Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling

 

Fiction Review     

THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE
By Steven Pressfield
Avon Books, 1995; Spike Paperbacks 1999.
ISBN: 0-380-72751-X

 

[ To be released in November 2000 as a feature film directed by Robert Redford and starring Will Smith and  Matt Damon. Filmed on location in Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC.]

Los Angeles author Steven Pressfield chose a mythical golf tournament for his retelling of the old India epic "Mahabharata".  His knowledge and love for the game comes through.  Pressfield selected golf for this tale of battles, because in golf, as in no other sport, each player is moving on his own course to his best performance.  In other words, the player is in search of his "authentic swing".  The caddie/magician Bagger Vance turns this into the search of the "authentic self".

The story opens in present day with Dr. Hardison Greaves trying to convince a young doctor named Michael from giving up the game.  Greaves remembers a 1931 golf match on Krews Island near Savannah, Georgia.  The match is between golf legends Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.  A local World War I hero Rannulph Junah is added. 

One of the story's themes is reclaiming "honor".  Perhaps that is why Pressfield chose a golf setting with Bobby Jones.  In many ways, Bobby Jones helped the South reclaim it's "honor" on the world stage by his victories on the golf course.  The Atlanta gentleman represented the Southern culture worship of "honor" on and off the field. 

Rannulph Junah was tormented by demons of the war and the death of his wife.  His driver from the war remains his companion, mentor and caddie -- Bagger Vance. 

The course on Krews Island is also a course to ones destiny.  As most golf course holes are named, the 18 holes on Krews Island are named for life's lessons -- Vigilance, Cunning, Love, Discipline, and Valor to name a few.

Vance guides Junah through the day.  But Junah must first break away all the painful memories and emotions that keep him from reaching his "authentic self".  The game appears hopeless for Junah as he reaches the 13th hole named Love.  Vance uses his mystical powers to show his true self to Junah and the battles they have fought.  Released of the past, Junah is able to play with the rawest part of his nature.  No longer playing with his head, but with his natural movement. And playing without his caddie -- Bagger Vance.

The game turns around for Junah.  As darkness comes and the game continues under the glow of automobile headlights, the 17th and 18th holes take on climatic elements as the heroic natures of Hagen, Jones and Junah become clear.

The story returns to the present where Dr. Greaves, Michael and Junah's granddaughter return to Krews Island.  Most of the island was destroyed during the Great Storm of '38, but the 18th hole remains.  A homeless person guides them to the last hole and soon is recognized by the doctor as Bagger Vance.  Once again a game of destiny is played.  Michael discovers his "authentic self". 

THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is two stories -- a great game of golf and a spiritual journey.  Both experiences are joyful.

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

2000 Southern Scribe, All Rights Reserved