A Discussion on the Story "A Mountain Journey"
Keith: Okay, part three, "A Mountain Journey. " We're looking at the short story "A Mountain Journey." It is a story about a gentleman who is a trapper, set-from what I can discern from the story-somewhere near Jasper, Alberta, Canada. On the surface, the story's simply about an individual who's been out in the bush for a couple weeks, trapping, and now he's on his way home, over hill, over dale, using-sleeping under trees, and he's at the point in his journey when now he's close to an area where he can sleep in a cabin and get some warmth and get some shelter. On the way to doing that, he has a little bit of a misadventure, so we will take a look at this story. It is in the setting portion of this anthology, which is definitely an appropriate spot for it. However, it could definitely be in the conflict portion of this anthology as well. Why? Why do you think-and I'll ask Jill this question-why do you think that they decided to put it in the setting portion of this anthology? How important is setting to this?
Now, I go on and I'll ask question number four here, that I have. A sign of significance of the setting to a story is its mobility. By saying that, I'm saying: Could this story be adapted to play anywhere else? They have adaptations all the time, of stories, and reset them. Could this story be reset?
Jill: That's so funny that you ask that question, because as I was reading it, I thought to myself about this story taking place in a desert, in the exact opposite extreme weather conditions. I found the setting really important to the story; I could picture the cold in my head, I could feel the cold in my body, and I was thinking about how miserable and lonely it must have been. Then I started thinking about what would be worse-freezing to death in a bunch of snow, or being-baking to death in a desert somewhere? So, I did actually think about a different setting, the opposite end of the spectrum, if you will.
David: I think the answer's yes. Jill answered it. It could be. It's a very primeval struggle this chap's going through, and I think it could be all kinds of different settings, and not even just necessarily physical settings. It could be a family reunion or something like that. Certain things could take place-It's a wonderful story, certainly. I think the setting-but the setting here is so perfect and so beautiful, and it's just such a gripping-like Jill said, you can feel the cold in your appendages and in your digits, and the terror. It's a terrific little story. Keith: My next question to you, then, with your feelings toward this setting-being Canadians, we can identify with some of this because we know what cold is like, and although we may not have perhaps been outdoors to the extreme that this individual was, we have been outdoors, we have been cold, we have been in the mountains. Can somebody appreciate this story who's never seen a mountain, who's never been in the cold? Could they read this story and appreciate it in the way that we appreciate that story?
David: Absolutely, absolutely. That is what a great writer does. Jill mentioned this before-that you can be taken to a place that you've never been, that you've never heard of before, you're introduced to it first in this novel that you've read, and you're there. And as you go on through life, everything you learn about that place-if it's Paris you're first introduced to through A Moveable Feast, or something like that, by Hemingway-everything after that is seen through that window. That's what a great writer does-he takes you there. You're mentioning the desert, and I'm thinking of when I watch David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia, I sweat. I mean, I just sweat. It's such a brilliant-I'm brought there, in a way. There's a way that you could film a desert and it just doesn't-you couldn't feel the heat. And there's a way to film a desert that you do feel the heat. Same with writing, a great writer puts you right there. I've read-I can remember reading Intruder in the Dust, by Faulkner, William Faulkner. The first one or two paragraphs of Intruder in the Dust will-if you were sitting at Christmastime, around your family, in Vancouver-you read that, and in ten minutes you are in the deep, hot, South. It is the most amazing, transcendent experience. Yes to your question.
Keith: Next question: Considering the setting, and considering our experience with regard to the setting-so considering the setting, how could this story be considered disturbing? This is something that I felt, but you may not have felt that yourself.
Jill: I was disturbed by the man's lack of judgment [laughter], is what I was disturbed by. He knows these conditions better than most people, and why he fought against what he logically knew was the right thing to do, was probably going to be what cost him his life in the end, so that disturbed me. [laughter] But I don't know what else. Keith: Actually, I'll run with that notion that you just put forth and ask you the question that I have here: Did the wilderness kill Dave Conroy, or did he die by his own doing? Jill: I think he died by his own stupidity. I think that he knew that there were things he should have done differently, and he was given several opportunities to do things differently, and each time he just kept on making dumb mistakes. That's all I have to say. [laughter]
David: Mother Nature is the toughest kid on the block, and nature doesn't kill anyone. Nature just behaves. You've exposed yourselves to these elements and you take your chances. He killed himself, he walked into it. I'm alive because I didn't. He's dead because he did. Jill: [laughter] Simple as that.
Keith: That actually sort of alludes to my question of how is the setting in this story disturbing. I'll talk to my experiences. The reason I find it disturbing is-on a number of occasions I have been out in the wilderness in the winter, not doing anything particularly stupid, per se, but I could simply see my positive experience in the wilderness turning negative quite quickly with a simple accident like what happened on the river. Now, that could happen to somebody who was taking all the right precautions. That happens all the time in the wilderness, so wilderness will take somebody away whether they're doing everything right or not. I've been in similar elements and made it out alive, but I could also see how chance could have changed that. What did you like or dislike about the story? I really thought the setting was well done. Like I say, I imagined the place, the cold-everything was crystal clear. The image in my mind was crystal clear. That's what I liked the most about it. I kind of also liked the last passage, where he's dying, and he is talking about how his buddies are going to come get him. That was probably one of the parts that I liked most. I don't know why, it's just kind of twisted of me, but-what did you like or dislike about the story? David: I didn't dislike anything about the story. I thought it was a great, great-again, a nice, tight little story. "A Mountain Journey," "The Sea Devil," both different elements, different struggles, I suppose-but both wonderful, tight, short, fast-moving stories that did, I think, what stories like that try to do to the reader. They just take you away for a moment and just have the fifteen minutes to just impact you. And I quite enjoyed that fifteen minutes that I spent on that mountain with that gentleman.
Jill: I don't really have a lot to add. I agree with Keith and David that the setting was amazing, and that's, to me, what made the story so great. I had images in my mind, I had physical feelings, so you just felt completely immersed in the story. Yeah, there was really nothing that I didn't like about the story. Keith: Well, that concludes our session for today. Thank you, David, thank you, Jill, I quite enjoyed that, and hopefully our listeners enjoy it too.