To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy (1949, Henry Holt)
Audie Murphy was one of America’s most decorated veterans, a man who acted heroically many times over during World War II. This book is his memoir of his time in the field, the end result of journals he kept while overseas and conversations with his co-author David McClure.
It’s not a pleasant book.
Everything inside comes from the perspective of a single soldier on the ground; complex details of the war are occasionally discussed, but for the most part conversations address more immediate concerns: family members, jobs and aspirations for when combat is over and everyone is back home.
The brutality and randomness of war renders all such speculation meaningless. Some people die. Some are wounded. Some are merely reassigned, with no word on their final fate. Through it all, Murphy does what he can to survive and to help his side.
The reader shares his pain when one of his friends dies, and the horrific relief when another loses half of his hand to an enemy shell… too grave a wound to remain in the combat zone, but something which will allow him to eventually regain a mostly-normal life. Murphy describes a man who fought hard until he snapped, psychologically, and hid; he has nothing but sympathy for the soldier while recognizing that the Army is going to treat him as a criminal. He watches as another man, a staunch Christian, suffers a moral crisis after killing his first enemy. He talks of violence, and he talks of sex, and he talks of dehumanization.
Despite the nature of his memoir, Murphy does not spend time dwelling on anything. A tryst with a whore includes conversation and a kiss, then cuts to the next morning. Deaths and injuries are catalogued with an unblinking eye, but after they are acknowledged Murphy moves on. This may have been out of concern for public decency issues at the publishing houses; such matters were paramount in the late 1940s. If it was not an editorial choice, it suggests something heartbreaking: that this hero who falsified his age so he could serve his country after Pearl Harbor had been so damaged by his experiences that his ability to connect with others had been greatly impaired, probably permanently.
It’s a book that deserves to be read, but it provides insight and not enjoyment.
The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok by Monty Pyton (1973, Methuen)
After the Audie Murphy book, I needed a breather. To that end, I started to re-read Iron Joe Bob by Joe Bob Briggs, figuring that it’d be worthwhile to take a look at John Bloom’s mockery of early 1990s self-help culture in an era where “toxic masculinity” has become an accepted conceit.
It wasn’t enough. I’ll still probably go through that title again soon, but I needed something which completely stripped the gears from Murphy’s book, and a first-person memoir wasn’t going to do it. Instead, I settled on the second book from the Monty Python comedy troupe, The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok.
I’ve mentioned my appreciation for the melange of humor styles which were on display with the Pythons. Verbal, physical, surreal, intellectual, base… their clashing backgrounds and influences led to a show which was unpredictable and had something for everyone. A significant drawback to this approach is that, for viewers who only enjoyed a particular form of humor, the remainder of the show could be unengaging.
This is on display with their books, most notably this one. While with their first book the group focused on visual humor, by the time this, their second, was released they’d hit their stride in writing for publication. This title presents some of their best work in that regard.
For many fans of the movies and television shows, the books and albums remain an undiscovered trove of material. While some well-received songs were presented on albums, for the most part both types of media provide all new work with contributions from all six members. It brought some smiles to my face, and that was appreciated after following Audie Murphy through some of his experiences.