Thursday, August 13, 2020
Hemingway’s Sun Valley Offers Local Examples of Hemingway’s Heroic Code
Phil Huss says Hemingway’s earlier years in Sun Valley were some of the most memorable of his life, but his final years entailed some of his darkest times as he grappled with memory loss and other health issues that affected his writing.
Monday, July 20, 2020


Ernest Hemingway’s Heroic Code stands prominently in Phil Huss’s classroom at the Sun Valley Community School, among stacks of books on fly fishing, and classics such as Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire.”

It lists 10 of the late Sun Valley author’s principles, including “Speak Through Actions,” “Complete Tasks Well,” “Value Nature,” “Take Responsibility for Wrongs” and “Self Assess.”

This code informed much of Hemingway’s writings, and it informed much of the time he spent in the Sun Valley area—his final resting place.

Phil Huss says he has attempted to follow Hemingway’s Heroic Code throughout his life.

Now, Huss has written a book “Hemingway’s Sun Valley: Local Stories Behind His Code, Character and Crisis,” in which each chapter is organized around one principle of the Hemingway Code.

The book, published by Arcadia Publishing: The History Press launches today. And Huss will discuss his book and sign copies at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 21—Ernest Hemingway’s birthday—at The Community Library in Ketchum.

“These principles show up in the people he most admired, whether Robert Jordan in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ or local people like Lloyd and Tillie Arnold, Bud Purdy—people he referred to as ‘The Family,’ ” Huss said.

The death of Gene Van Guilder in a hunting accident on the Snake River illustrates just how seriously Hemingway took the code, Huss said. You’re never supposed to have two people shooting at the same time from a moving craft, Huss said, but that’s what happened that day.

Phil Huss says he often takes a moment during early morning jogs to the Hemingway Memorial to nod thanks for Hemingway stories “that allow me to create powerful moments in classroom.”

While Hemingway was not on that trip, he learned about it when a distraught Lloyd Arnold returned to Sun Valley and went immediately too Room 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge to inform Hemingway.

“Even though I wasn’t there, I share in the responsibility as a hunter,” said Hemingway, noting the hunter’s code.

Huss was turned onto Hemingway as a boy growing up in Pittsburgh when he read “Old Man and the Sea.” Already an avid fisherman, he felt an instant connection to the author. And his love for poetry only deepened that connection.

“Hemingway brought the principles of Modern American Poetry to his prose,” Huss said. “His writings feel like mini poems even though they’re novels. With Hemingway, his images matter, repetition matters.”

Each chapter in Phil Huss’s book leads with Sun Valley stories that develop the code principle; the second half of the chapter develops how moments from his most famous texts embody the code principle, as well.

Moving to Sun Valley in 2000 gave Huss all the more reason to teach Hemingway as he had the opportunity to walk where Hemingway had walked, see Room 206 where he wrote “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and talk with local residents like Peter Gray who had known Hemingway.

He began teaching an English elective on Hemingway 15 years ago, teaching what he calls “Hemingway’s  greatest hits,” including “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Sun Also Rises.”

In time, he began realizing that his students didn’t understand what had attracted Hemingway to Sun Valley. So, he began having them create short documentary films on Trail Creek, the Ketchum Cemetery, the Hemingway House and other Hemingway sites in the Wood River Valley and presenting them to the public at the Sun Valley Museum of History.

“What I began to realize is that local stories help you better understand Hemingway and his seminal novels, his heroes, his non-heroes,” he said. “I hope people will read my Hemingway text alongside his novels.”

To write his book, Huss read Lloyd Arnold’s “High on the Wild with Hemingway,” Tillie Arnold’s ”The Idaho Hemingway” and Dorice Taylor’s Sun Valley stories. He perused oral interviews that The Community Library’s Regional History Department has turned into YouTube videos.

He presented lectures at the Ernest Hemingway Seminar held each September at The Community Library, and he told business leaders at the Tugboat Institute how the Hemingway Heroic Code can serve as a platform for codifying core principles of a company. And he listened to others.

He learned how Hemingway would get up at dawn in Room 206 of Sun Valley Lodge and write standing up until noon, whether he was inspired that day or not. Then he’d have lunch at the Lodge and gather friends and guides to go hunting.

“It dovetails with what I do here, leading outdoor trips for the school, teaching fly fishing, tennis,” said Huss, who had just returned from taking students into the White Clouds while studying American environmental wilderness policy.

Huss hopes readers will learn things about Hemingway they did not know by reading his book—how Hemingway hunted pronghorn in the Pahsimeroi Mountains east of Sun Valley, for instance.

One of his stories, which he believes is being published for the first time, recounts how Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary were returning to Sun Valley from Wyoming when Mary suffered a tubular pregnancy. Without a doctor handy, Hemingway started the blood transfusion which helped save his wife.

“Talk about fiction prefiguring reality,” Huss said referring to the tubular pregnancy Hemingway had written about in 1929 in “A Farewell to Arms.” “Grace under pressure.”

Another local story involves Hemingway’s affinity for taking women, such as Clara Spiegel, Anita Gray and Ruth Purdy, on pheasant and duck hunts because he didn’t want an all-male affair. He loved teaching the women about hunting, giving each one shotgun shell. And he told them to use that shot well.

In another story Huss recounts how Spanish Civil War photographer Robert Capa photographed a huge spread on Hemingway hunting for Life magazine. One of captions called Hemingway a perfect shot who never misses a bird.

“Hemingway hated that because any hunter knows you’re lucky if you get 50 percent to 60 percent of what you shoot at. And it went against his Heroic Code, which says you never talk about how great you are as a writer or a hunter.”

One day Sun Valley Founder Averell Harriman asked Hemingway how the day’s hunting had been. And when Hemingway replied not so well, Harriman said he was so disappointed since Hemingway was reputed to be a perfect shot.

“For the first time in his life, Hemingway didn’t correct,” Huss said. “Bud Purdy said that another day Hemingway got three ducks in three pulls. And he couldn’t ’have been any happier if someone had given him a million dollars.”


Phil Huss will discuss his new book and sign copies during a free lecture at 6 p.m. Tuesday, at Ketchum’s Community Library. Those attending the event should wear masks and socially distance, in accordance with Ketchum’s mask mandate.

Copies of his book are available at Chapter One Bookstore, Iconoclast Books, Silver Creek Outfitters, Lost River Outfitters, the Sun Valley Museum of History and, The Nature Conservancy Visitor Center at Silver Creek Preserve.


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