Westerns

“We are rough men and used to rough ways.” ~ Bob Younger

“Perhaps I may yet die with my boots on.” ~ Wild Bill Hickok

"Montana Noir" (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

“Montana Noir” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Why I read, write, and review Westerns

As a literary and film art form, the Western’s time has passed. And yet… there remains a small number of dedicated western fans who remain loyal to this most American of all art forms. I count myself as a proud member of this anachronistic remnant.

An article awhile back in Grantland caught my eye, “Dystopia Is the New Western.” Fans of Western fiction, and even more so, those who dabble in writing it, are forced at times to ask two questions: What has happened to the Western? And, does it have a future?

America can boast of inventing a number of essential “art” forms: the Blues and Jazz; bourbon; baseball and basketball; and the Western which gave birth to Hard-Boiled Fiction.

The Western, and its themes of “man (human) vs. wilderness,” rugged individualism, and the essential corruption of big business is in the DNA of the American psyche. It is our definitive and defining myth.

And yet, the western has all but gone away. And in its place… dystopia.

I have been working my way through West of Everything by Jane Tompkins. It is a “feminist” look at Westerns by someone who loves them. It is also the best book about Westerns and popular culture I have ever read.

To quote the book’s summary at Amazon, Tomkins believes that westerns were born out of:

a reaction against popular women’s novels and women’s invasion of the public sphere [in the late 19th Century]. With Westerns, men were reclaiming cultural territory, countering the inwardness, spirituality, and domesticity of the sentimental writers, with a rough and tumble, secular, man-centered world.

She also makes the convincing case that for men, and for women too, born roughly between the 1920s and 1960s, the Western more than anything else shaped our view of masculinity. I know for myself that that is most certainly true.

And yet I need to be honest with myself as well. While I know that the view of masculinity depicted in Westerns is not realistic and is often unhealthy, it is a view of masculinity I do not want to let go.

And so that is why I do not want to let go of Westerns. Why I read them even though the writing is often terrible. Why I want to write them. Why I want them to be better written than they are. Why I pop in a John Wayne DVD whenever life seems confusing and pointless. Why I still think the Western, along with Jazz, is the most American of all art forms.

And when we have totally lost both the Western and Jazz what will be left? Dystopia.

My Four Categories for Westerns

True Westerns
The best Westerns are those with real western landscapes and real western people. This is Larry McMurtry and Elmer Kelton.

Noir Westerns
A mythic/noir landscape peopled with archetypal characters. The tone is hardboiled and dark. The best practitioners of this in the short story form are (interestingly) both from Michigan: H.A. De Rosso and Elmore Leonard. This is the Western as high-noir art. It is my favorite kind of Western.

L’Amour Westerns
Louis L’Amour created real western landscapes peopled by cardboard characters. The women in these kinds of Westerns are particularly two-dimensional yet there always seems to be a “romance” of some kind to bog down the plot. This is my least favorite kind of Western.

Cardboard Western
This kind of Western is true genre fiction combining cardboard landscapes and cardboard characters in familiar plots. The inevitable result is predictably flat.

Western Reviews at ClimbingSky

Some Links to Western Related Sites

Links to my own Western Stories

And finally… some great Western covers

 

Last_Stage_West

Last_Stand_at_Saber_RiverArizona Guns

Bullet_Range


Gunsmoke_Vengeance!Day_of_Vengeance

Gunsmoke_VengeanceHigh_Vegeance_2

High_VengeanceVengeance_Valleuy

Vengeance_Trail_3Vengeance_Trail
Desert_Feud_coverWhispering_Range_coverThe_Lone_Gunhawk_coverSteel_to_the_South_coverShadow_on_the_Range_coverDanger_West_coverGun_Hand_Cover

AHell Fire Kid

Hell Utah

Hell Town in TexasHell Range in Texas

 

Montana_Bad_ManHell Montana

Gunfighter_from_MontanaMontana_Gun_Slinger

Montana_Dead-Shot
Montana_Road_2