- The Warriors
- by Sol Yurick
- Publisher – Dell
- Copyright – 1965
- 218 pages
Rating – 7.5/10
Review – Way back in 1986, I was in a bind. High school started the next day & I hadn’t read any of the three books that I’d been assigned to read over the summer: Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Jesse Stuart’s The Thread that Runs So True, and George Orwell’s 1984. I had to turn in a paper and take a test on each of those three books on Day One. Grimly, I stayed up late to finish in one night what I hadn’t done in three months.
But – I reasoned – you can’t work well unless you’re relaxed. So, I flipped on our TV and surfed through the late-night wasteland while on an extended study break. I ended up watching an old movie about a New York City street gang trying to make its way home to Coney Island after being blamed for a murder at a big rumble.
Waaaaarriors, Come Out and Plaaaaaay! Of course, that movie was the cult classic The Warriors. It wasn’t great art, but it’s stayed with me all of these years. (I’ve seen the film a few times since then). When I saw a dog-eared, water-damaged copy of Sol Yurick’s novel in a thrift store, I bought it.
The first 50 pages or so are consistent with the 1979 movie. On July 4th, gangs from across greater New York City head to Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx for a meeting. The plan, by a gang leader named Ismael, is to unite the region’s 100,000+ gang members into an army that will rule the streets. Of course, Ismael’s plan doesn’t quite work out. Violence flares and our heroes have to navigate their way back to Coney Island through the mean streets.
From that point forward, the material in the novel won’t be very recognizable to those who’ve seen the movie. Unlike in the film, the gang is known as The Coney Island Dominators (not The Warriors). Also, in the novel the Dominators are not blamed for the violence at the rumble & they are not hunted by the other gangs.
In the film, the violence is cartoonish and it’s easy to root for our heroes to make it home to Coney Island. The gang members in the book are much more flawed people. The book’s Dominators are violent – engaging in murder and gang rape. Moreover, the Dominators are ignorant, functionally illiterates. One of the gang members (who enjoys comic books) is “the reader” for the others, but even he struggles to read a subway map.
A Twisted Quest for Manhood
The teenaged Dominators are in a warped search for manhood and every interaction can be understood by how it affects someone’s perceived manliness. The Dominators are often pathetic in their attempts to prove themselves. In one scene, they pull out their penises to see who is the best endowed, then compete to see who can pee the farthest. It’s not hard to see why much of this material didn’t make it into the film – these guys aren’t that likable.
(Given the graphic violence in the novel, I’m surprised that it was marketed as a “young adult” book. While the novel concerns teenagers, it’s rough stuff).
Though The Warriors will never rise to the level of Hamlet among literary scholars, it’s well written. According to the ‘net, Yurick based his novel on the ancient works of Xenophon (as well as his experiences working with troubled youths in New York City). He also includes some good, literary touches. For instance, the group’s reader (Junior) continually looks at a comic-book version of an ancient tale of Greek warriors. The material in the book is symbolic of The Dominators’ journey. Consider –
“The Junior had followed the adventure story through the pictures. They had fought every inch of the way; the heroes were on the way home. The heroes were, The Junior could see, the hardest men in a hard world, admirable but, he thought, he wouldn’t like to be in their place, even though he envied their adventures. He sighed, turned back to the beginning as the train went through the echo-y tunnel, and the roaring darkness was getting hotter and hotter” – (p. 135).
There are some drawbacks in Yurick’s presentation. First, The Warriors contains too many indistinct characters for such a short book. It is difficult for the reader to remember which character is which. Also, Yurick didn’t really know how to end the story. The novel’s end is more realistic than is the film’s ending. However, the film – in true Hollywood fashion – ends in a way that wraps everything up & satisfies the viewer.
End of the Rumble
On the first day of high school, I pulled out acceptable grades on my papers and tests. (Thanks Cliff Notes!). The Warriors film stayed in my memory much longer than did any of the books that I had half read.
Both the novel and the movie versions of The Warriors are worth your time. However, you almost have to view them as two separate works. There isn’t that much overlap. (The iconic line “Waaaaarriors, Come Out and Plaaaaaay!” never appears in the book). The film is a fun adventure story. The book asks tougher questions, particularly about violence; for readers, (as for The Coney Island Dominators) there are no easy ways out.