Sunday, March 01, 2015

T. H. White, falconer

Thanks to the efforts of Stacia Novy, with a little help from me and Conor Jameson, Terence Hanbury White, author of The Goshawk and The Once and Future King among many other books, will be recognized as a falconer with a plaque on the wall of remembrance at the Archives of Falconry, at the World center for Birds of Prey in Boise. I wish I could be there.

White has often been dismissed by falconers,who I think judge him for the wrong reasons. He was a better falconer than we think. His fame came from The Goshawk, which I once described as the best book about bad falconry ever written. Its genius was in its honesty about how hard it is to become good at this art; perhaps our uneasiness is because all of us who fly hawks remember being that bad. One of the funniest unpublished things he wrote rings with ironic truth: "As soon as you are in it properly, one falconer cannot tell lies to another."

He went on to become a member of the BFC, to fly and write about Merlins, to rent a grouse moor and fly Peregrines, and to become, in the end, a pretty good falconer. He deserves to be remembered this way, as a brilliant writer who wrote with real insights about the sport. Maybe some new attention could result in a White revival, and the publishing of his Merlin book and other writings yet unread by the public.

6 comments:

Mark Farrell-Churchill said...

"For those with an interest in the dull introspective business of manning and training a hawk," wrote a reviewer in the BFC Journal, "The Goshawk will be a well-written catalogue of most of the things one should not do."

Steve, thanks to your intro to the Wilder Places edition of The Goshawk, and to Helen's splendid H is for Hawk, I now see White's reluctant publication of The Goshawk as an act of courage. And as he noted to his publisher, "...I have become a much better falconer since then." I don't think the book could have succeeded otherwise; it takes a certain degree of competence to illustrate how "excruciatingly bad" his initial efforts were.

I'd pay to read White on merlins...

Steve Bodio said...

Mark, even a reasonably competent editor could make it a book. And you wouldn't BELIEVE how much good stuff was cut from The Goshawk-- might have made it tighter but we should at least have a "variorum" edition.

I will consult with Helen when she comes down of her cloud (actually I think she is hiding under the bed). All the material in in Austin, not that far away. I am a registered scholar there-- maybe I could do it...

Matthew Mullenix said...

Steve, do it! I'll drive out to help.

Stacia Novy said...

In my opinion--with an insider’s perspective as a shortwinger and writer—it is irresponsible, inaccurate and foolish to compare White’s falconry skills in The Goshawk with the skills of anyone practicing the sport today.

Keep in mind: White’s FIRST FALCONRY BIRD EVER was a wild-caught, half-fledged, male goshawk--long past the age of an impressionable eyas--and arguably, the hardest raptor in falconry to train. Compounding that fact, White had no prior experience with raptors, no falconry mentor or sponsor (which is commonplace today and required in some countries for licensure), no good books on hawks for information, no ready-made equipment, no commercial vendors, and no public Internet forums for advice. He was at the greatest disadvantage that a prospective falconer can possibly be, but he approached the challenge with honesty, humor and perseverance. That White succeeded at all is a testament to his abilities as an animal trainer; and is impressive to those of us that know better.

The falconry goshawks flown in Britain today cannot even be compared to White’s goshawk. None are wild-caught. UK Goshawks are all captive-bred: raised among traffic and people and dogs from such a young age that they are almost domesticated by the time the falconer acquires one. Such goshawks are as different from White’s bird as cats are from dogs; as apples from oranges; as night from day.

There is a reason why the vast majority of experienced falconers choose to fly captive-bred and/or eyas accipiters, and especially female ones, when given a choice: they are so much easier to train. I speak from experience: I’ve trained both captive-bred and wild-caught goshawks for falconry and of both sexes. More falconers should consider those facts before criticizing TH White. Stacia Novy

Stacia said...

Forgot to add: White didn't have telemetry either. It hadn't been invented for falconry birds yet.
Stacia

Grayal Farr said...

Kathryn Schluz, reviewing "H is for Hawk" in the March 8th "New Yorker" approaches MacDonald's book through White's. More accurately, she uses both to write about White's life. I don't think I've enjoyed anything in the NY as much since Adam Gopnick's "The Lord of the Rings" is what would happen if Mole and Ratty got drafted into the Nibelungenlied."