Let's play a game of Would You Rather. We'll go first. Would you rather own a shiny new car or a stolen racehorse?
You'd take the car, right? That's what we thought.
Believe it or not, there was a time when people would have chosen the horse over the car. Of course, this was way back at the turn of the 20th century, when roads were muddy, and only a handful of people could even locate a steering wheel. But people truly believed that, just like Pet Rocks, automobiles were a fad that wouldn't last very long.
Boy, did they have another thing coming.
Published in 1962, just one month before author William Faulkner's death, The Reivers takes us back in time to rural Mississippi in 1905, when cars sparked great curiosity—and reeked of gas. The story centers on a group of individuals who are nearly family from Jefferson, a part of Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County.
Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest, his family's contract worker Boon Hogganbeck, and black family member Ned McCaslin steal Lucius's grandfather's brand new Winton Flyer and travel to Memphis, Tennessee with it. While Boon and Lucius kick off their four-day adventure at a brothel (oh, dear), Ned decides to trade the automobile for a stolen racehorse (double oh, dear), hoping to make a bit of cash and win the car back. Of course, Faulkner being Faulkner, everyone spirals into deceit, lies, and good ol' corruption.
One of Faulkner's lesser-known works, The Reivers is written in a rather straightforward style, quite different from something like Absalom, Absalom! and basically everything else the guy has ever written. But like all of Faulkner's other works, it takes a nostalgic look at the Southern landscape and at the various personalities who inhabit it. It's just that this time you won't need a dictionary and a crystal ball to get through it.
So get cozy in your front porch hammock, keep some cool iced tea nearby, and take a trip back to a time when automobiles were few and far between. And don't worry, we'll try not to drive you crazy with all of our car puns..
Picture yourself—many, many years from now—sitting around a fire with your grandchildren and telling stories about your life. Which stories will you tell? Who will feature in them? Will you fudge any details? Or will you spare no expense?
Though a work of fiction, The Reivers was originally entitled A Reminiscence, as Lucius Priest dictates the tale from the 1960s as an adult looking back on his childhood. Now an old man, with grey hairs and all, he tells us a whimsical adventure story from when he was eleven years old, which was back in 1905. Yup, you've guessed it: this is a coming-of-age tale.
Similar to Huckleberry Finn, the work reveals how spontaneous frolics can sometimes turn into some of the most instructive experiences of our lives. And like the film Stand By Me, the narration comes from the vantage point of an adult who projects a special kind of wisdom that only comes with age.
The title of the work comes from an old Scottish word that means "robbers." So who exactly is doing the robbing? Is it Boon, who steals Grandfather's shiny new car? Is it Ned, who steals an already stolen race horse?
Or is it perhaps Lucius, who robs himself of his innocence when he decides to accompany the two men in their shenanigans? About halfway through his adventure, Lucius admits, "I knew too much, had seen too much. I was a child no longer now; innocence and childhood were forever lost, forever gone from me" (8.62). Doesn't get a lot clearer than that.
Though Lucius tells more lies than he ever believed himself capable of inventing, he still cites his four-day adventure with Boon and Ned as the most formative experience of his life.
So how about it, Shmoopers? Is the loss of innocence just a part of the growing-up process? Should we stick with Peter Pan and stay cute and innocent forever? Or does getting into a little bit of trouble as we age come with certain benefits? Crack open your copy of The Reivers, and let's find out..
Learn all about the author's fudging of his own life's details, the love triangle he incited, and much, much more.
Take a look at this super detailed map of Yoknapatawpha County, which links all of Faulkner's stories and characters together.
10 Great William Faulkner Quotes, on His Birthday
Complete with a photo of the author himself, this site shares ten of Faulkner's best quotes.
Get a sense of how Mississippi has changed over the past century through these fifteen historic photos.
The Reivers (1969)
Directed by Mark Rydell, this film version stars Steve McQueen as the rambunctious Boon. The ending is changed significantly, and the racial tensions in the film are not as obvious as they are in the book.
1956 Paris Review Interview with William Faulkner
Here's a handy transcript, with Faulkner discussing the significance of his creation of Yoknapatawpha County.
Faulkner's Best Book
Here Faulkner discusses why he believes The Sound and the Fury to be his best book.
William Faulkner, Briefly
The following video highlights Faulkner's childhood, works, and other accomplishments.
Clip from The Reivers Film
What we've got here is the scene when Boon and Lucius decide to steal Grandfather's car.
1950 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
William Faulkner says that this honor has been granted to him because the purpose of his writing is "to make out of the materials the human spirit, something which was not there before."
1898 Ad for a Winton Motor Carriage
Creator of the Winton Motor Carriage Company, Alexander Winton sold his first manufactured vehicles in Cleveland, Ohio in 1899.
Faulkner at Home in Oxford, Mississippi
Faulkner and his wife Estelle appear in front of their Oxford, Mississippi home.
Memphis, Tennessee at the Turn of the Century
Take a look at what Lucius, Boon, and Ned would have seen when they ventured to Memphis in 1905.
Horse Racing in 1905
Here's what horse racing might have looked like over one hundred years ago.