An Ozarks Prospero
Henry L. Carrigan, Jr.
In his 2005 novel, Harington once again leads us on an enchanting journey into the magical mists and haunting hollers of the Arkansas Ozarks. He captures the eccentricities and innocence of these mountain residents much as he did in such treasures as Lightning Bug (1970), The Cockroaches of Stay More (1989), and Butterfly Weed (1996). Many of the residents of Harington’s little fictional postage-stamp, Stay More, make their way into The Pitcher Shower (Toby Press; $22.95), old friends back to share another tale on the front porch.
We first meet Langdon “Hoppy” Boyd in When Angels Rest (1998) as the grandson of itinerant preacher Long Jack Stapleton. Although Hoppy inherited the Stapleton place, he has decided to live an itinerant life of his own. Fascinated as a child by his grandfather’s ability to hold a crowd spellbound with his lively storytelling skills, Hoppy wants badly to somehow gratify crowds like Long Jack. Afraid to stand up in front of a crowd to speak, and unable to speak eloquently because of a stammer, Hoppy decides to bring happiness to the mountain towns by being their traveling movie theater, a “pitcher shower.”
Once a year, Hoppy Boyd announces his arrival in the hollers and villages of the Ozarks with a blow of his bugle: From far yonder down the road here he comes again, folks, Hoppy Boyd, the happy moving showman of moving pitchers to show you another good’un. When folks hear his call, they come a-running, clamoring for details of the shows Hoppy has brought with him, and anxious to escape their own workaday worlds for a short time to Hoppy’s magical world of shoot-‘em ups with Hopalong Cassidy. Life seems pretty uncomplicated for Hoppy as he travels from village to village, projecting his movies, observing the audience become enraptured by the films, and drinking a drop or two of the best white lightning ever made, Chism’s Dew.
Usually not one for much reflecting, Hoppy nevertheless often meditates on his career as a pitcher shower and on the gifts he brings to towns along the way. Hoppy thought the movies he showed “could be looked upon as if they stood for life’s journey itself, or even his own particular journey with his mobile pitcher shows in particular, encountering difficulties along the way and overcoming them.”
After a week in a town, lots of boys and young women—ready to leave their snug homes for the exciting world outside the their mountain walls—beg Hoppy to take them along as apprentices in his itinerant movie trade. Fearful of women because of his own lack of confidence in his sexual abilities and watchful of his independence, Hoppy rejects all these pleas as he rides off into the noonday sun.
Hoppy’s simple life ends suddenly one day when he discovers that a young boy, Carl, has stowed away in his truck. Ready to call the local law and have them return the child to his parents, Hoppy eventually relents when he discovers that the youngster has talents like juggling that can draw people to the pitcher shows. But Hoppy has some surprises waiting for him as he takes Carl under his wing.
Carl turns out to be Sharline, a pretty teenaged girl running away from an unloving mother, who is both uncannily talented in the arts of juggling, magic, and love and in the art of entrepreneurship. Not only does she sell tickets to the shows, she also acts as Hoppy’s magician’s assistant, entrances audiences with her scarf dance, narrates the writing on the screen for those who can’t read, and sets up a “concessionary” at the shows to sell popcorn and candy.
All seems well until an itinerant evangelist steals Hoppy’s films. All looks lost until Hoppy acquires reels of an unfamiliar film called A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While some members of the audience hoot and holler because it doesn’t have the action and adventure of the Hopalong Cassidy films, others are captivated and delighted by the story of star-crossed lovers and their fairy counterparts. Through a series of misadventures, Hoppy and Sharline’s own lives become a mini-version of the movie.
Much like Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest, the narrator magically controls the lives of the characters in his pitcher show. The book’s final chapter serves as kind of epilogue—like Shakespeare’s plays—in which the narrator provides an account of the “pitcher show” of Hoppy and Sharline’s life and other “pitcher shows” past and future hat might feature them and their friends and families. In much the way that Hoppy’s pitchers cast their magic spell on the inhabitants of the Ozark mountain towns through which he travels, Harington’s brilliant and hilarious novel, a book well worth rereading, casts its magic spell over us.
Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Henry can be reached at