‘Feathertop’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Feathertop by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1852

The magic trick:

Reveling in anticlimax

This is neither a story set at Thanksgiving nor one about giving thanks. But there’s something about it that strikes me as perfectly fitting for today. Certainly, it is a great seasonal story, set as it is in autumnal old New England, complete with scarecrows and witches.

I love this story. It’s scary at times; almost as fun as a children’s story at others. It’s got humor. It’s got misanthropic social commentary. And its momentum builds so that after awhile, we’ve got a very suspenseful plot going.

But just as the narrative seems to be peaking, Hawthorne drops the threads. He shuts it down. He drops an easy solution and the conclusion comes swiftly with some serious anticlimax.

This is not a criticism. I think it’s fair to assume this antiheroism is in fact the story’s main idea. Enough with traditional story arcs and hero’s tales. Sometimes the creation just doesn’t work. Sometimes the creator just doesn’t feel like trying again. Sometimes the story just ends. And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.

The selection:

Then the old dame stood the figure up in a corner of her cottage, and chuckled to behold its yellow semblance of a visage, with its knobby little nose thrust into the air. It had a strangely self-satisfied aspect, and seemed to say – “Come look at me!”

“And you are well worth looking at – that’s a fact!” quoth Mother Rigby, in admiration at her own handiwork. “I’ve made many a puppet, since I’ve been a witch; but methinks this is the finest of them all. ‘Tis almost too good for a scarecrow. And, by and by, I’ll just fill a fresh pipe of tobacco, and then take him out to the corn-patch.”


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