‘Champion’ by Ring Lardner

Lardner, Ring 1916

Champion by Ring Lardner, 1916

The magic trick:

Shifting quickly from biography to comedy at the end of the story

This one plays out like an old shaggy dog story. You know the stories that go on and on and on and on, seemingly building to a satisfying tying of the knot, only to end with a weak little punchline. Lardner’s entire premise is designed to skewer the notion of the clean-cut American sporting hero. We’ve seen a very similar roast here at SSMT last year in James Thurber’s “The Greatest Man In The World.” There, Thurber plays his bit for comedy all the way. In “Champion,” Lardner appears to be building more of a serious character study. The humor is subtle and very dark for most of the story. Really, the thing could be called a noir piece more than anything. Then, out of nowhere, he hits you with the comedy in the end with the newspaper story about Midge Kelly.

It is actually almost shocking to note the change in tone during the story’s final two pages. I was caught off guard, and as I said with the shaggy-dog comparison, I’m not sure I really liked it. But the two-toned nature is definitely an interesting way to write a story. And that’s quite a trick on Lardner’s part.

The selection:

Joe Morgan hung around the camp until Midge and his trainers returned.

“One o’ the boys from The News,” said Wallie by way of introduction. “I been givin’ him your fam’ly hist’ry.”

“Did he give you good dope?” he inquired.

“He’s some historian,” said Joe.

“Don’t call me no names,” said Wallie smiling. “Call us up if they’s anything more you want. And keep your eyes on us Monday night. Get what I mean?”

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