Year of “The Yearling”

Original Book Jacket Cover for The Yearling

The Things You Discover
With the bustle of Christmas preparations behind us for another year (and the sound of tearing wrapping paper still fresh), I began my usual year-end review of the many things I meant to do in 2013, but never got around to.

I also started making an updated list of the things I probably won’t do next year, either.

I’ve been extraordinarily blessed with new acquaintances, good relatives and great friends this past year, but my bride and I also have many pressing family issues to deal with right now (life is always like that, isn’t it?).

I wasn’t doing my usual patient search for literary things to write about, so it took me by surprise to come across a notation about the year 2013 that I had overlooked.

This past year was the seventy-fifth-anniversary celebration of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 1938 novel The Yearling.

So, you ask, what’s the big deal?

A Best Seller
Well, for one thing, The Yearling was the best-selling novel of 1938. It held the number one spot that year for twenty-three consecutive weeks, sold millions of copies and has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Russian and twenty-two other languages.

It was also awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

But it’s only vaguely familiar today to young American readers, and in 2012, it only sold about six-thousand copies … in all formats.

Although that’s an annual sales figure that would thrill most indie authors … they’re dismal numbers for a book considered a classic.

Running Out of Steam
It seems The Yearling is slowly sinking into obscurity. Why? How does such a classic novel run out of steam?

It wasn’t as if The Yearling was Rawlings first book. She also wrote the little-remembered South Moon Under (which, remarkably, was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize … in 1933).

Original Cover for South Moon Under

One factor might be Marjorie Rawlings herself. Matronly and angry-looking, she was not a very good public speaker … and she was certainly not a sexy figure. As a woman of independent means, Rawlings could live as she chose, but her abuse of alcohol increasingly ruled her life.

She advanced no politics and didn’t have a spectacular, memorable “rock star” life or death that was covered by all the available news media … just a lonely, broken-hearted alcoholic one (1896–1953).

Majorie Kinnan Rawlings

Despite her apparent successes, some critics considered her writing to lack the depth of great literature, although they praised her skill in reproducing the color, characters, speech, local customs and way of life of backwoods Florida.

“Writing is agony for me,” she once told an interviewer. “I work at it eight hours every day, hoping to get six more pages, but I’m satisfied if I get three.”

Wrong Genre?
Another factor in its apparent demise might be the prevailing view today that The Yearling – despite a few uses of the “n-word” – is a book for young readers. I find that surprising, because Pulitzer’s are not an award for children’s books.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, sales of The Yearling are fading because the story reflects a world view here we’re also losing … a much more simplistic time, where self-sufficient farming and hunting were individual necessities, and families only survived by their daily hard work and wits.

As that world disappears it seems almost inevitable the book, and the stunning landscape it evokes, would continue to lose audience.

Readers today expect their protagonists to come face-to-face with the true meaning of hunger, loneliness and fear in other ways … like road rage, sex, vampires and zombies.

5491372-lyearling poster
MGM Movie Poster for The Yearling

As someone who read the book at a fairly young age and who also remembers the many early television broadcasts of the old, tear-jerker black & white film based upon it, it seems the world spins now at a different rate. Faster and more unrelenting.

Click picture for a scene with young actor Claude Jarman from The Yearling

Perhaps … just perhaps … the book, with all its heart-tugging sentimentality and backwoods charisma, is fading away because it can no longer keep up with the pace.

I think that’s sad.

It’s like forgetting that it’s the intention you bring to the simplest gift of time, love, laughter or friendship that is worth far more than anything you could put a bow on, because the best gift you can give your loved ones is you.

Hmmmmm. I think I just made my resolution for 2014.

Happy New Year.


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6 Responses to “Year of “The Yearling””

  1. benzeknees Says:

    I remember reading this book as part of a school exercise. I also remember the move. I think kids today don’t have the attention span to read a book like this anymore when they are so used to things happening at lightning speed. I also think some people would rather forget about how backward some people seemed in America at one time. It’s hard to get kids to read at all now, much less read something that is not laid out for them in less than a minute.


    • Ron Herron Says:

      Thanks for the comments. I agree it’s hard getting kids to read. It’s why I always made time for reading to my sons, and I do the same with my grandkids whenever I’m around them. I encourage them to read to me, and I read to them, which they enjoy. I’m happy to say they both love getting new books! 😉


  2. Ron Herron Says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Jeri. Happy New Year.


  3. Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) Says:

    I’ve read The Yearling a couple of times. Once as a kid, and then later when I came across a copy in a bookstore in Jackson Hole. When I was a kid, I really liked the movie, plus I must have been Cross Creek a lot of times when it was on HBO when I was a kid. Later, I worked in The Everglades and read Cross Creek for the first time. Like many classics, the stories do tend to fade into obscurity in favor of the more in-your-face action of the new YA titles in the spotlight. Needless to say, I love Rawlins and this post brings back lots of good memories of reading and being moved by her work.


  4. Ron Herron Says:

    Thanks, Mary. I remember liking the book (I think I was about 10-11) and enjoying the movie on TV … but, again, I was pretty young and the overly emotional overacting in the movie went right over my head – at least the first couple of times.

    The sad part is no one talks about it, or buys it anymore. It’s worth reading, even if you agree with the naysaying critics.


  5. Mary Hackstock Says:

    Great post. Enjoyed remembering that great book and movie. It’s funny, sometimes the lonely people write of the things that matter most. They know those feelings and how to express their inner sense through the written word. Love

    Sent from my iSlate


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