I was pleasantly surprised by this long novel. Faulkner was a pilot during World War I, and while that experience is represented in several small incidents in his earlier novels, this novel's central focus is World War I (and while aircraft still figure in only one of the subplots, Faulkner's experience in the subject is clear). This book had its origins in a conversation Faulkner had with some Hollywood producers during World War II, asking the question, "What if the unknown soldier in 1919 France was actually Jesus returned to Earth to give us one more chance to wage peace instead of war?" While nothing cinematic came of those conversations, Faulkner uses that premise as the springboard for this very dense, very deep meditation on war, imperialism, greed, and human nature. While I enjoyed seeing how the various portions of the Christ myth served as analogies for incidents and characters in the novel, it was the damning indictment of the powers behind the war that I found most interesting. At times the novel (published in 1954) read like it might have been ripped from the pages of Pynchon's _Gravity's Rainbow_: the cynicism about governments and possible secret conspiracies and agreements to keep the war going, if only to show the troops (who desperately want peace) that they do not have the power to simply throw down their arms and stop fighting; the portraits of individual soldiers caught up in schemes for self-preservation and monetary gain; the nature of the relationships between the major allied powers to cover up one regiments mutiny (by having three American soldiers execute a French general and make it look like he was shot leading his troops into the fight). While the prose and style don't have the vigor nor inspire the awe that Faulkner's earlier works do, this is a fine and undeservedly ignored later novel.


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.


This is the book that really turned me on to Faulkner, though I'd read The Sound and the Fury some years prior. It's a lot more straightforward (and therefore maybe not as powerful) as his earlier masterpieces but because of that, might be a better introduction.


If you hate yourself, read this book.


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.


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.


I find the concept of this book amazing: recasting the Christ story into World War I. The execution, unfortunately, left much to be desired.This book presumes much from its readers. If you're not pretty well-versed in the gospels, you're going to miss most of the references. If you're not pretty well-versed in World War I history, you're not going to understand what's going on half the time. If you don't enjoy the stream-of-consciousness technique, or if you don't have the patience to follow the narrative down tortuous paths that appear irrelevant to the main story, you'll probably quit in frustration within the first 100 pages. (I stubbornly held on, and in my opinion the plot began to become interesting somewhere between pages 300 and 350.) In other words, if you're not a huge fan of Faulkner or a World War I enthusiast with a fetish for Christian allegory, skip this one. Read Faulkner's other, far more accessible and entertaining Pulitzer winner, "The Reivers," instead.

Dotty Dye

Not one of my all time favorites but there are some incredibly memorable moments in this book and I think with the right reading it could be seen as having lived up to the expectations of it's author. Will require at least another reading and a way to overcome the empty symbolism of the central allusion to the passion but it sticks with you and for this reason I think a bit of time will see it rise in literary esteem to the level of his more well known work.

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.

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".


This is probably the only novel that ever appeared EXACTLY the way Faulkner wanted it to appear, and it was the only one whose tepid reception really bothered him. In fact, despite its Pulitzer, the book's relative lack of success (in my opinion) is what caused him to retreat into the relatively childish stories of his later career. The down side to Faulkner's insistence on placing each word meticulously though, is that it generates a VERY difficult book to read. At times, it is almost like reading Cicero or some other Latin master because the sentences are so sprawling and each word means something.After Go Down, Moses; Faulkner's "major period" is behind him. He will never again explore his fictional county in Mississippi with the same depth as "Absalom" and "Sound and the Fury", turning instead to events far beyond those borders. This novel is the product of a nearly ten year obsession, unlike the Mississippi masterpieces which were often dashed off and printed before they could be properly edited. It is the only work of his that left a physical impression on his house, where he took to inscribing exhaustive notes on the woodwork of Rowan Oak that are still visible. So, to At the end of the day, like If I Forget Thee Jerusalem, this is the *style* of Faulkner at its most mature, even if the material is not his most familiar. The biblical parallels can't be missed, but rather than reading it that way, it might be more useful to consider it an act of exhaustion. The last truly "High Modern" book written by that one of that period's grand exemplars, who were soon to abandon it and never return. It is richly informed by the life events of William Faulkner and his generation, one which was essentially "at war" from 1914-1945, whether or not they ever got to the trenches. It must be read slowly, and savouringly. Near the beginning, General Gragnon has his driver pause underneath a resting battery and listen to the sound of a lark whose song is like "four metal coins dropping into a cup of soft silver," and flashes back to the General's childhood in the Pyrenees listening to birds, and then flashes forward again back to the war. These are the images that make Faulkner's most mature style breathtaking. He so richly imagines his characters and their thoughts and their desperation, that at the novel's conclusion the reader has a vested interest in the brutal outcome. Five Stars, and bravo Mr. Faulkner.


Need to try this one again when I have the determination to be a less passive reader. Sometimes it is fantastic. I think one of the biggest stumbling blocks I encountered, especially with the first half of the novel, is WWI as the subject matter. If I had done my due diligence I would have researched as I read. But, without that kind of patience, I just wanted to read the darn thing. I'm going to wait about six months and then try it again.

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.


There have only been two Faulkner novels' I could not finish. "Mosquitoes" and " A Fable". I had to return the former to my schools library because I was graduating and actually intend to finish. The later I gave up on. This is all of Faulkner's tell-tale habits and style at its worse. The backstories and side stories to side stories make it tough. I made it half way through, maybe I will finish this eventually.

Roxanne Russell

Though I'm no fan of Faulkner, I have seen redeeming value in some of his works. This one, however, highlights in stark relief what I don't like about him... I doubt he ever erased a word he wrote. So in love with his own voice that he leaves it all there. I finished it from sheer stubborn determination.

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