The Classic Western

Classic Westerns are the most familiar to us under the genre Westerns.  Authors like Owen Wister, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey captured the imagination of millions of readers in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and continue to sell well to this day.

Enjoy the scenery, but watch out for Apaches.  Roll yourself a smoke and keep your Winchester across your saddle at the ready.  The weeks of riding tall in the saddle leave you smelling of leather, sweat and tobacco.  There’s more dust in your parched skin than on the desert, it seems, but it’s a half day’s ride to the next clean waterin’ hole.  Keep scanning the skyline.  Keep ridin’, there’s sure to be a pretty gal at the end of the trail, and plenty of trouble along the way!

Here are some stepping stones on the Classic Western Pathfinder:

The book credited to being one of the first of the true “oaties”, as Westerns are sometimes called.  The Virginian has  had it’s cover changed countless times, to keep it fresh for the public.  The book is loosely based upon the Johnson County War in Wyoming in the 1890s.  This war was a dispute between large cttle ranchers and smaller ones ver grazing rights.  Written in 1918, and dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt, the Virginian was a success overnight.

The Virginian is a smooth talker, quick with a gun, and good lookin’ for the ladies. Almost strangely, the Virginian is on the side of the large cattle ranch owners, having been brought in as somewhat of a hired gun.  He is, of course, from Virginia, having fought in the Civil War, and now making his way through the West.  Interwoven in the plot is the growing relationship between the Virginian and Eastern school marm, Molly Wood.  Can she tame him?  Will he Settle down?

The Virginian was made into more movies and TV shows than any other Western.  It is truly the first cowboy book in the United States, and although it has been reviewed and the dialect “hard to read”, one must imagine that in 1918 the speech patterns were quite a bit different, and since that was only 20 years past the timeline in the book, I think you must allow some leniency.

Wister, O., “The Virginian,” New York, Signet, 2002 (originally published 1902).

Louis L’Amour wrote his first Western, Hondo in 1953.  It was a tremendous success, and as seen at left, John Wayne, star of the movie that same year proclaimed it the “best Western novel I have ever read.”

Perhaps Louis L’Amour is the penultimate Western writer.  Hondo is a wonderful novel, filled with suspense, descriptive lyrical text, and interesting characters.

Hondo Lane is a mystery man, a loner, whose background is only roughly sketched throughout the novel in a passage here, a sentence there. He is a dispatch rider for General Crook, traveling through an Arizona desert that he knows as well as his own name. In his lifetime, he has lived among the Apache and the white man, usually uncomfortably. Hondo is a legend among both, a roughhewed individual who will live in peace if he is permitted but who will kill without hesitation if he is attacked or disturbed.

After losing his horse during an Apache ambush, Hondo walks for miles, until he is lucky enough to find Angie Lowe and her young son Johnny’s ranch in the desert.  Hondo and Angie are intrigued by each other, but Hondo has work to do – he must carry out his orders.  Will he return to Angie and Johnny?  What happened to her husband?  Will Vittorio the Apache chief make Angie and her son part of his tribe? Will the Horse Soldiers defeat the Apache uprising?

L’Amour, L., “Hondo,” New York, Harcourt, 1953

Although written in 1985, Larry McMurtry won the Pulitzer Prize for Lonesome Dove.  This prompted the movie, and of course a tv miniseries!  Known as the book that brought the Western back, it is am imaginative, complex and sometimes mind-spinning tale.

The story follows two long-time friends and former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae at the end of the 1800’s.  Catle ranching is not as exciting as their days as Rangers, so the set off on a long and difficult cattle drive to Montana along with an outlaw named Jake Spoon, (who suggests the drive), Lorena Wood, a dancehall girl, Call’s son Newt, and their ranch hands.

Along the way to Montana, Lorena is kidnapped by a fierce Indian warrior named Blue Duck but is rescued by McCrae. Jake eventually abandons the trail as he takes up with several prior criminal acquaintances who then proceed to steal horses and murder farmers (“sod busters”).

There’s more, and one of the more central characters dies!  The action is ongoing, the timing changes, but is mostly fast paced, and you may find yourself re-reading pages to understand what the heck happened – but you won’t be bored!  Will they catch that rat Jake? Who dies (shoot, who doesn’t?) Will they get those dang cows to market or not?

McMurtry, L., “Lonesome Dove,” New York, Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage , about a Mormon-hating cowboy and a young Mormon woman who fall chastely in love when he helps her defend her ranch; perhaps the best-known of Zane Grey’s numerous (over 50) romanticized novels of the Old West. Zane Grey,

The Lone Star Ranger, the book that started the Lone Ranger novel series, comic books, serials, movies and TV show!

Tags:  Westerns, Western Novels, Historical Novels, Paranormal Westerns, Christian Westerns, Modern Westerns

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