Guess What's in the Woods: A Review of Ambrose Bierce's "A Tough Tussle"
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
Raise your hand if you thought I was going to talk about “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” when I mentioned Ambrose Bierce last week?
Nay, nay I say! Let’s talk about another short story of Bierce’s that many may not have heard of: “A Tough Tussle.”
Sure, we could talk about Bierce’s most well known work. We could talk about the themes and hidden meanings in that text, but no, I want to talk about a semi-paranormal short story. Google “hidden meanings in ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’” if you really want to talk about that; one day we’ll probably talk about that story here on the blog. Today is not that day though!
Today we’re getting back to basics with a review of “A Tough Tussle.” Also, a spoiler alert for the entire story is in order.
Our tale starts out with Second-Lieutenant Brainerd Byring. And yes, we have to stop and make fun of the name Brainerd. Obviously the name is one letter short of being pronounced as “BrainNerd.” Hard cut to some 90’s/early 2000’s humor of making fun on nerds. You can also make a nards joke if you want. Also I’m sorry if Brainer is your name and I’ve offended you.
Probably shouldn’t be making fun of the name for another reason as it does mean “courageous raven,” and ravens are one of, if not, the smartest birds out there. Also our Lord and Savior Edgar Allan Poe most likely has a pet raven in whatever afterlife world he exists in.
Back to Second-Lieutenant Brainerd Byring though. He is a Union soldier currently leading a night patrol as the rest of the squadron sleeps. Since he’s the leader of said night patrol, he gets to chill ever so slightly on a tree stump and think about the war.
Things aren’t peachy though. The area that Byring is chilling in comes complete with a dead body!
Now, death is the only thing that readers know of that scares this character; it simultaneously disgusts and terrifies him. He fears dying, but more specifically what will happen to his body due to the perils of war. He fears that he will be left to the elements like that of the fallen soldier in the woods near him.
As his fear of death creeps into his mind, he begins to believe that the dead soldier is ever so slowly creeping towards him.
The end of this story results in the narrator’s death. I did say that there was a spoiler alert for the entirety of the story because it is indeed very, very short. As to how that death occurs, I shall leave some mystery for you.
Anyway, now that I’ve taken quite some time to rehash the plot of the story, it is time for the review.
I can’t talk much about the main character since there isn’t much to go on. Like, the only fear we know of is justly warranted, and other than that, all that readers really know of him is that he is a responsible, hard-worker given the fact that he has risen in the ranks of the Union army to become a Second-Lieutenant. Like, he had to have been chosen for a reason. Said reason may be because everyone else was dead because this was the Civil War, but I digress.
Anyway, I have no qualms with this character. Byring serves his purpose in this tale, he plays his part of the unreliable narrator well; and y’all know how much I love an unreliable narrator!
Truly, this story’s terror comes from our narrator’s psyche. Again, y’all know I love a good psychological tale. His fears and the situation that he’s in are the horror in this short horror story. They are legitimate fears that one could have, but they are not my fears. Nor did these fears/horrors make me scared.
I feel that this story is worth a read, it really only takes 10-20 minutes depending on how quick you read, but I’m not scared by it. I appreciate the realism in the story, but wish it was a little longer in hopes that something else could be added to up the scare factor.