The Tiger Of The Plains by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, 1845
The magic trick:
Building up a hero by showing his weakness
We’re off to Argentina this week.
We begin with an author who served as president of the country later in his life. That’s crazy, right? We don’t have too many world leaders among the hallowed halls of SSMT. But here we are.
This story is actually pulled from the Facundo biography, which also casts uniquely among this website’s entries. Technically, it’s creative non-fiction, which means it isn’t a short story. Except it kind of is. It’s a perfect short story, really. And the story it recounts, apparently drawn from early in Facundo’s life, is almost certainly apocryphal.
It certainly works as a fantastic tale. I mean, a jaguar chases a man through a bleak desert landscape until the man finds safety at the top of a tree. It doesn’t get much better than that for sheer suspenseful conflict with high stakes.
Remarkably, the hero doesn’t save himself. He is bailed out by his friends. But the reader leaves the story thinking him nothing short of heroic. In fact, we view him as being even greater than the standard hero. Seeing him scared and still able to keep his wits about him enough to survive casts him in a different kind of heroic light. Something more realistic, yet no less romantic.
And that’s quite a trick on Faustino Sarmiento’s part.
When our fugitive had walked some six leagues, he thought he heard the tiger roar in the distance, and his muscle fibers shuddered. The tiger’s roar is a grunt like that of a hog, but sharp, prolonged, strident, and even when there is no reason to fear, it causes an involuntary shaking of the nerves, as if the flesh all by itself was trembling at the announcement of death.
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