Rediscover the golden age of the Western with this collection of four unforgettable novels of honor, adventure, and violence set against the magnificent landscapes of the American frontier The heroic exploits and violent struggles of the Old West come alive once more through this one-of-a-kind collection of four thrilling novels. Edited by Ron Hansen, this deluxe hardcover edition shows that the 1940s and 1950s was a golden age for the Western novel. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Ox-Bow Incident , Walter van ...
Rediscover the golden age of the Western with this collection of four unforgettable novels of honor, adventure, and violence set against the magnificent landscapes of the American frontier The heroic exploits and violent struggles of the Old West come alive once more through this one-of-a-kind collection of four thrilling novels. Edited by Ron Hansen, this deluxe hardcover edition shows that the 1940s and 1950s was a golden age for the Western novel. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Ox-Bow Incident , Walter van Tilburg Clark explores the thin line between civilization and barbarism through the story of a lynch mob that targets three innocent men, exposing a dark authoritarian impulse at work the American frontier. Set in Wyoming in 1889, a time when ranchers and cattle companies waged war with each other, Jack Schaefer's iconic Shane deploys many of the genre's most essential elements, brilliantly filtered through a boy's perceptions. Alan Le May's The Searchers , the basis for John Ford's cinematic masterpiece starring John Wayne, follows the dogged quest of two men to rescue a young girl taken prisoner by Comanche warriors. And Oakley Hall's Warlock , a novel that anticipates the later books of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry, casts the battle for control of a southwestern outpost as a bloody saga pitting a marauding gang of cowboys and rustlers against the town's defenders, led by the legendary gunslinger Clay Blaisedell. All four novels were memorably adapted for the screen, and their gripping stories--told with brisk narrative energy, psychological depth, and laconic humor--have contributed unforgettably to the Western's enduring legacy in American culture.
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The Library of America Series preserves and introduces readers to the best of American thought and writing. It has helped show the breadth of American literature and American experience. In addition to classical works by writers such as Melville, Whitman, Faulkner, and the like, the series has published a wide variety of genre literature, including crime novels, noir, and science fiction. The LOA, however was slow in covering the Western genre. In 2018, the LOA published a volume of Westerns by Elmore Leonard to accompany its three earlier volumes of Leonard's crime fiction. The LOA has now gone further in giving the Western its due with this new volume, "The Western: Four Classic Novels of the 1940s and 50s", edited and with a short Introduction by novelist Ron Hansen. This outstanding volume will introduce readers to thoughtful and moving novels that transcend the stereotypes associated with the Western genre.
Westerns, of course were everywhere in the 1940s and 50s, including novels, film, radio, and later television. The genre suffered from over-exposure. More importantly, I think, the Western suffered from a change in cultural values in the 1960s with a strong sense of skepticism about the United States. An important virtue of this book is the opportunity it affords to think freshly about the portrait of the United States and the West offered in these four novels. The books feature much more than violence and shoot-outs. I have found much of value to be learned about the ideals of our country and about the development of the West into a place of community during the past few years while I have been exploring the genre. Perhaps other readers will as well.
Western novels and Western films are inextricably tied together. Each of the four novels in this collection was interpreted and adapted into film. Walter Van Tilburg Clark's "The Ox-Bow Incident" (1940) which opens this anthology became a 1943 film directed by William Wellman and starring Henry Fonda. Jack Schaefer's "Shane" (1949) became an iconic 1953 film directed by George Stevens and starring Alan Ladd. In 1956, John Ford directed and John Wayne starred in the celebrated film "The Searchers", adopting the 1954 novel by Alan Le May. Oakley Hall's 1958 novel "Warlock" was filmed in 1959 under the direction of Edward Dmytryk and featured a large cast of stars, including Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda. These novels included in this anthology are valuable in their own right, separate from the excellent films they inspired.
There follows brief comments on each of the novels in this volume.
Clark's "The Ox-Bow Incident" is set in a small fictitious Nevada town in 1885. The novel is a philosophical meditation on the nature of justice and on the dangers of jumping to conclusions. A posse sets out to find a group of cattle rustlers and alleged murderers. They summarily hang a group of three innocent people. Written during the rise of fascism in Europe, the book suggests the dangers of mob action and poses questions about the nature of community, responsibility, and justice in addition to telling a good story.
Jack Schaefer's short novel "Shane" offers a sense of promise and change in the development of the West and a sense of vision and myth-making, qualities our country needs in the current difficult times. The book is set in Wyoming in 1889 and involves the encounter between a struggling family of homesteaders and the mysterious stranger who comes passing through. The romantic gunfighter, Shane, comes symbolically to usher in a new more settled way of life in the West. The change comes with its costs. Shane and his mystery becomes a symbol for the romance and individualism of the American way of life while the homesteaders that Shane assists show an idealized version of settlement, education, the value of hard work, and restraint.
Alan Le May's "The Searchers" tells an epic story of wandering in the Texas and New Mexico of the 1870s in search of home and of a woman. Two radically different characters, Amos, 40, Martin 18, set out on a six year search in pursuit of a young woman who has been carried off by the Comanches during a raid. The long search carries the searchers away from the possibility of happiness and a settled home life. As the search continues, the reader comes to feel more sympathy for the dispossessed Comanches. The older searcher, Amos, is motivated primarily by hatred for the Indians while Martin is dedicated to recovering the young woman and ultimately to pursuing a life of peace. Le May's thoughtful novel differs from the iconic film in several respects and is more than worth reading on its own.
The final novel in this anthology, Oakley Hall's "Warlock" is also the longest and the most demanding to read. The book is set in the fictitious town of Warlock in the Southwest from 1880 -- 1881. The primary character, the gunman Clay Blaisedell, is loosely based upon Wyatt Earp, and a scene in the novel brings to mind the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But the novel includes much more than this frequently rehashed gunfight as Hall introduces a variety of characters, including cattle rustlers, stage coach robbers, miners, gamblers, business people, prostitutes and others. The journal of a town businessman, Henry Holmes Goodpasture also is quoted extensively in reflection on the actions and characters in the story. The book is a mixture of harsh realism and of idealism in its portrayal of the West. For all their human frailties and for all the violence of the story, the characters and the Old West are portrayed affectionately and as larger than life. The book suggests that Warlock and its inhabitants are worth the effort to understand, difficult as that understanding may be, and to learn from and celebrate.
The Western novel often has been slighted by serious readers. This fine collection shows, as Hansen points out in his introduction that the best Westerns are "intellectual, literary, and classic". The Library of America has done a service in its exploration of American literature with the publication of this volume of Westerns.
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