Wednesday, October 08, 2014

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce, American author and journalist, 1842-1914

I've known for years about An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a short story by Ambrose Bierce.  It's included in a collection I have entitled Shadows of Blue & Gray: The Civil War Writings of Ambrose Bierce.  I'm interested in the Civil War and heard that this was a chilling story.  Since I'm in the chilly story mode these days, I thought I'd give it a go.

It is remarkable.  Just twelve pages long, it is a perfect story.  The writing is crisp, almost clinical, as the narrator describes the execution of a Southern plantation owner during the latter days of the war when defeat was inevitable but loyalty to the cause still ran high.

As with any great short story writer, Bierce manages to convey a strong sense of the personality and drivers of the main character, the man being executed, in but a few phrases.  And as with any great short story, there are one or two moments at which the reader does a double-take.  The end of the story, of course, takes your breath away.

I love stories like this one and writers like Bierce.  At least I think I like him--I should probably read more than one story by him before making such a blanket statement.

Read it here and tell me what you think!

And in case you don't read it, I assure you, it qualifies as an R.I.P. challenge work!


  1. Bierce was a superb war writer. When i took a run at him a couple of years ago, that was an inescapable confusion. It is a little odd that he is better known for ghost stories, although he is certainly good at those, too.

    If you want to look for more of Bierce on the Civil War, do not miss his memoir Bits of Autobiography, especially the chapter "What I Sat at Shiloh." It is in the Library of America volume of Bierce along with lots of other fine stuff.

    1. "What I Sat," ha ha ha - maybe "What I Saw."

  2. I too have heard much of this story but I have never read it.

    As it is so short I really should sneak it in between books.

  3. I recall reading it in school--I would probably appreciate it more now. It is amazing when one encounters a perfectly constructed story, such as you found this to be. I was reintroduced to it recently in the form of a recording of music by Scottish composer Thea Musgrave. The principal singer, Jake Gardner, is someone I heard growing up, as we had season tickets to the local Tri-Cities Opera (where he was the resident baritone and heartthrob). In any case, I thought you might like to know of this musical adaptation of the Bierce story and perhaps listen to clips (there is a link to its amazon page in the write-up).

  4. Wow, that is so interesting, Lucy. I did listen to the excerpts--interesting piece to choose for this kind of treatment, but I think it works.

  5. Bierce has become a favorite of mine the past few years. I'm also fascinated by the mystery of his disappearance and that no one really knows what became of him or how/when he died.

    I remember that, for an old book club I was in that had an annual "short story month", a member recommended this one saying it was good and "kept you hanging until the end..." :-)