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Tuesday, January 06, 2015


I have written about Bernard Malamud's The Natural a number of times here. I suppose it is because it is a story that has gone for me from being impenetrably boring to fascinatingly filled with the stuff of life. I have read some reviews and analyses of it, and they make little sense to me. I do not really feel the impulse to speak about further, and it is only that I feel it is so filled with meaning, that it would be mean-spirited and base not to share a vision of it: a fine vision of the World and Mankind.

The fuller essay will await the future, a time when I have much more leisure to indulge myself, not having to scrounge around for a job in a world where there are no jobs for the young, much less for the aged. However, I can share some things with you. If someone takes my untutored and disorderly impressions and runs with them to the definitive insightful analysis of The Natural, so be it. It cannot be helped.

If you know anything of the story - and I hope you do, at least Robert Redford's film version, for I shall not spend much time filling in the lacunae in your reading - the main character is Roy Hobbs, the natural baseball player, and perhaps the greatest born genius for the game ever. His quest to baseball greatness was diverted in his youth after he had been shot by an insane woman, who had been traveling the countryside, seeking the best athletes in order to kill them. By a chance train ride, they fell together, Roy's natural abilities were shown during an impromptu demonstration of pitching and batting, and she had her victim.

When Roy makes it to the big leagues, he still has his own bat, Wonderboy, a bat he had fashioned himself from the wood of a tree struck by lightning while he was still a kid. In the big leagues, playing for the New York Knights, Roy makes a phenomenal debut, and the Knights are lifted from cellar-dwellers into second place in the league. Suddenly, Roy goes into a batting slump, and things begin to deteriorate. "Pop" Fisher, the manager and co-owner of the Knights, finally suggests that Roy try another bat. Roy refuses to use some other bat, and it is a test of wills.
Finally, in a game when a distraught father of a sick boy has entreated Roy to hit one for his son - this being the only thing left that might help him, medical science having given up - Roy caves and comes up to Pop to say he will bat without Wonderboy, just as Pop caves and tells Roy to go to bat, even with Wonderboy.
Needless to say, Roy hits one into next Thursday, the distraught father rejoices - sure that a miracle will cure his son, and a mysterious lady in red has revealed herself in the stands, giving Roy a feeling of confidence.

There's much more. I'm just interested in Wonderboy, fashioned from a tree split by lightning: the burning bush. Wonderboy is Simche Torah, and that tireless and "childish" devotion to the word of God, so irrational and so bizarre to the Age of Reason, is the miracle-bearer. Without Wonderboy, bats are just bats; they are only differentiated by their length, color, grain, weight...just like laws are not the Law.

There is much more than this, however. Wonderboy will break, but we will have to deal with that later.


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