The novel Deliverance was written by James Dickey in 1970. The story revolves around four men from the city on a weekend canoe trip down a Georgia river. What could go wrong, right? In what starts out as a wilderness adventure, the small group of men soon encounters a couple of back-woods residents who turn the vacationer’s lives upside down. This bestselling novel is more than just a thriller. It is an emotional look at the human condition – in the worst possible condition – where vulnerability mixes with moral civility in a battle of life and death.
The story is narrated in first person by Ed Gentry, one of the four men setting out on the adventure. Lewis Medlock is the rugged leader of the group, followed by Bobby Trippe and Drew Ballinger. In their mundane lives as a graphic designer, a landlord, an insurance salesman and a beverage executive (respectively), they all grasp for opportunities to escape their dull existences.
The valley the winding Cahulawassee River runs through is scheduled to be flooded. It will become a planned reservoir, the kind of paradise real-estate investors’ drool over. But in Deliverance, the river is more symbolic of the changing times of humanity. It is a cleansing or burial of the old ways to make room for the new, modern way of life. The Cahulawassee River is more than just a journey for the four men. It is a reflection of their desire for change from the ordinary and a chance to face their stoic existences. When the reader considers the significance of the river, they will gain a better understanding of the characters.
The cultural implication of the valley locals is almost as enlightening as it is disturbing. As the main characters step into this different world, the reader experiences the same trepidation in anticipation of something bad about to happen. From sexual assault to self-defense and murder, Dickey weaves a suspenseful clash between two very different worlds. The notion that such culturally diverse societies can live within the same geographic proximity is nothing short of amazing.
The book verses movie argument will almost always result in a split decision, well, that is depending on the particular audience’s favorite form of media. If one prevails greatly over the other, it is usually based on which came first. Books based on movies are far less cerebral than their movie counterparts because most are mere derivatives of a script. On the other hand, movies based on books might tend to be less in depth than the paged version simply because they are condensations of the larger work, dictated by time restraints of the audience.
The fact that James Dickey penned the novel Deliverance as well as the screen play two years later comes as no surprise. Having viewed the movie decades before reading the book, it is comforting to know that they both hold true to the overall theme. Sure there are some subtle differences, but they both give the audience the same understanding of society’s desire for change and the cultural differences which prevents it. Movie or book, they’re both worth the look.