Rural Stories

‘Last of the line, that have done its day’s toil’ (Heavy Horses, Jethro Tull

Once upon a time, the pioneer, the frontiersman, was the core of a lot of heroic fiction. These days as often as not, they’re the bad guys, especially in SF. There are exceptions –Laura Montgomery springs to mind – but the fashion especially in trad published sf is such men (and, yes most often they were men, or families, and very rarely women) are the villains.

Likewise the good solid yeomen-farmer hero – Sam Gamgee or Durnik from the Belgariad, has been relegated to being a dumb thug, or comic relief at best.

Now it is often said that social trends are downstream of the arts. I suspect that is only true in a very tiny number of cases, where books or movies change the way society sees the world – and even then they are rooted in the zeitgeist of their time. Most books anyway, are reflective of current fashion, particularly the fashion of the those who buy it. If it is a trad-pub book that’s the fashion of urban far left-wing New York City arts circles… so FARMER IN THE SKY is not going to appeal much to them.

Of course the Wuflu era has driven a lot of people out of the urban environment. I suspect some of them have not enjoyed it very much, and will soon flee back to the cities as fast as their Prius can carry them. On the other hand, I think there are going to be quite a few who don’t -and the situation you live in changes you, and your perspectives. They may have thought they’d change the dumb gun-toting hicks in the countryside, but like it or not, when the wildlife impinges on their lives (even if they’re not farming or homesteading at all, country realities make themselves known. Australia has strict preservation laws on several creatures – passed by urbanites, and ardently supported by urbanites – until the urbanite on a rural escape from covid finds a tiger-snake in the bathroom with her.).

Also, I think reality in the shape of economics is about to start changing the way a lot of us view things. It’s been near on 50 years since fuel rationing and a fair number of other societal situations that are totally alien to most of the population of Western countries. Real food shortages probably go back further. But yes, back in the 70’s the UK govt was asking people to only heat one room. And I remember fuel sales on odd/even number plate days. A lost of the first world relies on abundant and cheap energy to make winter something that isn’t an utter misery that kills people. A lot of the world relies on abundant and cheap food too. When energy and food are cheap and abundant, it’s easy not to appreciate those who make it thus. However, if you’ve read Neville Shute’s very popular post-war FAR COUNTRY, where the rationing in the UK was obviously much on the mind of his audience… and farmers in the ‘far country’ (Australia) are heroes, just for producing food — it’s a question of perspective.

A couple of friends – self-sufficiency-type homesteaders like me – and I were talking earlier today, about a perennially popular type of book/story and the heroes that go with it — there are versions going back generations — of the return-to-the-land type hero. It’s always a story of a lot of growth, mostly of weeds and pests, but also of the character, learning. It’s a battle of wits and ineptitude against the reality of an environment which as much as you may love it (and I do) is out to kill you, or at least destroy your food so you starve to death (I killed a huge fat hairy caterpillar that had eaten half my new rhubarb plant’s leaves today, and wasn’t stopping, either. Rhubarb leaves are so full of Oxalic acid they’re toxic and used in a few natural anti-pest remedies. No one told the caterpillar. Nothing is safe.). You start to understand why people regarded cities – where most of the pests had been eliminated, and ever available store-bought food as so good.

I think rural fiction – maybe even science fiction’s – time may be coming again. Good. I could enjoy reading some with characters I can identify with. Especially the inept ones.

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

24 comments

  1. Oh, yes – I remember reading “The Far Country” and the bleak and grim picture that it painted of post-war Britain. It’s hard to believe that rationing continued after the war was over for ten years!
    I believe that rural and small-town fiction still does have an audience – look at the popularity of Hallmark movies, set in small towns! And of my own books, the Luna City series has quite an audience. It’s been described as a modern, Texas Mayberry, or Cecily Alaska, from the Northern Exposure series.

      1. The mad success of “Sarah, Plain and Tall” should tell film producers where the real audience is.

    1. Kind of like the mask, distancing, vaccination, business shutdown and other ‘mandates’ that have continued for a year after they were proven useless, and there is still no end in sight. Our ‘leaders’ can’t let go of the power they have over us, and are desperately grabbing at even more.

  2. For many years, certainly since just after WWII real hunger, starvation level lack of food, has been for the main a matter not of supply, but rather one of distribution. The various bread baskets of Earth with modern farming methods have easily supplied enough to feed the world populations. Where folks have gone without it comes down to some ruler or political faction preventing sufficient food from reaching those in need.
    The current situation may very well change all that.
    Certainly the supply chain issues now in vogue will at the least continue to cause problems with selection in first world countries, but perhaps vastly more serious crises in cases where an entire shipload of grains or other staples simply cannot deliver to the intended end consumers, whether due to an inability to unload at dock or by lack of transport from dock to final destination.
    Or take the US’s own California, a cornucopia of fruit and vegetable production. But the entire state is rife with energy and water shortages and imposed use restrictions, not to mention regulations throttling the ability of trucking to service and transport what they still are able to grow.
    And much as with our Australian cousins, the powers that be who make our laws and regulations are city folk who have no Earthly idea either where food comes from or how it gets from the farm to their tables.
    Puts me in mind of on young but adult girl who was shocked to tears to find that the burger she was enjoying came from those cute moo cows she had seen in a visit to the country.

    1. To heck with California. That state has been the source of nothing but problems since Reagan left. If not for the relatives living there that refuse to leave, still believing it can get better, I’d happily wish for that state to sink into the sea. My patience with the fools living on the coast, that keep trying to destroy us, is at an end.

  3. *I suspect that is only true in a very tiny number of cases, where books or movies change the way society sees the world* (snip)

    Quantity has a quality all its own.
    —J. Stalin

    A lot of reading is vicariously experiencing unfamiliar things from a comfortable remove.
    Even if the polis prejudice against the province were universal, there would still be a a goodly number of people open to experiencing such things at secondhand.
    But the prejudice is universal at Manhattan publishing houses, and oikophobia is a primary class maker for them.

  4. On the urbanite finding a tiger-snake in the bathroom with her.

    Several years ago, a California suburb was facing an invasion of rats.

    A woman was complaining to a pest-control person about the rats and asked what he could do about the rats.

    He replied “if you’re not ecologically friendly, there’s rat poison”.

    Her response was “I’m very ecologically friendly BUT I HATE RATS”. (IE poison the rats.) LOL 😆

    1. Around here, because of the fires, we’ve had migrations of things coming down from the deep hills because they’re very hungry. We’ve had mice, rats, a few possums, and some other critters-and we’re not that close to the usual stomping grounds for them.

      We’ve also had warnings for people hiking the paths recently about rattlesnakes (how do you get rattlesnakes? People dump their pets in the woods, and, well…). Wouldn’t walk the trails right now, especially since people don’t like guns and they look at you weird when you have a sword.

    2. Supposedly in the 1970’s Los Altos Hills and such had a rattlesnake invasion because they were getting rained out of their normal haunts.

      And when we had a mouse in the house, the wife said “Get a mouse trap, and get it killed ASAP!”.

    3. Nah, just get a few good old Victor rat traps. Bait with peanut butter.

      Make sure you tether the rat traps, though. Attach each trap to something big and heavy with a steel wire or light chain that a rat can’t gnaw through. If you don’t anchor your trap, a rat can abscond with it, crawl off and die in the most unlikely and inaccessible places. You don’t want a dead rat you can’t find stinking up your house for weeks.

      That’s also a problem with rat poison.
      ———————————
      “But I wasn’t going to compare Congress to the Yakuza. Not to his face.”

  5. I know of one case where the urbanites came to the rural backwater and tried to make over the area to suit their progressive, urban ideals. People tolerated them and politely ignored their viewpoint, until it came out that they were taking advantage of a limited pool subsidy intended for people considerably less well off than they were.

    They got lucky, and were merely run out of town. From what I know of the history of the area, it could have been a lot worse.

    1. There are any number of smaller communities here in the US and elsewhere where “They just needed killing” is still a valid reason to take appropriate action. As you say, those urbanites got off easy.

      1. When I was in college the first time, a guy was found dead from multiple rifle shots to the back. Suicide, obviously, and the entire county had an alibi. The state police investigated and found . . . nothing. The guy was an oxygen thief, and not lamented.

  6. Likewise the good solid yeomen-farmer hero – Sam Gamgee or Durnik from the Belgariad, has been relegated to being a dumb thug, or comic relief at best.

    Lazy response, “oh, yeah, the guy literally named half-wit, that’s a great example of treating someone being treated with respect!”

    … doesn’t pay ANY attention to what Samwise actually did, or how he was treated, or the whole saved-the-world thing, but it is superficially clever, no? 😀

    Suggests that the contempt for folks who actually DO hard work isn’t new, at least. Not that “people were pulling this nonsense about the time of the first two world wars” is a good thing….

    I think you’re right about it being downstream is only somewhat true, but there’s a definite gain-of-function effect in what is pushed, the stories that are told, and what popular things are made louder.

    1. I do agree about the gain-of-function effect. With a caveat or two 🙂 The first is – like our media at present – you can go too far. The no-one believes you. The second is it only works on the neutral, ignorant or supportive audience – kind of like your current president as evinced by those thinking he’s doing a good job, 92(IIRC)% of his party and 4% of his opponents. The only effect is on the supporters of neither (which is not looking good for him). If you move toward a situation where the neutrals are few, and even your own supporters are bleeding away by reality, your gain-of-function still happens but only among your partisans

      1. According to my husband, the folks getting the 92% number had to use meta-poll analysis in order to “average in” a lot of very questionable “polls”.

        I’ve always wondered why nobody every does a poll asking “Do you regret voting for this guy?”

        Probably afraid of the answer 🙂

  7. The city/country divide is very old. It was an ancient Greek and Roman thing. Jefferson and Hamilton are closer, but still “old”, examples of the same.

    1. Nod.

      The “Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” (Headless Horseman) reflects the “city/country divide”.

      IE It was the story of how a “simple” farmer tricked a “more intelligent” city-slicker.

  8. Tony, I was stationed at Moffett in the 70s. We used to go hunt the rattlers for fun and profit. Poor sailors and all that. It was amazing some of the people’s reactions. Yes, country folks are ‘less’ willing to put up with crap than most, mainly because they’ve WORKED for what they have.

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