navarone 0319We have at least one deer here in town with a severely broken leg. Above the knee it juts out at a 90-degree angle, and it is awful to watch her walk. One night she and I had a close encounter: she was under one of Carol’s pine trees next to the driveway as I drove in.

I didn’t realize at first that she had a broken leg; she was just standing rock still with what seemed to be one leg bent, ready to bolt at my slightest provocation. She stood like that while I sat in my car, raising the garage door, and she was still like that when I got out of the car and stood, waiting to make sure the door actually closed. (It loves, especially at night, to hit the bottom and immediately go back up. Sometimes we play that game four or five times before it stays closed.) And she was still like that, perhaps five feet away from me, as I went down the driveway, talking to her and trying to avoid eye contact.

That was probably her best option just then, but (if it’s the same deer) she manages to get around, broken leg and all, and it seems she hasn’t learned any lesson from this (although I don’t know how it broke), because I have twice watched her stop traffic as she limps across Main Street. She seems, sort of, to be in the company of other deer, but she is always last, and I imagine, in the Cruel World of Nature, that they figure if she can’t keep up, well, too bad for her.

So how do I get from there to British author Alistair MacLean?

That’s what I found myself wondering the other day as I was going home for lunch. There I was, talking to Joe Rees, a local contractor with a big Main Street project (adding all kinds of stuff to both ends of a physical therapy clinic), and watching this deer limp her way slowly across five lanes of asphalt through a receiving line of stopped cars, and then after I said good-bye to Joe, there I was, thinking about Alistair MacLean.

I don’t know what the occasion was, but at some point during my freshman year of high school the school decided to “reward” us with a movie in the auditorium, and they showed us The Guns of Navarone, with Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn. I think it was a 16mm version — whatever it was, the sound quality was horrible and the picture even worse (it was shot much too dark anyway, but the grainy print helped not a whit), and so when the end-of-the-day bell rang and the movie wasn’t done, school officials told us we could keep watching or leave, and I left.

Some short time later my history teacher gave us an assignment to read a work of historical fiction, one of our own choosing. I was in the library, casting about for something to read, when I lit upon The Guns of Navarone, by Alistair MacLean. Since I’d tried the movie and hadn’t really grasped what was going on, I figured the book could explain it to me.

I took it back to my teacher, who looked at the title and then suspiciously at me. “Did you see the movie?” he asked, in a sly voice because he was sure I was trying to avoid the assignment. Clearly, he didn’t know me at all. I was saved by the Brads, Tutor and Coffey, both of them juniors and a lot more worldly than me. They assured the teacher that the book was vastly different than the movie, so he “allowed” me to go ahead and read the book.

I was hooked. Mesmerized. Captivated. It was the most thrilling action book I’d ever read. To this day, it contains my favorite literary line (not ending line, we covered that earlier): “They were looking at him and he at them, and he did not see them.” I needed more.

We had a store on Main Street (now the Ol’ Miner restaurant) called College Stationery. Boy did that place smell good! Office supplies and books — what could possibly be better? They carried a large selection of paperbacks, and I would go once a week, presumably with allowance or dog watching money, and buy a new-to-me Alistair MacLean book. On one big splurge, I bought a boxed set of five, one with a very Shakespearean title: The Way to Dusty Death. As a senior, I would finally make the connection, when a different teacher required that we memorize a soliloquy in MacBeth. (“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”)

Somewhere in there, I read MacLean’s sequel to The Guns of Navarone, Force 10 From Navarone. Talk about confused: It ostensibly starts where the original left off, but out of nowhere comes a character named Maria. In good macho fashion, there was nary a female to be seen nor heard from in MacLean’s original. Where did this Maria come from?

Hollywood, of course. When at last I saw the movie in its entirety, it turns out the Brads were completely correct — the basic plot is the same, but Hollywood ran roughshod over MacLean’s characters. And in a move I will never understand, the author based the sequel of his own book on someone else’s movie. I still think that’s really weird.

But what on earth does this have to do with a lame deer? you are wondering. (Or maybe you know me and are just going along for the ride.)

Well, at the risk of spoiling the book for you, there’s a character in the book struggling with character issues of his own, and early on he breaks his leg and becomes a liability to the rest of the party, a very small Allied force intent on destroying two big guns on the Grecian (or Hellenic) island of Navarone held by the Germans in World War II.

Unlike nature, where it seems the rest of our local deer population doesn’t care if Limpy can keep up or not, these hardened men cart this broken man all around the island with them. And then there comes the instance where one man is required to sacrifice himself to allow everyone else to escape, and this man — broken inside before his outside broke — seizes his moment.

I don’t have any big lesson to impart after all this. I mostly just thought it was interesting that one minute I’m talking to someone and watching local wildlife, and the next I am transported back to my teenage reading and trying to figure out what the two had in common.

I imagine the real lesson is: try not to break your leg. And the other lesson, if you’re a teacher: perhaps, rather than assuming the worst of your students, if a movie inspires a kid to pick up a book, you should encourage it. It might just lead to a years-long love affair.


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