Friday, October 28, 2016

The Beast of Gevaudan - The importance of shooting reenactement

Was the Beast of Gevaudan wearing an armor ? This question has been made popular by investigators who think that the animal could have been a mixed race between wolf and dog, bred by one or several criminals, which would explain its so-called immunity to firearms witnessed by several people through the historical records.

To explain this repeated failures at a very short distance (a dozen steps), where the Beast was hit and fell, but always stood up to finally escape, some authors developed the theory that it might have been protected by an armor, maybe from a wild boar skin, which would also explain the dark line seen on its back by several witnesses.

This theory has been accepted by several authors, including Michel Louis in 1992, to finally gain a dominant place in popular culture and become one of the very characteristics of the case in everyone's mind. Without suprise, this theory was found in the Brotherhood of the wolf movie script by Pierre Pelot in 2001.

Such a fondamental theory about this case, whith deep meaning regarding a human intervention, must be proof tested. Much to our surprise, it wasn't done by Michel Louis, nor was it by Jean-Marc Moriceau, his main opponent on the case, to either validate or invalidate it.

As a hunter and a black powder shooter for many years, we have dedicated a full chapter of our own investigation on the Beast of Gevaudan to this topic.

We used a replica of a french Fusil de Tulle for this purpose. This royal manufacture in Corrèze was established circa 1690 on the already existing network of local arquebuse manufacturers, and its initial production was intended to go to the overseas troops. Facing difficult conditions at the beginning of the 18th century, it maintained a production of hunting guns. This model was used because it is a good example of gunsmithing of the era of the Beast, and its simple and rough finish is accurate for a modest hunter or rural landlord of the time, ase were the brothers de La Chaumette or M. de la Védrines, or the gamekeeper Jean Chastel.


We shot pure lead bullets, cast by ourselves as was the habit two and half centuries ago. They weight 325 grains and their caliber is .60. They were shot « patched » (pushed down the barrel centered on a lubed cotton disk which overlap them and fill up the space in the .64 smoothbore tube). Powder load was 65 grains, which is inferior to the maximum load authorized by the proofing. Its is in any case an inferior load of what was used by the time of the Beast, were the archives tell us that double or triple load against the predator were common.

The target device

We built a 4 feet target with drawer which allowed us to test the bullet penetration through different combined materials :
  • a 2 inches clay block, to witness the shockwave born by the muscles of the Beast,
  • a layer of artificial leather simulating the Beast skin,
  • a layer of short hair artificial fur simulating the Beast fur,
  • a layer of genuine thick leather (1/8 inches) simulating a leather armor,
  • a layer of long hair artificial fur simulating the boar skin hiding the leather armor.

After this first shooting test, our friend Clément who was hosting us this day gave us a genuine wild boar skin. We repeated our shootings on the boar skin alone, and then on the boar skin backed by a layer of genuine leather (1/8 inches), thus simulating an old boar thick skin.

The author in shooting position at twelve feet

The target deviced was furbished with a genuine wild boar skin

We finally shot at a modern S235 steel plate (1/16 inches) set up in our target device, so as to see how the pure lead bullet was behaving against it.

The results of this shooting session were clear and let nothing to the imagination regarding 18th century firearms abilities and the theory of the armored Beast of Gevaudan. We hope to share those results with our readers very soon.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Beast of Gevaudan - A foreword

The case of the Beast of Gevaudan has become a bad crime fiction story. It is as annoying for the crime fiction writer that we are as it is to the readers interested for more than a century in this tragical and puzzling historical event. Above all, it is sad for the memory of the almost hundred official victims, not counting those that may have been forgotten by historical archives of the time. There have been so many contradictory statements published about the Beast since half a century that new generations are inclined to believe it is just a myth, an old legend born form credulity and superstition of ancient times.
It is not so. The french province of Gévaudan, now split in two administrative department named Lozère and Haute-Loire spreading across the Margeride mountains, actually saw a long serie of attacks whose records go back to 1764, and which ended in 1767 with the killing by a local hunter of an animal still unknown to this day, despite the discovery in the Department Archives in 1958 of an autopsy report by a royal notary established the day after the killing.
Let's agree on the « bad » adjective used previously. It is not about qualifying the case itself, according to subjective criterias such as entertainment. The cruel death of dozens of human beings, most of them children and teenagers, savagely hurt or maimed, subjects to terror and suffering in their last minutes, is not entertaining, even considered two and half centuries after the case. The distance, bet it chronological or cultural, that separates us from this era, doesn't grant us the right to become dishonorable.
If we do label this event a « bad crime fiction story », it as a writer and commentator of this literary genre facing sloppy investigations, often including biased incriminating evidence. Through the important bibliography dedicated to the case, led nowadays by works from Michel Louis and Jean-Marc Moriceau setting up a status quo situation filled with mutual hostility, the fundamentals of a serious investigation have not always been followed. The conclusions presented at the end of many books are rarely based upon a full analysis of the huge historical records available, and often deviate from logical and scientifical thinking to go into speculations oriented by assumptions. Some authors wrote about this case while they have no knowledge of the historical context, of the rural world, never went hunting, are ignorant about 18th century firearms and may never have been to the Margeride mountains.
It is no accident that the autopsy report of the Beast killed in june 1767 was finally discovered in the farming section of the Lozère department records in 1958. It is the rural world, the humble french peasantry of ancient monarchy, who was the first victim of the monster rampage. The case of the Beast of Gévaudan is a case of hunters, hunting parties, preys and predators. A trouble and dreadful period of time where human beings were considered as game, causing fear and outrage among the population, and asking for royal authorities to deploy more and more important means to put an end to killings that were attracting a lot of media attention.
Despite the numerous works on the subject, the main question still has no answer : was it a lone animal ? Was the Beast wild or domesticated ? Was it an exotic kind ? A crossover bred by one or several criminal minds ?
To submit these theories to a rigorous analysis is what will be at stake throughout our investigation. It is out of the question to offer the readers a new proposal which will just entertain them but won't give them a deeper knowledge of the case because we would have dumped all the facts that don't go our way.
We will first consult the historical data, quite important, and replace it in its historical and geographical context. We will then analyze the archives funds in terms of scientifical and technical aspects. For example, we will perfom shooting tests using a replica of an 18th century flint gun to verify if the Beast could have been protected by some kind of man-made armor. It is not the crime fiction writer anymore who will offer his readers the most complete investigation on the Beast of Gévaudan, but the rural world inhabitant, the big game hunter and black powder shooter, the technical and scientific graduate, the six sigma certified aerospace industry qualitician.
Our only permanent requirements will be the proven fact put in its context, the comparative and critical study and the logical thinking based on available data. We will use it for all know theories and if the truth ask to highlight the weakness of already published works, we will dot it.
Time has covered the sufferings endured by the Beast's victims under a dull and dusty veil of indifference. What remains is morbid curiosity and trouble fascination for the intellectual enigma offered by the case. We still have a duty : not to forgot the pain and anguish felt by sons and daughters of the Margeride mountains, the dreadful and fatal fate that awaited them at a grove, an hollow track or a pasture, and whose martyrdom is still haunting that beautiful landscape where granite whisper to the skies.
This being said, are you now ready, my friendly readers, to follow our track in the old kingdom of France, through the mountains and harsh winters of an old province of Languedoc, in the year of our lord seventeen sixty-four ?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tracking the Beast of Gevaudan...

Ending ten years of research, we closed on a sunny sunday our publishing project related to the case of the Beast of Gevaudan, who devoured almost a hundred of people, mainly kids and women, from 1764 to 1767 in the old Gevaudan province in southern France. Hosted for the occasion by our friend Clément, we performed some shooting reenactement, using our replica of a french Fusil de Tulle (.20 Ga caliber smoothbore), which was also a famous fur trade  weapon in New France.

Learnings from this shooting session are essentials and allow us to answer key questions about the reported ability of the Beast to withstand firearms shots. We can now close our last chapter of this project, which is to our knowledge the most extensive historical, technical and scientifical investigation about the Devourer, which also led us three times from 2005 to 2015 in old Gévaudan, now mainly known as Margeride mountains.

Our researches opened a brand new investigation field, and show why the two main in force theories - one of a domesticated canine hybrid led by two local criminals, and the other one about a gang of grey wolves whose rampage would have been enlarged and ampliffied by local superstition - are incomplete and wrong.

The project being currently read by several publishers, we hope to be able to present in a near future our conclusions about what still remains today as the most famous hunts in the old kingdom of France.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Have thrillers slained crime fiction ?

A grisly discovery has been made on this early third millennium : classic crime fiction is agonizing on your bookshelves. Suspicions arise around its inflammatory brother-in-genre, the thriller. Let’s investigate and analyze what is at stake in modern popular crime fiction publishing.

Fact number one : the suspect is covering his tracks. Difference between crime fiction and thriller could appear as a jargon issue. A futile argument between vengeful offsprings of american culture, a simple aesthetic quarrel, or even an assessment of the level of prostitution of the author in a business context (where thriller would be a mass market version of the more "noble" noir novel).

Differences between crime fiction and thriller are no heady or aesthetic arguments and have nothing to do with their economical potentials. These literary genres don’t have the same function. Their understanding of disorder are compatible and complementary, but not identical, and therefore not competitive for their readers.

Crime fiction case

In this genre, the “plot” is a murder (or a series of killings). This event is creating disorder, and this is not acceptable for the reader, who waits for a return to order, which means identifying the culprit(s). For this purpose, the main character (police officer, private detective, journalist, or average guy) is using an unchanging methodology, a legal-inspired routine, based on meetings, talks and data collecting. It is a shared identifying process : the reader tries to name the killer while the main characters does, or even before him (the famous : “I knew it !”), which makes this genre so popular (we would call it an “interactive genre” nowadays). If the story ends by naming X as the “Enemy” (the culprit), from trustworthy witnesses and material evidence, the reader will subscribe to a conclusion in which he himself took part.

Crime fiction’s purpose is to offer its reader an interactive exercise in which a common “Enemy” is to be identified. Naming one’s foe, or the very basis of any political approach. This function allow us to understand why the genre has been labelled as “social”, this word being an empty shell of man exploitation engineering jargon used by dominant classes who want to keep a human appearance.

Thriller case

In this genre, there are generally multiple “plots”. If there is a murder, it is only an opening sub-plot. Disorder is taking place but its inacceptable dimension has not yet been reached. It is coming and the reader is not able to conceive it in its full horror : the very foundations of the power structures are threatened. The main character’s world is endangered by a various and multiple shaped “plot” which comes into life through a conspiracy led by an “enemy group”. This foe is quickly identified, either prior to the novel through real life News (e.g. claimed terror attacks) or through a fast identification in the story set up when the character discovers hidden actions by “known” enemies : evil governments, hostile armed forces, pharmaceutical or industrial lobbies, etc.

Their plans must not be fulfilled and the character has to fight back each of their attacks which now appear in full daylight and are more and more dangerous. This race against time is the very routine of the thriller storytelling. The character has to react in two steps : first survive the threat, then destroy it to save “his” world.

Thriller purpose is to keep alive the fear of the “Enemy”, playing with the paranoid and impeding aspects of its dangers. It is not less political or less important than crime fiction’s role (as was shown through Saddam Hussein’s WMD, Bachar El Assad’s chemical warfare or Iran Nuke, to name a few).

We are now able to understand why crime fiction grew quickly in the thirties, and knew a revival during the seventies (eras of intense political actions and thinkings when several choices were possible) and why thriller came back in full force since the end of the eighties, when final collapse of soviet system claimed a temporay end of political history to enter a phase of market globalization. A post-modern world where fear is the main trigger for popular households consumption, and where fear is therefore used by the world leaders to run a global society based on merchandise worshipping and credit purchase.

The golden age of crime fiction, an avatar of the upper middle-class

To explain the slow decline of classic crime fiction sales, some observers said that readers became bored of it - a statement denied by the overwhelming number of TV cop fictions on dozens of channels – or that working class is not reading anymore. The erotic novel Fifty shades of Grey nonetheless sold 40 millions units, Dan Brown’s esoteric thriller Da Vinci Code sold more than 90 million copies and fantasy novel Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling more than 400 millions. These are pop literature best-sellers, and are strong evidence that working-classes are still reading, and in globalized numbers.

Classic crime fiction decline comes from the changing of times. After WWII, the world is one of material comfort with two strong political blocks fighting each other and where young readers need to know which side to choose and where their parents wants to be confirmed they made the right choice. In an era dominated by upper middle-class with family still a strong value, naming the “Enemy” was of priority for anyone’s peace of mind. The golden age of classic crime fiction, a north american breed, was connected to McCarthysm, to a middle-class need to identify criminals or splinter factions and to assist by the end of each novel to a restoration of law and order. A era when famous illustrators, like James Avati in the US or Michel Gourdon in France, were creating blazing covers filled with young criminals, unfaithful wives, strippers, bad boys and all archetypes of temptation and Fall of Man for the honest guy of that time.

French crime fiction dead end : the “néo-polar” case

By the end of the sixities, young French writers of crime fiction almost all came from the Left Wing. This generation joined two heritages : old “Série Noire” titles of the 50’s (mainly american fiction hastly translated to fit into the main crime fiction collection at Gallimard publishing house) and “may 1968 events” experience ( a period of civil unrest that was labelled by NYTimes as “the revolution that never was”). This combined influence allowed these writers to perform an ideological hold-up by convincing readers, publishers and press secretaries that crime fiction had to be a “social” genre. This semantic shift was required to put their ideological domination in place. As the term “political” was too vague and allowed right wingers to claim it, a new word exclusive to marxism was needed. Jean-Patrick Manchette (leader of this new generation, his novel La Position du tireur couché has recently been adapted to the big screen starring Sean Penn as The Gunman) teached that crime fiction should be a “social operation”. He didn’t believe in his own theory for very long, but his followers made a religion out of it. Behind the curtain of propaganda, this new generation had perfectly understood that the aim of crime fiction was to name the “Enemy”, and took full advantage of it. By a masterpiece of subversive action, they shamelessly inverted the classic crime fiction codes and showcased outcasts, eccentrics and juvenile delinquents, not to serve as scarecrows on covers anymore, but to promote “mass uprising against order and fascist oppression”.

Néo-polar was only a revolutionary literary genre, without any new or specific aesthetic approach (besides the ugly “behaviorism” coming from journalism and american writers) and was mainly a make up for the lack of talent of many authors, deprived of style or evocative power, and whose goals were to write down political flyers disguised as crime fictions, where the “enemy” is always the same. It took only a few years for this trend to exhaust itself. Néo-polar became a caricature and sank into totalitarianism. There was no other way possible since ideology has hijacked the true function of crime fiction : the reader was not convinced anymore – through investigation and material evidence – but forced to “believe” a political statement, with the risk of being accused – if unwilling to do so – to be an accomplice of the Enemy. This genre wasn’t popular anymore and became the private ground of wealthy state employees and academics, who then castigated TV shows as being the reason why the working class gave up reading and crime fiction literature.

To sum it up, french néo-polar opposed a rebel teenager crisis of the 70’s to a family man literature of the 50’s. Without a new vision of storytelling, new plot engineering ways, the néo-polar couldn’t be more than a transition, not to say a mode effect. Literature being an art, a genuine revolution would have been aesthetic. Néo-polar writers never understood it, never had the literary abilities to offer it, this genre mainly created calling for activists, and not artists.

The new reign of thriller fiction

End of the eighties marked the beginning of the uncontested reign of thriller, a regenerated shape of old “mystery” fiction. The historical time of this rebirth is no accident. When two american best-sellers movies adaptations went out in 1990 and 1991 (The Hunt for Red October from Tom Clancy’s novel from 1984, and The Silence of the Lambs from Thomas Harris’ book published in 1988), the audience wasn’t aware that they just witnessed a major power shift inside popular fiction.

In the first one, a classic military and political suspense book, the Enemy is still the Soviet Union, a ideological opponent of American people. In the second one, looking like a crime fiction but owing its success to the thriller, the Enemy is now a new archetype that will invade almost all criminal writing : the serial killer.

Published at the dawn of state communism final collapse, The Silence of the Lambs is a pioneer book at a pivotal time. It is a post-modernity novel, a book of times who see Russia rejoins mafia-style free market and China preparing its new industrial reign. Since the Cold War is over, since merchandise ideology is ruling the world, here come the times of unknown and anonymous “enemies”, psychopaths killing randomly or according to their own strange reasons. The new “enemy” of popular crime fiction is an image of its time : daft and ultra-violent. Without an external enemy, human society has no other choice that to devour itself, thus the cannibalistic character, “Hannibal the man-eater”, to embody this symbolism.

In a society where you can’t make a choice (since there is only one “choice”), the mainspring of the shared identification of an enemy fades and gives space for the only thrill of last minute action. The only option left to crime fiction writer is to use the fear of the enemy, which as we’ve seen is the main function of the thriller. This major change in how one sees the world caused a gradual change in crime fiction codes, the codes of thriller being the ones to now raise interest among readers, and thus selling books, publishers had asked for a “thrillerization” of crime stories, wanting frightful and action-packed blood-thirsty serial killers novels, the very recipe for creating and showcasing fear.

Thrillers now stand out because this literary genre matches the new world order and the growing nihilism. Through its spectacular aspects and its fear inducting function, it is the perfect literature for the “imminent shared impression of global disaster” which took over on many earth populations who are not taken in by the reigning “entertainment/stupefying effect” of modern Show.

Any decent thriller describes the post-modern world and its stakes more accurately than police or journalist investigation of old, which storytelling structure is now has-been when faced with picture dictatorship, networking, social violence, permanent competitiveness and the urgent and mandatory need for noise.

Is crime fiction still alive ?

If the way toward an ever growing nihilism is to be followed, the classic name-your-enemy crime fiction will be diluted into thriller codes and storytelling. Old school cop investigation will barely survive in a niche market, while probably waiting for the end of literature itself among disinterest and permanent noise.

On the other hand, if we assume that a return of political choices, or at least a challenge of unregulated free market as a unique possible future, would constitute a prelude forecasting an abrupt change in the world order as seen in the thirties (when modern American crime fiction gushed out of the Great Depression, the rural exodus and the Prohibition to then set a foot on Europe after WWII), there are some reasons left to believe in a return of this popular kind of storytelling. A return to political matters, to the possibility to make actual choices, would renew the need to name one’s own “enemies” (i.e. not dictated by the market), which is classic crime fiction first function.

What aesthetic shape would then take tomorrow’s crime fiction ? That’s why the coming years will be of the greatest interest.

Pierric Guittaut

(This article is a translation of a lecture given to the Georges Orwell Circle in Paris, 7th of may 2014).

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Backwoods noir, when crime fiction lurks toward the underwoods

Despite the structural bent of crime fiction toward the city, this literary genre sees the survival of an old and knotty branch, with an ever green heart resisting to modernity. A wild and primitive crime fiction sort : the backwoods noir.  
Urban space and its social stakes are major components of crime fiction. It was through a political reading of Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, with its Butte city facing corrupt town council and scabs, that Jean-Patrick Manchette (France's main genre analyst of the seventies) put up a theory that american crime fiction emergence was “an answer to the counter revolution of the thirties”. But Manchette was confused between social and political literature, while convincing himself that “social” meant “marxist”.

Bearink the mark of modernity, American crime fiction rather displayed three inherited genes : the economical crisis of 1929, the end of rural life as main way of life (1920 census showed that urban population overpassed rural one for the first time in US history) and the Prohibition, in force from 1919 to 1933. The Great Depression provided jobless people and poverty, rural exodus creates a quick growth of cities’ popular districts and the Prohibition broadcasted the bootleg and gangster culture. This triple social shock led to the first “hardboiled” novels publishings, while an anterior recollection fed the backwoods noir.

Twenty years later, when France welcomed the “American crime fiction” (thanks to Marcel Duhamel at Gallimard publishing house and its famous Série Noire collection), it was not only due to the “Marshall Plan”, but also because the country then faced its last big rural exodus from 1945 to 1970. It created a sudden rise of popular suburbs around all main urban centers, the now infamous quartiers, and new cities burst out of old villages in a few years. Their flaws gave birth to a new sub-genre of local crime fiction – the néo-polar (“new crime fiction”) – while a few underwoods ghosts acted as a survival of the wilderness myths and allowed observers to follow the evolution of our look at rural life.

Backwoods noir, what the hell is that ?

Backwoods mean two things : wooded and unsettled areas, or any remote or isolated location. Backwoods noir focuses on the wooded, isolated and hilly dimension of the term, with a strong mineral and animal presence. Excluded from the genre are authors like Tony Hillerman or Craig Johnson, despite being hastily lauded for getting back to “rural literature” by French observers looking for an ideology driven reading of the Wild, based upon minority communities advertising or with wilderness only seen as a playground, or a source of “green tourism” profits. These analysts become suddenly mute when it comes to such notions as colonial expansion, Manifest Destiny and "vital space", which feed - in a way or another - the Midwest writers. This kind of political misuse is way more difficult with white hillbillies. Their thinking about minorities stops with the confederate flags glued on their trucks, or through switching off the TV set when their favorite soap stars too many colored characters. Regarding the wilderness, they all heard about some distant cousin who fell and died at the bottom of a rocky gully, drowned in a mountain river or was bitten by a copperhead, and thus conceive it only with a gun in hand or behind the wheel of their truck, burning gas for fun and throwing empty beer cans through the window.

Three essential elements constitute the main bulk of backwoods noir : forestry world (wildlife, hunters and forestry business), small town mythology (withdrawal, gossips, feud, enhanced sexuality, historical continuity) and hardness of everyday life (lower education and poverty, hostile surroundings, pervasiveness of death).

Genesis of a literary genre

The genre is deeply rooted through popular cultures : north american early pioneers were primarily lumberjacks and trappers, while forest was a key element of medieval Europe (wood was used to heat, cook and forge, woods offered shelter against attacks and substitution food during starvation times). 

Back in the American colonies, to go deep in the woods meant leaving the Christian civilized area. Some trappers “degenerated” by taking native wives and habits and got educated to pagan shamanism. In Europe, forest was used as a shelter by lepers and outlaws, but also by wolves drivers and witches. Bushy, secret and animal-like, the woods stand as an enemy to Christian faith, a desert spirituality of the absolute and the exposure to God. Backwoods inhabitants, natural animists, are potential apostates. European monks therefore put much work to deforest the living areas and conflicted with landlords - always avid hunters - on the matter. This fear of “degeneration” still last nowadays and have branded the genre : many authors aren't able to write a country noir wihtout some retarded racist character sleeping with his own nymphomaniac sister. Fighting this zealously religious vision of rural crime fiction, native writers from the backwoods, as Daniel Woodrell (Missouri) and Chris Offutt (Kentucky) or the french author Pierre Pelot (Vosges) - to name a few - are carrying on the magical tradition of ancient forest through their stories.

Modern literary form was first embodied in Erskine Caldwell's The Bastard (1929), and in Faulkner's Sanctuary (1931). The first one is not a genuine crime fiction but stands out with its dark rurality suffering from poverty and passions on the edge of savagery. On his side, Faulkner establishes the “bible” of backwoods noir : remote farmland, moonshine bootleg, illiterate brutes, perverted sexual intercourse. Investigation remains poor, and it's to be noted that both stories end up in the city, both writers feeling that human tragedy will now take place far away from countryside. These masterpieces created a bridge between two visions of rural depopulation : urban crime fiction, centered on the stopping-off point, the future, and backwoods noir, centered on starting point, a recollection from the past, about those left behind by History.

Is backwoods noir an american genre ? When Marcel Aymé published in 1929 La Table aux crevés, a french rural feud backed by gossips and rivalry between flat lands farmers and wood inhabitants prone to moonshining and gunfighting, the writer signed a backwoods noir, even if the phrase didn't exist by that time in critics glossary (the author spoke himself of a “country novel”). American writer were mainly rewarded by an earlier consideration of crime fiction, a genre more quicly recognized by the literature family oversea than in France, where it had to wait the seventies and a young generation of marxists intellectuals and writers educated through old Série Noires to be accepted as a potential social work beyond simple popular entertainment.

Greatness and decline
In the shadow of its city twin, backwoods noir is going low-profile, but enduring. It knew a first golden age in the fifties. James M. Cain wrote The Butterfly in 1947, a story where a father and daughter are sharing a guilty lure in an old mining town in West Virginia haunted by rivalries and moonshining. The topic was hot back then, the two main characters consummating their blasphemous union, and Cain had to twist his plot to get away with a possible censorship. It was followed by Charles Williams' first three novels (1951) : Hill Girl, River Girl and Big City girl. Close to perfection, the first one is masterful and knocks out its reader by its deep humanity, its poetry and the simple stakes pattern between two brothers and a simple girl. Hill girl sold a million copies and Williams' substitutes were countless. 

 He can't be ignored in the genre, even if he's not published aymore in the US and even if french readers had to wait as long as 1986 to get a translation of his first novel.

The dawn of the sixties was a turning point : among space run and orange plastic furniture, the gap with rurality became an abyss. Modern egalitarianism took the lead over christian missionaries : rural people were not accused anymore of being « pagans », but of being « die-hard conservatives » (uneducated, racist, homophobic, male chauvinist), both understandings of the « pagan » or the « reactionary » standing out in their respective communities as infamous recollections form a past to be erased at all cost.

Countryside was first subject to taunting : Williams parodied himself with The Diamond bikini (1956) and Uncle Sagmore and his girls in 1959. In France, Jean Amila published in 1962 Jusqu'à plus soif, an industrious backwoods noir set in Normandy including moonshiners, dirt tracks car chases and gunfight in the hilly forest of Ecouves.

Its sarcastic tone and the teacher character bringing the light to booze intoxicated retarded inhabitants of the country brought it down to a progressivist sunday school missal. In 1964, Jim Thompson pushed satire to buffoonery with Pop. 1280, a dispensable outbreak of ugliness which fame has nothing to do with literature, and all to do with ideology. Deliverance by James Dickey (1970) told about four wealthy city guys in their forties, fond of outdoor activities, going canoeing in the appalachian mountains. They become victims of degenerated locals (what a surprise) while the wilderness is disclosing the worst side of them, as if being contaminated.
The book made it to the big screen under John Boorman's direction, and part of the audience saw in it a metaphor of the Vietnam war, another graphical representation of the forest threat, of the primitive and unforgiving enemy haunting the bushy woods.

Forever a swordsman, the french writer ADG made an attempt to save the redneck's honor through La Nuit des grands chiens malades (1972) and Berry Story (1973). Despite the effort, his cheeky sense of humor and his colorful depicting of the flat farmlands between Issoudun and Bourges in the Berry county took him away from the wild nature of the backwoods.


Towards a rebirth

Beginning of the eighties. While France was discovering high speed trains, an Internet forerunner named Minitel and the hedonistic aspects of free trade after a faked attempt at socialism, Pierre Pelot put up resistance with La Forêt muette. His reader was snatched deep in the Vosges woods, at the « Death bottom », from where he couldn't escape safely. Pelot put his finger on the very violence of human nature through a merciless story and a climax scene still remembered years after. Published in 1982, this masterpiece expanded out of its genre and its storytelling trick was found at the end of the nineties in movies like Primal Fear or Fight Club, which the french writer was fifteen years ahead. A prolific author, never far away from the backwoods, the man from les Vosges did it again in 1988 and wrote a superb Si loin de Caïn, an inescapable descent into hell populated by poor primitive people, taken straight away from Tobacco Road by Caldwell. The cold distance taken by Caldwell with his white trash people of the Great Depression allowed a lot of readers to dismiss the tragedy thanks to a supposed satire, but Pelot connected his readers with the rudimentary and aggressive minds of his wild clan lost in the woods, and took us toward the dark and frozen surface of our primitive bestiality, finding this smaller common denominator which made possible an empathy that first seemed impossible. These two novels raised him to a backwoods noir's master status, and they were logically connected to Caldwell and Faulkner's works by several book critics when they went out.

Nineties saw a rebirth of the genre. Chris Offutt put together Kentucky straight in 1992, a set of short stories shaded with fantasy and haunted by forest myths. His imaginary small community spread through the woods is divided between tragedy and false hopes with a surviving folklore background, while Offut is enchanting us with the deep humanity of his dreamlike stories.  
After three novels rooted in the Louisiana bayou, Daniel Woodrell wrote in 1996 a new backwoods classic : Give us a kiss, a lighthearted fiction set in the Ozarks where he was raised, and which he subtitled himself « a country noir ». Matthew F. Jones published the same year A single shot (french readers will have to wait 2013 and the movie adaptation to read its transalation), with a noteworthy style serving a very dark and tense story. Both gave a new kick start to the genre, while France was not outdone as Jean-Paul Demure took on the torch from Pelot in 1998 with a smothering fiction set in the Ardèche mountains and titled Fin de chasse. Here, secrets are heavy to keep, and hates are enduring. Hate being also a fuel for Elsa Marpeau's writing with Recherche au sang (2003). This well informed first novel dissected both the hunters community of the Sud-Gâtinais area and the rural loneliness. The genre's specific savagery is smoldering among remote farming settlings under quiet exteriors, only to wake up without redemption.

In North America, new authors are seizing the literary genre and 2011 marks a new milestone. Canadian writer Lauren B. Davies had the lyrical landscapes facing the seamy side of people's fate throughout Our daily Bread. Her story is inspired by local news from the Nova Scotia area of the early eighties, mixing meth devastation and children gang raping. Ace Atkins launched the first piece of his Quin Colsonn serie : The Ranger, intended for a wide readership : a workmanlike style, prudish and manichaean between the lines, featuring hardboiled characters back from Afghanistan and components of the backwoods.
Daniel Woodrell, now famous thanks to movie adaptations of his novels Woe to live on and Winter's bone, wrote The Outlaw album, a brilliant set of short stories located in the Ozarks mountains drawing from the same dream-like and tragic material found in Offutt's work. Crimes in Southern Indiana, a first novel by Frank Bill, establihes itself as the most virulent backwwods noir of recent years (published in french in 2013 as Chiennes de vies). Displayed as short stories, undoubtedly a fashionable format for backwoods noir, his violent and syncopated tales underlined by nihilism and self-destruction are showing us through a jerky style human paths devastated by globalization and featuring frantic survivors killing each others in the hills.
Backwoods noir took its revenge out on the seventies. Futuristic promises from ago – hygienists towns, comfortable robot-assisted homes for a united mankind – were blown away through the acrid smokes of the globalization ruins. Jobless people, mad veterans back from oil wars and meth addicts whose labs have replaced old timers' stills are now swarming american hills. In France, the middle-class is fleeing the functionalists suburbs' wreck to find shelter in surrounding villages, while rural exodus is growing due to gas price raises and decrease of job offers in remote locations.

So many deep social changes which feed a literary genre essential to understand the exchanges between cities and countryside, the fantasies and forecasts these changes produce. If the urban crime fiction tells us about our social being's pathologies, our relations to others and to our man-made environment, Backwoods noir remains the most faithful image of the savage being still connected to the wild. Written deep in our reptilian brain, this ancient and frightening part of ourselves cracks the civilization varnish to come back in full daylight, as every time our world is facing huge mutations.

Pierric Guittaut
(This article is a translation of an analysis first published in the newspaper éléments)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why am I hunting ?

I am often asked : « why do you hunt ? ».

Which means : “why a smart and nice guy like you is having fun killing innocent animals ?”

I hunt because I take full responsibility of the death of the animal in my plate, unlike all people who think meat is growing in supermarkets’ freezers and who would like to ignore concentration camps-like conditions of the industrial cattle raising they are funding 365 days a year.

“Non conforming” ducklings, once identified, are dumped alive in a mechanical grinder.

I hunt free and wild animals in surroundings favorable and familiar to them. Animals which are not made blind and encrazed in totalitarian stallings where they never see daylight, where they are force-fed with antibiotics and hormones and deprived of their living beings dignity as if they were inert material, where any tiny spark of life is denied to the profit of a mass food-processing industry plagued by technic and intended for an overpopulated world of globalized unregulated free market, undertaker of the souls of all, human and animals.

I hunt with a modern firearm, reliable, fast and powerful, because there is no equity between me and the game, no “fair-play”, no “sport” or such double-tongued assessment. Hunting is no sport and doesn’t justify itself with sickly sentimentality. Hunting is an ancient act of picking where death is the final goal and where man is weaving an unexplainable link with the very essence of any life form. As a hunter, my duty is to put the game to death in a quickly manner and without sufferings, unlike this video, one among dozens available on the web, and showcasing animal sufferings and ill-treatment required by all “nice” non hunting people around earth.

I don't hunt “to get a breath of fresh air”, “walk my dogs” or to “enjoy Nature” as sometimes claim some hunters, smashed by the sense of guilt of a whole society looking for scapegoats to animal abuse, which is a disgracing behavior I never witnessed for eighteen years I’ve been hunting. Even if it sounds paradoxical, hunters do respect animals.

I hunt because I accept my true human condition and its ancient heritage. I’m no “Green Party citizen”, no fan of “green tourism”, or any other rubbish selling point intended for lobotomized “Outdoor” merchandising adept who thinks the mystery of the world is contained in a sport supermarket price tag. Standing in front of the slaves of Fake, I am the free man of ancient law, the one who bears a weapon.

I hunt because dark blood runs in my veins and because I can hear the calling of the sacred oak, because wilderness is no amusement park to me but the ground for Mystery, the wild beasts home, the sanctuary of ancient lords and heroes, the temple and the garden of ancestral Gods.