Robert Penn Warren didn’t just win one Pulitzer. Before shuffling off this mortal coil he won three! Two for poetry (in 1958 and 1979) and one for fiction in 1947 for his novel All the King’s Men. This makes Warren the only person to ever win Pulitzers in both the fiction and poetry categories, and that makes me kinda want to read some of his poetry. However, I don’t know if I really care about the Pulitzer-winning stuff. I’m sort of more interested in his Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices from 1953. And yes, that has something to do with being a fan of Tolkien and his golden dragon, Smaug, and the fact that “the defining chapter” of the Hobbit is about to come to us on the big screen. My apologies.
But back to the novel, All the King’s Men, a novel about 1930’s southern state politics, the rise of a one-time bumpkin to a governorship, and the vagaries of inter- and intrapersonal relationships. It’s too long. There I said it. And strangely, this is not me being funny about time constraints or levels of commitment, this is me saying that the Cass Mastern bit in which we follow our main character, Jack Burden (a former newspaperman turned personal aide to the new governor, Willie Stark), not only back into his own personal history but back into this weird, gothic history of the character of Cass Mastern, a Southern gentlemen who died fighting in the Civil War, really makes the novel too long. Yes, it does add metaphorical depth and a sort of counterpoint to the political scheming and transformation of Willie Stark into the semi-ruthless politician with a humanitarian agenda in the main narrative, but it also pulls us, the readers, way out of the story, breaks the rhythms the novel had been establishing so well, and laboriously introduces us to characters we will pretty much never see again. But that’s OK. I found the book to be rather brilliant anyway, especially the segment dealing with Jack Burden’s broken heart (yes, there’s even romance in this book) and sudden nihilistic overhaul of his entire life he fondly refers to as “The Great Twitch.” And maybe I’m wrong about it being too long. I mean people are saying The Hobbit (now that it’s three movies) is too long, but I pretty much disagree. I just don’t believe in too much of a good thing … or do I?
It’s true, Robert Penn Warren has “shuffled off” and left us … but his work remains! There will be no fourth Pulitzer (though, there really could be a fourth Hobbit entitled, Aragorn’s Bane or The Way of the Ring or something), however, I’m glad to have discovered something I would gladly revisit. And I mean that. Just as I intend to re-read Tolkien and re-watch Orlando Bloom’s stunning athleticism as Legolas the Elf, I look forward to someday traveling through Warren’s novel again with its traipsing through the governor’s mansion and the state capital building, and its beginning on a small farm with the unpainted frame house. Maybe I’ll even really dig the Cass Mastern section in the book next time. Perhaps next time I will really “get it.” Perhaps the critics will see the strangeness of their objections and give absolute rave reviews and large amounts of money in ticket purchases to the final installment of The Hobbit, The Battle of the Five Armies. It’s Hollywood. Stranger things have happened.