Book Review

The Interlopers, by Saki

            The Interlopers is a short story by Hector Hugh Munro, better known by the pen name Saki.  This tale of blood-feuding rural hunters does in six pages what some writers take whole novels to accomplish.  He delivers a suspenseful story with a complex texture, and an ironic ending.

            The tale is told with a simple plot line.  Two men are bitter enemies.  They are out to do harm to each other in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe. Saki scripts the unfolding plot with a realistic narrative making the two proponents diametric characters, then introduces a chance event that reverses their animus, and when we believe a happy ending is in store, he shocks us with a horrifying twist.  Yet, there is more substance to this work.  He gives us an implied sense of the danger that envelops them.  He hints all along that there might be death waiting from the mishap that has befallen both men.  With this technique he keeps the reader in suspense.  Let me detail the story in brief.

 

            Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym have been battling one another for years over a woodland area in which they both hunt game.  Znaeym has lost ownership of the land due to a lawsuit years earlier.  There is the implication that Znaeym belongs to a lower peasant class.  Gradwitz on the other hand is of the upper class gentry.  He owns a castle and after winning the legal case, has taken to patrolling his land to prevent the disgruntle Znaeym from poaching on his land.  Nevertheless Znaeym has continued to hunt on Gradwitz’s land.  Saki informs us that two have been feuding over this small forested area for years.  With this background the tone is set.  As you might imagine the setting is a tense one.

            In early winter on the eastern edge of Gradwitz’s ill-begotten land, he is out to locate and perhaps kill Znaeym if caught in the act of poaching game in this forest.  He is armed with a rifle.  Znaeym is also seeking the same end: to kill Gradwitz.  There is a mild snowstorm raining down upon the forest.

            Having apprised us of the state of affairs, Saki brings the two characters into direct conflict.  They meet face-to-face.  And, he misfortunes both, by having a large, heavy beech tree fall on them.  They are trapped.  Each is pinned down, their weapons thrown asunder.  Saki doesn’t tell us this, but by description, we understand that wild beasts prowl this forest.  He shows us their irrational deep-seated hatred through dialogue. We wonder will these two enemies survive the night in their condition.  Next we find the hunters have subordinates that they’ve instructed to find them should they become missing in their search for each other.

            While they lay helpless, the mutual antagonists begin to converse.  As danger lay all around them, these two hating men find a friendship and bury the roots of their feud.  But, then as they are on the brink of building a friendship, Saki paints the portrait of their mutual doom.  He has shadowy figures approach as they lie there helpless, trapped by a fallen tree.  And through the Ulrich Von Gradwitz character we see it is not their hoped for servant scouts that have come to rescue them, but wolves on the prowl.  The story ends with this chilling image.

 

Ken Wais 10/7/11

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