Other literary forms
In addition to long fiction, Michel Tournier (tewr-NYAY) produced a one-act play, the monologue Le Fétichiste (pr. 1974; The Fetishist, 1983), the title of which reveals a great deal psychologically about many of Tournier’s fictional characters. It was followed by a travel journal, Canada: Journal de voyage (1977; Canada: travel journal), about a country that symbolizes a sort of promised land in some of his stories, as well as by Le Vent paraclet (1977; The Wind Spirit, 1988), a volume of essays that are not up to the level of his novels. Thirteen short stories and Tournier’s one play were published under the title Le Coq de bruyère (1978; The Fetishist, and Other Stories, 1983). In his short stories, Tournier explores briefly, pointedly, and often amusingly areas treated at greater length in his novels. Equally interesting is the group of what he calls “images and prose,” a sort of intellectual autobiography titled Des clefs et des serrures: Images et proses (1979; some keys and some locks: images and prose).
Tournier has also published in two other areas, both of which illuminate aspects of his fiction. The first is children’s literature. Under the title Vendredi: Ou, La Vie sauvage (1971; Friday and Robinson: Life on Esperanza Island, 1972), Tournier adapted his interpretation of the story of Robinson Crusoe to a form suitable for young readers. He also adapted two of the stories in The Fetishist, and Other Stories—“L’Aire du muguet” (“The Lily of the Valley Rest Area”) and “Que ma joie demeure” (“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”)—for young readers in the volumes L’Aire du muguet (1982) and Que ma joie demeure (1982). In a series of what he calls enfantimages, Tournier has published, among other stories, Barbedor (1980), an adaptation of the chapter “Barbedor” (“King Goldenbeard: Or, The Problem of Succession”) from his novel The Four Wise Men. Tournier’s children’s literature abounds in opposites—good and evil, beauties and beasts—as well as in ogres, secrets, storms, and miraculous adventures, all of which are to be found in his novels for more mature readers as well.
Another important aspect of Tournier’s books for children is the close alliance between the pictorial and the verbal, the image and the word. That talent undoubtedly has been sharpened by the author’s hobby, which is photography. In this second area, he has written text to accompany photographs by well-known photographers such as Édouard Boubat and Arthur Tress. Titles such as Miroirs, autoportraits, photographies (1973; with Boubat; mirrors, self-portraits, photographs) and Vues de dos (1981; with Boubat; views from behind) indicate that Tournier looks at the world as in a mirror but views it from behind, the perspective of many of his works. For Tournier, whatever view one takes of the world is but a dream that threatens at every moment, as it often does in his novels, to turn into a nightmare.
Tournier’s first great literary achievement was a work of nonfiction. With his intimate knowledge of the German language, he published, between 1950 and 1953, four volumes of French translations of the secret archives of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (located on the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin during the years 1937 to 1939) as Les Archives secrètes de la Wilhelmstrasse. The volumes contain more than twenty-five hundred pages of text on the subject of the Ministry from the tenure of Konstantin von Neurath to that of Joachim von Ribbentrop, covering Germany’s relations with Czechoslovakia, the Spanish Civil War, and the aftermath of the Munich Accords.
Born in 1924, Tournier belongs to the generation of Robert Pinget (born 1919), Alain Robbe-Grillet (born 1922), and Michel Butor (born 1926). His colleagues began to publish in the 1950’s and were soon grouped together loosely, along with others, as the New Novelists, not because their works resembled one another but because their novels represented a radical departure from the...
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