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Not only is Willa Cather’s short story “The Enchanted Bluff” my favorite Cather story that I’ve read so far, it is a contender for favorite story this year. She describes the river and landscape around Sandtown, Nebraska with vintage Cather detail and gives depth to the surroundings with the adventures and dreams of boyhood.
A group of local boys of varying ages spend their summers together camping and swimming along the river. The boys are named by the unnamed narrator; however, there seemed to be so many of them that I couldn’t keep them straight in my mind. This, though, only served to enhance the innocence of the times.
When one of the boys tells of an “Enchanted Bluff” in New Mexico where a tribe of cave-dwellers lived and how nobody had ever been able to climb to the top, an enduring dream is planted in their minds. A dream that gets talked over and about from year to year. Varying methods of how to get to the top take up their summer conversations. Twenty years later, the narrator reveals that none of them had yet made it to New Mexico; however, some of the boys now had boys of their own and they were now drawn into the dream.
I enjoy the fact that the title has the word “Enchanted” in it. Throughout the story, there is no magic, no fantasy-but yet the moments and conversations of the boys seem enchanted, magical in their own right.
An aspect of this story reminded me very much of Ray Bradbury’s autobiographical novel, Dandelion Wine. In his novel, boyhood and summer go hand in hand just as in Cather’s story. While Bradbury’s novel has what most of us would consider magic and fantasy, I have to give Cather credit for creating her own world of enchantment with the landscapes of Nebraska and New Mexico and dreams shared by boyhood friends.