Synopses & Reviews
What is it that binds human beings to other animals? T. H. White, the author of The Once and Future King
and Mistress Mashams Repose
, was a young writer who found himself rifling through old handbooks of falconry. A particular sentence — “the bird reverted to a feral state” — seized his imagination, and, White later wrote, “A longing came to my mind that I should be able to do this myself. The word ‘feral has a kind of magical potency which allied itself to two other words, ‘ferocious and ‘free.” Immediately, White wrote to Germany to acquire a young goshawk. Gos, as White named the bird, was ferocious and Gos was free, and White had no idea how to break him in beyond the ancient (and, though he did not know it, long superseded) practice of depriving him of sleep, which meant that he, White, also went without rest. Slowly man and bird entered a state of delirium and intoxication, of attraction and repulsion that looks very much like love.
White kept a daybook describing his volatile relationship with Gos — at once a tale of obsession, a comedy of errors, and a hymn to the hawk. It was this that became The Goshawk, one of modern literature's most memorable and surprising encounters with the wilderness — as it exists both within us and without.
The pride and endurance of a wild raptor are worn down by the insistent willpower of a falconer.
Between human beings and other animals there exists both an unbridgeable gulf and an insurmountable attraction. T. H. White was a young author searching for a subject who found himself reading manuals of falconry, none of them less than a half-century old, and one of them dating back to the time of Shakespeare. Immediately, White moved to the country and wrote to Germany to acquire a young goshawk to train. Gos, as White called the bird, was ferocious and Gos was free, and White had no idea how to break him in beyond the ancient (and long superseded) practice of depriving him of sleep, which meant that White too went for days without rest. Slowly man and bird entered a state of delirium and intoxication, a mixture of attraction and repulsion not at all unlike love.
White kept a daybook detailing the developments in his relationship with Gos--at once a tale of obsession, a comedy of errors, and a hymn of praise to the ferocity and independence of the hawk. It was this that became The Goshawk, since recognized as yet another brilliant manifestation of the remarkable imagination that produced The Once and Future King.
The Goshawk chronicles a concentrated duel between the author and a great hawk. It is the journal of an intense clash of wills - during the bird's training - in which the pride and endurance of the wild raptor are worn down by the insistent willpower of the falconer. The story is by turns comic and tragic - and it is all-absorbing. (5 1/2 X 8 1/4, 222 pages, diagrams)
About the Author
T. H. White
(1906—1964) was born in Bombay, India, and educated at Queens College, Cambridge. His childhood was unhappy — “my parents loathed each other,” he later wrote — and he grew up to become a solitary person with a deep fund of strange lore and a tremendous enthusiasm for ﬁshing, hunting, and ﬂying (which he took up to overcome his fear of heights). White taught for some years at the Stowe School until the success in 1936 of England Have My Bones
, a book about outdoor adventure, allowed him to quit teaching and become a full-time writer. Along with The Goshawk
, White was the author of twenty-six published works, including his famed sequence of Arthurian novels, The Once and Future King
; the fantasy Mistress Masham's Repose
(published in The New York Review of Books Children's Collection); a collection of essays on the eighteenth century, The Age of Scandal
; and a translation of a medieval Latin bestiary, A Book of Beasts.
He died at sea on his way home from an American lecture tour and is buried in Piraeus, Greece.
Marie Winn's recent book, Red-Tails in Love: Pale Males Story, featured a now-famous red-tailed hawk. Her column on nature and bird-watching appeared for twelve years in The Wall Street Journal, and she has written on diverse subjects for The New York Times Magazine and Smithsonian. Her forthcoming book, Central Park in the Dark, will be published in the spring of 2008.