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F R E D E R I S M A N Texas Christian University Jack Schaefer: the Writer as Ecologist Few literary careers have taken so dramatic a turn as that of Jack Schaefer. Schaefer, born in Ohio in 1907, first attracted notice with his novel, Shane (1949); with his later novels and short stories, including The Canyon (1953), Company of Cowards (1957), and Monte Walsh (1963), he established himself as a Western writer of distinction. Then, following the publication of Mavericks in 1967, he abandoned the writing of fiction. He had, he said, “lost [his] inno­ cence,” realizing that the persons and events he described in his books were elements in the steady destruction of the Western environment that he loved. This loss of innocence led him to the works that now occupy him: a set of studies of American fauna, collected as An American Bestiary (1975), and an on-going series of “interviews” with these animals, published in Audubon Magazine (1975 ff.). Through these works Schaefer hopes to delineate the complex interrelationships of man and nature, exposing the ways in which mankind has shattered the natural order and awakening his readers to their environmental obligations.1 His change of artistic course seems complete. To the careful reader, however, Schaefer’s “new direction” is far from surprising, for it is anticipated throughout his fiction. Schaefer himself has spoken of this anticipation, remarking that he now knows 'Jack Schaefer, “A New Direction,” Western American Literature, 10 (1976), 266-268. For biographical details, see Gerald Haslam, Jack Schaefer. WWS 20 (Boise: Western Writers Series, 1975). 4 Western American Literature “that everything was building toward this [change].”2 He does not expand his comment, letting his after-the-fact statement speak for itself. An expansion is warranted, however, for his fiction is characterized by a pervasive sense that in its breadth and coherence can be called eco­ logical. Throughout his works, this ecological sense invigorates two recurring themes — the theme of man and the environment, and the theme of “the whole man.” These themes, working together, give Schaefer’s fiction its characteristic flavor, and prepare the way for his ultimate shift to the writing of environmental essays. Western fiction, of necessity, is concerned with the environment of the American West.3 Schaefer’s works are no exception. Although the early books do not reflect the same degree of environmental concern that appears in the later ones, all keep the reader aware of the presence — and effect — of the land. Schaefer, however, is not content with simple, atmospheric descriptions of scenery. He goes on to incorporate the environment and its denizens into the action that he relates, making the landscape as much a character in the story its Shane, Brent Kean, or Monte Walsh. Gerald Haslam, speaking of Shane, observes that “the environment itself is a dynamic force to which the characters must respond and within the framework of which they must interact. Indeed it sometimes appears that the interaction occurs as much between char­ acter and environment as between character and character.”4 Haslam restricts his comment to Shane. It applies, however, to the majority of Schaefer’s other works as well, as they deal with the ways in which man responds to, affects, and disrupts the natural order of the world. One trait of that natural order, of which Schaefer speaks explicitly in his more recent ecological writings, is its inherent balance. In advo­ cating natural balance, Schaefer affirms two of the laws of ecology popularized by Barry Commoner: that stating that “Nature Knows Best,” and that which bleakly asserts “There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch.”5 The first of these refers to the tendency of natural processes to function best when left to themselves. The second records the inevitable 2Quoted in Henry Joseph Nuwer, “An Interview With Jack Schaefer,” South Dakota Review, 11 (1973), 58. 3John G. Cawelti, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p. 193. 4Haslam, p. 17. 5Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), pp. 41-46. Fred Erisman 5 cost of any act. Both underlie Schaefer’s 1976 “interview” with a pocket gopher. Questioned as to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 3-13
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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