The Warriors was first published by Sol Yurick in 1965 though he undertook extensive research prior to publishing his book that led him to realise that gangs have always existed. In the 14th Century, records show that gangs fought the Emperor’s troops in Constantinople for five days and nights. Yurick was fascinated by the fact that tough governments have been able to stamp out political movements but have not been able to wipe out gangs.
The Warriors is largely based on Xenonphon’s The Anabasis, but also At Water Margin (a Chinese Novel) and Paradise Lost. Yurick first got the idea, based on his liking of Anabasis and through real world experiences from his work at the Department for Welfare.
Yurick interviewed many New York gang members and observed their activities. He found that some gangs stretched back generations. There were gangs in New York of every ethnic type ranging from those that are very small to those that have several hundred members. He interviewed gang members but was fed stories they thought he wanted to hear so he hired a beat up panel truck, punched holes in the sides and spied/eavesdropped on gangs to get their rythym of English (ganglish) and body motions. Yurick also researched the route the gang was to take in his novel and walked the tunnel from 96th on West Side to 110th to see if he would get spotted. The book took three weeks to write, after this research.
The book itself is based on Greek history drawing upon Yurick’s fascination with Xenophon’s Anabasis, particularly the part right after the battle between Athens and Sparta. At this point in Anabasis, a mercenary Greek army found themselves stranded thousands of miles from the sea, surrounded by rivals. Yurick felt that this forced march was an essential element for his gang story.
Otto Preminger considered making the book into a movie and wanted to shoot the movie almost exactly as it had been written in Yurick’s book. However, the day before signing the contract, Yurick’s publisher received a more lucrative offer from Lawrence Gordon and The Warriors movie was filmed.
Yurick has published three other novels and a collection of short stories including Fertig, The Bag, Someone Just Like You and An Island Death. A Guggenheim Fellow, Yurick has written for many major magazines and taught in various universities.
The Warriors has parallells with his earlier book, Fertig, about a system of shared blame and institutions. In this book, a hospital let the main protagonist’s son die leading them to go after revenge. The book was rejected 27 times before being published.
If you have never read The Warriors by Sol Yurick, do it. You will be rewarded with a new perspective of The Warriors movie the next time you watch it and will be surprised about how many things you didn’t notice in the movie that are featured in the book. However, I’ll come to those in just a moment.
Fans of the movie might find the book tough to get into as the names of the characters and gangs don’t match those in the movie and the story didn’t closely follow the one depicted in the film. That said, in reading the book you will gain an appreciation of Yurick’s vision and why he was never really happy with the way the movie was portrayed his book.
The movie is only very loosely based on the book and adds a great deal of things that were not included in the book, such as the fights with all the different gangs of the city. In fact, after the meeting in the Bronx, only the run-in with the Orphans has a parallel in the book (except they are a Puerto Rican gang called the Borinquen Blazers). That’s right, no Rogues, Furies, Punks, Lizzies or the crazed Luther! In the book the cops are the biggest barrier the gang faces in getting back to Coney.
The essence of the story is the same as the book in that it follows a group of seven gang members from the Coney Island Dominators on their way up to Van Cortlandt Park for a meeting called by Ismael Rivera of the Delancey Thrones. The gang members attending the conclave get restless, start fighting, and someone shoots Ismael causing everyone to flee. The novel follows the Dominators in their struggle to get home but gives a large focus on one gang member in particular, Hinton, who is similar to the character of Rembrandt in the movie.
However, unlike the movie, the Dominators never get framed for the murder and are simply battling and struggling to make their way home through enemy territory which is full of cops. What’s more, the book is very dark and very gritty and the Dominators rape and kill on their way back home which is in stark contrast to The Warriors featured in the movie (even though there are some subtle references to this). The character of Ajax in the movie is the equivalent of Lunkface in the book and is perhaps the character that most resembles their literary counterpart.
“If you love The Warriors movie then reading Sol Yurick’s book will reward you with a whole new perspective”
If you have never read The Warriors by Sol Yurick and are a big fan of the movie, the book is a must-read. At less than 200 pages it is a short book and won’t take long to get through. My advice is that you don’t think too hard about connecting the book to the movie and enjoy it for what it is. However, I said at the start of this review that if you love The Warriors movie then reading Sol Yurick’s book will reward you with a whole new perspective and that you will be surprised at the number of things that you never noticed in the movie that form part of the story in the book. Let me give you some examples:
In the book The Dominators hide out in the graveyard after escaping the conclave just like The Warriors, but in the book many of them are scared about being in the graveyard and worry about the ground opening them up around them or that they will be attacked by ghosts. In the movie, Rembrandt exclaims that “this is a graveyard” after Swan tells him to look around to check that they are ok – a nod to this part of the book that you won’t look at in the same way again!
In another pivotal part of the book, one of the characters gets separated from the rest of the gang and finds himself in the subway playing the Sheriff shooting duel arcade game determined to beat it to prove how strong he is and to show that he can fight just as good as the other members of his street family. In the movie, the Sheriff game can be seen in the background in one of the subway scenes (Yurick believes that Hill had actually filmed the scene but then later cut it and there are production photos evidencing this). Again, when you see this in the movie you will always remember the scene depicted in the book.
The Youth Board also play a large role in the book. Having a Youth Board worker was considered a badge of honour as it shows how tough the gang are. It is no wonder that The Orphans were defensive of the fact they didn’t have one in the movie. In the book, the Borinquen Blazers (Orphans) indicated they the Youth Board were overworked and understaffed and that they would have a Youth Board worker any day now.
The book is certainly a deep resource of material for fans of the movie and also answers some of the questions most frequently asked by fans such as why the gang did not drive or get a lift home and why they did not just take their colours off. This latter point is contested at several times throughout the book by lower rank members of the gang who are worried that it makes them an easy target. Hector, who plays the equivalent of Swan, insisted that they keep their badges on to show their solidarity and because every cop or gang would come down on them regardless.
As evidenced by the afterword in the book, Yurick was never happy about how the movie turned out, despite it being a sell-out success, as it never reflected his story. Having read the book and seen the movie I can see why he felt that way. Yurick also openly criticises Roger Hill’s portrayal of Cyrus citing that he had no idea how gang members spoke. Yurick spent many hours spying on gangs from a hired beat-up panel van that he drilled holes in so he could see and overhear how real gangs in the city behaved so had good first hand experience as to how Cyrus would have perhaps spoke.
“The Warriors by Sol Yurick is a more realistic portrayal of how the movie would have played out in real life”
Yurick’s novel touches more on class and social attitudes in the late 60’s, the family culture and the relationships in and between street gangs, and the struggles of these youths trying to get by in the world. The Warriors by Sol Yurick is a more realistic portrayal of how the movie would have played out in real life. Yurick also frames his book with two quotes from Anabasis by Xenophon which is the book he read that gave him the inspiration for The Warriors. Interestingly, in the book, one of the members of the gang is reading a comic book version of Anabasis that ultimately made its way to the opening sequence of Walter Hill’s Director’s Cut edition of The Warriors that adds this all important framing.
In the afterword Yurick also muses that the movie everyone knows and loves was nearly never made as he was less than 24 hours away from signing the movie rights to another producer that wanted to create a movie version that almost exactly followed the events of the book. At the eleventh hour Lawrence Gordon offered a more lucrative deal so Yurick took it.
To sum up, the movie and the book are both great in their own right and that’s great because it wouldn’t be too much fun to read a book that’s essentially a transcript of the movie. If you view the book as a companion to the movie that fills in a lot of gaps and that provides a lot more background to the gang and its members, then I think you will almost certainly enjoy it. I did.
How does it compare to the movie?
Other than what I have outlined above, the novel is far more gritty and is a more realistic tale of urban life in New York City in the 1960s. The movie elects to use some things from the novel such as the radio DJ and the lines of command in each gang, but it omits many things. The book is called The Warriors as this is the collective name Yurick gave to all the gangs in the city.
If the movie followed the novel more closely then:
- Members of The Warriors didn’t wear vests. They pinned their ensignia to their hats (a Mercedes Benz 3-point star pin).
- The turf in Coney Island is 6 short blocks x 4 long blocks in area.
- All the gang members are of black, Puerto-Rican and hispanic descent.
- There were seven members on the expedition and not nine.
- Vermin was second-in-command, Ajax third.
- Cleon was not killed but made it back to Coney ahead of the rest of the gang.
- The Warriors were more violent and killed and raped on their journey.
- Their journey closely follows the New York map.
- Many gangs brought guns and weapons to the conclave and were fighting.
- Cyrus was shot twice.
- They called their Youth Board worker to give them a lift. They waited for him to arrive, got jittery and left.
- The fire at Tremont was a track out for repair/maintenance in the novel. There was a replacement bus service but it was too busy due to races at Yonkers.
- The Warriors showed The Orphans newspaper clippings and not the other way around. This was because (The Orphans) didn’t know who they were.
The Coney Island Dominators are the equivalent of The Warriors. There are seven members of the gang in the novel and they all assume positions in a family.
- Arnold: Papa (Cleon)
- Hector: Uncle (second-in-command and becomes father) (Swan)
- Bimbo: Bearer (third-in-command and becomes uncle) (carried 2 liquor bottles for spirit) (Vermin)
- Lunkface: Strength, eldest son (Ajax)
- Junior: Kid brother, carries a comic book (the story of the forced march)
- Dewey: Second brother
- Hinton: Artist, third brother, called Jim or James (Rembrandt)
Other characters include:
- Alonso: Hinton’s half brother who lives near Times Square
- Wallie: The Coney Island Dominator’s Youth Board worker
- Ismael Rivera: The Presidente of the Delancey Thrones (Cyrus of The Riffs)
- Mannie Bernstein: The Delancey Thrones Youth Board worker
- Jesus Mendez: Leader of the Borinquen Blazers (Orphans)
- Minnie: Hinton’s mother
- Norbert: Hinton’s mother’s boyfriend
The Delancey Thrones also reference other members of their gang including Ismael’s Man, War Counselor, Secretary and a Runner.
The Coney Island Dominators only get tangled up with one gang in the book (Borinquen Blazers) but there are references to other gangs as they make their way home through the turf of these other gangs:
- The Coney Island Dominators (The Warriors)
- Delancey Thrones (The Riffs)
- Colonial Lords
- Morningside Sporting Seraphs
- Golden Janissaries
- Borinquen Blazers (Orphans)
- Castro Stompers
- Jackson Street Masai
The journey the Coney Island Dominators take can be followed through New York. I have done my best to infer the route based on my reading of the novel. If you want to take the pilgrimage, here are the locations you need to visit along with my notes on each location (and here’s a handy Google Map):
- Van Cortlandt Park
- Woodlawn Cemetery – Spahis turf
- E. 233rd Street & White Plains Road (phone) – Golden Janissaries turf
- 225th station (IRT line)
- East 174 Street? or West Farms Square likely – Borinquen Blazers turf
- Castro Stompers turf (block wide)
- Jackson Street Masai turf
- Freeman Street Station (closed)
- Simpson Street Station? (closed)
- Down Southern Boulevard onto Westchester Avenue
- Castro Stampers turf
- Intervale Avenue Lesbos turf
- Jackson Street Masai turf (Jackson Avenue) en route to 42nd Street (probably boarded at Jackson Avenue due to train descending into tunnels)
- 3rd Av? (stop)
- 149 St – Grand Concourse
- 96th street (red line – as served by express (2,3) and local (1) and curve of track)
- 110th street station (Hinton, by foot in tunnel from 96th)
- 125th street (Dewey and Junior) – going wrong way
- 137th street (Dewey and Junior)
- 93rd Street and Broadway (Hector, Lunkface, Bimbo) – running towards Riverside Drive Park / Hudson river – heading south in park
- Station House (Hector, Lunkface, Bimbo)
- Times Square (Hinton)
- 42nd Street & Broadway, on foot, turned left into lights (from Times Square) (no turf) (Hinton), down to 9th Avenue, turned right, crossed road, back towards Broadway into subway with arcade
- 42nd Street (yellow line), Dewey, Hinton, Junior on train
- Avenue J – prom couples alight
- Coney Island (walked through Colonial Lord Turf – housing project/playground/handball courts)
- Boardwalk, beach
- Dewey & Junior head off with their girls (Hector and Bimbo’s girls are waiting)
- Hinton heads home towards the prison
Yurick’s Thoughts on The Movie
Yurick was not a fan of the movie. He thought it was “trashy” but beautifully filmed and said that an interracial gang would have been an impossibility. Yurick met a critic after viewing the film who didn’t care for it but warmed to it after Yurick explained the parallel with Anabasis which was not evident in the movie. Yurick also started receiving calls from reporters asking if he felt responsible after an LA gang member shot and killed after a screening of the movie.
Yurick was also surprised that the film had not been set on the 4th July like the book and was less than impressed with Roger Hill playing Cyrus, stating that “the actor was awful, the dialogue lame; Hill had no idea how the street kids really talked”. Yurick also noted that the random killing of a bystander and the gang rape from the book had been excised. Yurick also believed that Walter Hill filmed and cut a scene with the Sheriff arcade game which is a poignant part of the book. The Sheriff arcade game is seen in the movie and production photos even show Swan playing with it. Yurick said that “the apparition is puzzling”.
To read the book yourself, you can pick up a copy here.