Apr 19, 2015

The Sportsman's Anthology

edited by Robert Kelley

The short stories in this collection are about sports. Sports enjoyed by outdoorsmen- I imagine they reflect was was popular in the forties. There are stories of mountaineering and saltwater fishing, of yacht races, of football and baseball. There's a story of a golf club getting itself established, another about a poor western college boy cobbling together a crew team so he could travel to New York and meet a girl. Another about a bobsled team. I liked two about mountain climbing - Matterhorn and McKinley. Quite a few hunting stories- most with dogs, setters and spaniels. I rather liked the one called "A Red Letter Day" by Edwyn Sandys which really gave a beautiful picture of the skill, eagerness, communication and grace a good bird dog can bring to the field (such was my impression). More than half the stories are about horses: horse racing, fox-hunting, steeplechases, etc. Of men trying to show themselves upper-class enough to go foxhunting but making fools of themselves, or of a man pitching himself into a race with high hopes on how his horse would perform. One featuring a polo pony match is just a blur."Ting-a-ling" by David Gray was a poignant story. Told how a young bride saw a streetcar-horse struggling with an overloaded car, she admired its spirit and bemoaned its fate. Her new husband promptly bought the horse for her. They hoped he would shine as a steeplechase horse, but he turned out to do something much more significant for their family than simply win a race.

My favorite story was "Don- the Story of a Lion Dog" by Zane Grey. This one was set in wild, dry scrub country that was Arizona at the time- the author accompanied a group of men that set out with hounds to catch mountain lions. Although the story centered on a certain aloof dog and how the author tried to win its affections, I was struck by two points. Firstly, the lion-hunter just gathered up a motley bunch of unwanted dogs, and when they got out in the desert let them run loose alongside the horses. He taught them to hunt lion in a simple, brutally effective manner- if the dogs took off after any scent or animal sign that was not from a lion, he yelled at them and shot them (birdshot). When they finally struck a lion's trail, they were encouraged instead. The author adamantly opposed this method, but nobody would listen to him. I was also left wondering why they were tracking and roping up cougars. It surprised me how many, how easily they came upon the big cats. The descriptions of their grace and wildness stunning. It was obvious the hunter wanted to take them alive, but I didn't know their intended fate. I've read somewhere else that they roped lions to use for training other dogs or to sell to zoos, but this story itself was never clear on that.

But I actually only read half the book. I skipped many chapters- either because I know nothing about the sport and couldn't follow well, didn't care for the writing style, or just didn't find the story itself interesting. I found this one in an antique store, in a pile of books on horsemanship.

Rating: 2/5       396 pages, 1944

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