Reviewed by Dave Morrison, Building Manager, Cabell Library
“Sometimes you have to lose yourself…before you can find anything.”
Lewis Medlock (Burt Reynolds) speaking to Ed Gentry (Jon Voight) in John Boorman’s 1972 film Deliverance
This fall I will be experiencing for the first time class V white water rapids while shooting down a remote and treacherous West Virginia river. The above mentioned and not-so-well-remembered scene from the film, coupled with the excitement of my upcoming adventure, had me scurrying to the fourth floor stacks of JBC in search of James Dickey’s classic survival novel Deliverance, which I devoured eagerly over a recent weekend. Prior to reading the book, which happened to be an antiquated and tattered volume from 1970, all my knowledge of this story had been gathered from multiple viewings of the movie over the years. I knew of no one else who had tackled the original written version either.
When mentioning my interest in reading Deliverance, almost everyone familiar with the movie recalled the famous scene of an acutely afflicted, yet grossly talented banjo player hammering out a timeless battle, or musical collaboration, whichever way you choose to look at it, between the coarser side of human nature and what we would consider the civilized world, represented by a cheerful, guitar-picking Ronny Cox. The infamous Ned Beatty scene was almost always mentioned too. Both of these and many of the movie’s other images originally appear in the novel and for the reason that Dickey himself played a large part in making the film, these scenes are recreated quite accurately from book to film.
The story in the novel follows four middle-class, suburban men setting out for a weekend adventure in a rustic and not so friendly region of Georgia, intent on exploring the wild Cahulawasee River using canoes and little backwoods experience. Their zealous and naive approach to the area, the river and its sparse population of “hillfolk” create the perfect environment for a weekend gone wrong. Violence, survival and murder are the topics throughout and never let up to the end. My goal in reading this book was to uncover deeper character insights, to get a better understanding of the survival and self-analysis side of men that Lewis makes reference to, and to be taken on a rowdy, dangerous and desperate literary experience. That is exactly what I found as I paddled wildly through the story of Deliverance.