Wednesday, June 08, 2011

State of the Mule Contest (copy)

Husband sought me out last night under the carport and exclaimed, “I found it!”

Not realizing something was lost, I was a little confused, “Found what?”

“Read the last sentence of the first paragraph,” he said as he stood over me grinning.

I took The Dog of the South by Charles Portis from his hands and read. "Through a tangle of branches I saw a dead mule." It was official. His beloved, all-time-favorite author had entered "Southern Literature" status. The dead mule (known in literary terms as Equine Gothic) appears in his work and now I must recognize the greatness that is Portis.

Who? The man who wrote True Grit, that is who. A comic genius (my husband’s words) wrote Southern odyssey or oddity (my words) books where a man usually down on his luck travels to procure a missing object such as his car in The Dog of the South and $70 dollars in Norwood. I highly suggest them for the Southern Reading Challenge if one is looking for quirky.

What makes a dead mule a sign of classic Southern literature? Jerry Leath Mills, in his essay The Dead Mule Rides Again explains, “there is indeed a single, simple, litmus-like test for the quality of southernness in literature, one easily formulated into a question to be asked of any literary text and whose answer may be taken as definitive, delimiting, and final. The test is: Is there a dead mule in it?”

Mills goes on to cite the many afflictions a mule may suffer and from the exact text said mule succumbs. There is asphyxiation, beating, collision with a vehicle, decapitation, drowning, fall from a cliff, freezing, gunshot wound, hanging, rabies, stab wound, overwork, and old age.

In Portis’ work it is unclear how the mule dies, but the character is to feel a sense of familiarity since he encounters the site in Central America and not his home state of Arkansas.

If you are participating in the Southern Reading Challenge be on the lookout for dead mules. The State of the Mule Contest runs throughout the month of June. When you find said mule call or e-mail me and have the book title, author and page ready for verification. We will draw from entrants and one winner will receive a gift of pecans. Good luck!

Original post...and here!