There comes a time in the course of battle when a participant casts his fate to the gods of war, and carries on without question, the task at hand. Living, dying, right or wrong, can be contemplated later. The spirit of the bayonet takes over and carries the youth through the crucible of battle to emerge a short time later several ages older. Stephen Crane's classic novel gives us a glimpse into the mind of a young soldier as he passes through the experience he will never be able to forget, and possibly awaken him from his slumber in a sweat and panic for years to come.
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I???ve never been in a war, but listening to Stephen Crane???s The Red Badge of Courage made me feel thrust into one. Crane???s horrific descriptions of the sights and sounds of a Civil War battle, as well as his unromantic depictions of the behavior of soldiers in such a fray (from raw recruits to erratic officers), and through it all his brutally honest account of the changing mental state of the naive northern farm-boy, Henry Fleming, all feel so authentic that I???m amazed that Crane had never experienced war when he wrote his short novel.
With his deep, gravelly voice, the reader, John Michaels, does a fine job of expressing Crane???s matter-of-fact, portentous, ironic, excited, and empathetic tone (though a few times he blurs some words so that I had to rewind to understand them).
Crane writes an appalling poetry of war. Bullets whistling and nipping among the trees, until ???Twigs and leaves came sailing down???. as if a thousand axes, wee and invisible, were being wielded.??? Artillery firing ???an interminable roar???. the whirring and thumping of gigantic machinery, complications among the smaller stars.??? Corpses, ???ghastly forms??? lying ???twisted in fantastic contortions??? as if ???dumped out upon the ground from the sky.??? The poetic descriptions contrast with the soldiers??? vernacular: "Oh, say, this is too much of a good thing!" Their morale is fragile: ???The slaves toiling in the temple of this god began to feel rebellion at his harsh tasks.???
Many war-is-hell stories revel in exciting battle scenes, and possibly one or two in Crane???s novel could be taken out of context to ignite the martial passions. But he really depicts war as a filthy, chaotic, brutal, and horrific ???devilment,??? which, if it does impel some men to become ???heroes,??? does so at a cost to their humanity and is fought for ultimately mysterious reasons for which nature cares nothing. Because we still haven???t been able to stop toiling in the temple of the god of war, this audiobook should be heard.
Probably 3.5 stars. Bonus points for the fact that Crane elevated war novels to a more modern level, but doesn't quite measure up quite to Conrad, Tolstoy or Remarque. Maybe 4 stars as a novel and 3 stars as a war novel.