80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2000
I never realized how different the book version is a compared to the popular motion picture version starring Robert Redford. As many of you know the protagonist, Roy Hobbs was a natural at baseball, but his career is sidetracked by a crazed woman that kills famous sports athletes with a silver bulleted gun right before his tryout with the Chicago Cubs. Roy never had a chance to play with a Major League Baseball club until he was in his mid-thirties and well past his prime and was signed to a minimal salary to play for the NY Knights. Despite his age, Roy played better than anyone else during stretches in the baseball season, and raised the expectations of the Knights ballclub from a bunch of losers to true contenders.
In his story, Malamud explains the highs and lows of any sports athlete - being in the zone and hitting slumps. The major differences between Robert Redford performing like Roy Hobbs, and the true Roy Hobbs in Malamud's book, is that Hobbs is not superhuman - or a "Wonderboy" as his bat exclaims. Robert Redford plays a mysterious Herculean athlete that carries his team to a pennant. Whereas, Malamud's Hobbs is a normal guy with exceptional ballplayer skills - but he makes human mistakes. I think what most readers of `The Natural' will be most surprised at is the ending of the book - it builds up climatically just as the movie does, however the end is much different. I liked the book very much, and I am an admirer of Malamud's writing style. I recommend the book; I loved the movie, and I comparatively loved the book - but in a different way.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 1999
I wish that I would have read the book before I had watched the movie. I went into The Natural expecting to experience an uplifting story of a country boy who makes good, wins over his childhood sweetheart, and lives happily ever after. That, suffice to say, is not the way the book plays out. As a warning, other readers who enter the book with those same sort of narrow expectations will doubtlessly be disappointed somewhere along the way. However, I would be remiss to say that, in spite of the aforementioned let-downs (and perhaps even partly because of them), I found this work to be a facinating read. Malamud details a commentary on life, interspersed with wonderful Arturian allusions, through a saga of the game of baseball. Hobbs' character illustrates that, contrary to the movie's claim, that talent alone is not enough to succeed in life, and the way in which the story unfolds, while admittedly somewhat simple, is entertaining all the same. Once I got into it, I couldn't put the book down. The best advice I could give to readers would be to be open minded of the storyline, and not to limit yourself to preconceived expectations (this assuming you have watched the movie first). In doing so, I expect one will find Malamud's style to be fluid and his tale to be valuable.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2000
In his 1952 novel, Bernard Malamud comments on the role of the hero in the modern world. In order to do so, he parallels Roy, the baseball natural and protagonist, with Percival the Arthurian knight. Roy is on a quest to join the game of baseball at the beginning of the novel. His first failure comes when he answers Harriet Bird's question wrong. When asked what he wants to become as a ballplayer, Roy can think of nothing more than personal gain. By inserting this in his book Malamud implies that many stars are in the game only for themselves. This refers to Percival asking the Fisher King the wrong question and being turned away. After a lapse of about fifteen years, Roy tries again to make it big in the pros. He joins a team called the New York Knights, an obvious relation to Arthurian legend, with the team coach Pop Fisher. Pop not only serves as a parent figure for Roy but he also resembles the Fisher King in the tale of Percival. Roy, who started out as a pitcher and is now a slugger, a reference to Babe Ruth, has made his own bat and dubbed it "Wonderboy". Roy's hitting is unbelievable while using this bat and he quickly becomes the league slugger. Percival, much like Roy, created his own lance with which to do battle. As Roy continues to increase in popularity, he is confronted with a wish from a dying lad at a hospital. His father asks Roy to hit a home run for his son because that is the only way his son will survive. Roy accepts this challenge and does in fact knock one out of the park for the boy and in doing so saving him. This alludes to Babe Ruth hitting a home run for the same reason. Malamud inserts this into his novel to show that even though most ballplayers are playing for personal gain, some also try to give back to the supporters. In a conversation with Iris Lemon, one of Roy's many loves, they discuss the importance of heroes. Iris, and in essence Malamud, states "Without heroes we're all plain people and don't know how far we can go." (167) This shows that Malamud respects heroes and expects them to set examples meant to be followed by all. There are many more examples of the hero motif as well as the Arthurian allusions near the end of the story, but in order to not spoil the ending, I will stop. Malamud does not only use these two motifs in his story but also many others such as color scheme, a bird motif, a train motif, and numerous allusions to events in baseball history. Beware though, this novel contains many scenes involving sexual topics. Malamud's use of these literary devices as well as his brilliant descriptions throughout the book make this story a must read for high school students.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2000
A natural is defined as one who has natural talent, especially in baseball. In Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel, The Natural, written in Arthurian legend style, Roy Hobbs leads the New York Knights into victory after victory. With his trusty Excalibur-like bat dubbed "Wonderboy", Hobbs uses his natural talent and leads the Knights on a mythical quest for the pennant. In contrast, however, a natural may also mean, as it did in the Middle Ages, an innocent fool. In the novel, Malamud uses both definitions to tell a story of a hero whose pride got in the way. Throughout the book, Malamud uses references to different colors and the passage of the seasons as Roy meets a variety of different characters. The father-like coach of the Knights Pop Fisher, his puzzling love interest Memo, the pure Iris, the crooked gambler Gus Sands, and many more diverse characters help create a theme of good versus evil. From the ballfield where Roy wages battle, to the Pot of Fire night club where Roy is confronted with evil, Malamud develops the tragic story of a hero on a grail-like quest who is tempted by the forces of evil at every turn. In the novel, written much like a play, Malamud utilizes a pastoral style to present complex ideas in a natural way. Using film-technique, which is movie-like changes in scene, Malamud shows Roy's struggle to overcome the evil in his life. Facing the fixers, the fans, the slump, and the jinx, Roy Hobbs embarks on a mythical quest to battle pride and evil in a classic tale of the tarnishing of an American icon.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2002
It always intrigues me that folks insist on comparing a novel to the movie version that a novel spawns, when in fact they have almost nothing to do with one another. I have never seen the Robert Redford movie version of this book, but I can pretty much guess that the Roy Hobbs as portrayed by Redford is nothing like the shallow, rather selfish, self-centered character in the book.
The only other Malamud book I had read before this one was "The Assistant", (a book I enjoyed immensely) and while I enjoyed this book well enough it did fall somewhat short of my expectations. Maybe it was because I was expecting a rags-to-riches hero, or maybe it was because I felt Malamud never got below the surface of nearly all the characters...
However, the story of the baseball season that the book does cover is exceptionally good, and whether a fan of the game or not, you will be swept along. And while I can quibble some about plotting and depth, Malamud writes splendidly, in a clean, concise, riveting fashion. A somewhat mixed bag, but recommended still.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 1998
The Natural is a powerful work that contains some of the most vivid imagery I have ever read. It is a story of human struggle and redemption through suffering. Roy Hobbs, the protagonist, is a flawed figure whose shortcomings are only surpassed by his ability to hit a baseball. Malamud manages to weave a tale that makes you want Roy Hobbs to succeed to be "the best player ever to play the game." To its credit the book bears almost no resemblance to the movie of the same name. Roy Hobbs is not Robert Redford! Malamud's use of imagery is well illustrated when a young Roy, on his way to a major league tryout as a pitcher has a showdown at a carnival with the Slammer. Each pitch is described in a way that shows just what a natural Roy is. His first major league at bat is also beautifully described. I must say that this book is not for the squeamish. It is an adult drama, well written and finely crafted. In short this is a book that is about more than baseball yet is baseball in its truest essence.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2005
Wow...was I wrong! Having seen the movie years ago and (I know I am in the minority) not loving it, but at least feeling happy with the end, I assumed that the book was somewhat similar. The book is so very sad, but if you read (and you should), you will see that it stays true to Malamud's viewpoint all along. The ending fits. There is much symbolism and good vs. evil and all that good stuff. In the end, it is an American tragedy, I think. A nicely written and very sad look at sport. And one that is still relevant today.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Like most Americans born after 1970, I was introduced to "The Natural" as a movie first. I saw it in the theater on a Sunday afternoon when I was 10 years old and was just plain mesmerized. Who wouldn't love that ending? Roy Hobbs, against all odds, hits that home run off the light tower, rounds the bases in a cascade of fireworks, wins back the love of his childhood girlfriend and the son he never knew he had, and strikes back against all those evil people who tried to ruin him. Plus, Randy Newman's score. To a 10 year-old boy, you could not improve on "The Natural" the movie.
A few weeks later I was at an older cousin's apartment in Brooklyn Heights and saw that he had an old paperback copy of "The Natural" the novel. The paperback had a different cover back then - an unraveled baseball with an eye peering out through the seams. Pretty creepy! I "borrowed" the book (to this day, I've never given it back -- sorry, Cousin Stevie). Then, I read it.
Man, that ending. Good grief! That wasn't how the movie ended! At age 10, this was most definitely the most depressing thing I'd ever read (bear in mind that my school curriculum steered us well clear of "Old Yeller").
So here I am now, almost 40. The movie version of "The Natural" fit America in the 1980s - saccharine, improbable, false. The book, which came out in the early '50s, was written for a more somber post-war America only just starting to fall in love with fast cars and jet planes. But, while "The Natural" fit the national mood quite well back in 1952, its fits the national mood now equally well. The story takes place in the early '50s, in a lost world of baseball - the Dodgers still in Brooklyn, the Braves still in Boston, night games a rarity and train travel the norm -- but the hard lessons that Roy Hobbs learns throughout the book are still relevant today.
OK, Roy Hobbs in the book is not a sympathetic character at all -- he's shallow, selfish, womanizing, has a lousy moral compass. That said, the forces arrayed against him are more than even better men could handle. He's got a millionaire bookie, a femme fatale, and a capitalist Judge, all in cahoots to ruin him. The odds are rigged against him even before he leads the New York Knights to within one game of the World Series. And, read and re-read the Judge's speech to Roy, towards the end of the book, about why the Knights must throw the final game, to avoid playing the Yankees in the World Series. Is the Judge wrong? (And Hobbs... still easier to root for than A-Rod).
Great books don't need to have happy endings. We can learn more about ourselves, our society, our values, from stories in which the hero fails. That's why "The Natural" the book is one of the great American novels, while the movie is, quite frankly, not even as good as "Major League". The book is superficially "about" baseball, which was still the national pastime in 1952. It certainly collects the most memorable baseball stories up to that point: the stalking and shooting of Eddie Waitkus; Babe Ruth's season-ending bellyache; the 1919 Chicago "Black" Sox scandal and "Say it ain't so, Joe". But it's not just a baseball book; it's a book about the American dream and why it proves so elusive. With its well-placed symbolism about birds as a harbinger of doom (young Roy is shot by Harriet Bird, and old Roy's pitching nemesis is named Vogelman), and the Arthurian tale of the Fisher King (Hobbs' team is called the Knights for a reason), "The Natural" remains a meaningful book even though the world in which baseball is king has long since passed into legend.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 1999
Comparing "The Natural" the book to "The Natural" the movie is like comparing a fine multi-course meal to a big chocolate cake. Both are fine to eat, but expect a lot more variety and nuance out of the meal, not just the sweetness of the dessert. The book is the dark story of a strong and talented man ultimately taken down by his weaknesses. The movie is completely the opposite -- a typical Hollywood story of a hero overcoming adversity to emerge triumphant. Having read the book before seeing the movie, I was appalled at the movie's complete change of message from the book. Although I can understand the point of view of those who came to the book after the movie, it seems a bit simplistic to fault it on the basis that the ending was a bummer because it was not the happy one of the movie. Hollywood has always done that trick well -- "Breaking Away", "Hoosiers", "Rocky" etc. etc. etc. And they -- along with "The Natural" -- are good movies. But Malamud's true genius in "The Natural" (the book!) is that Roy Hobbs is not an icon -- he is a superman who turns out to be all too frail, a man on the run from the demons of his past, seeking his salvation in the power of his talents.
There is nothing the matter with harmless escapism such as "The Natural" The Movie. But life is so much more complicated than that - a point which Bernard Malamud understands and commiunicates so well, and which Barry Levinson and his screenwriters have chosen to overlook.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2000
The novel The Natural by Bernard Malamud is one of the most thrilling novels I've ever read. It takes you through the ups and downs in the life of Roy Hobbs. At times the book became hard to understand because it seems to jump back and forth through time. Malamud does a superb job of revealing the characters' inner throughts and feelings. The setting is often changing, but the imagery makes them easy to picture. Malamud seems to throw you off guard with his ever-changing characters. Right when you think something predictable will happen, the story does a 180. The theme of the novel is clearly unveiled through Malamud's narration and also through the characters. Overall the novel The Natural was a tremendous book. I would recommend it to people who like to read about overcoming adversities and also to baseball fans.