The American West in Lit and Film

I’m a little over halfway finished with the semester, so I figured that it was about time to post an update.  I haven’t been reading a whole lot outside of class, so I decided to share what I’ve been reading for The American West.

The first book assigned was Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

“His background is shadowy, his presence commanding.  He brings law and order to a frontier town and wins the  love of a pretty schoolteacher from the East.  He is the Virginian–the first fully realized cowboy hero in American literature, a near-mythic figure whose idealized image has profoundly influenced our national consciousness.  This enduring work of fiction marks his first appearance in popular culture–the birth of a legend that lives with us still.”–description from back of novel

I was pleasantly surprised when I started this book.  Initially, I guess I was expecting some cheesy, horribly written novel, such as you would find in a grocery store.  Surprisingly, Owen Wister is a pretty good writer; I even marked some fairly eloquent and insightful quotations throughout the novel.

Next, we read Shane by Jack Schaefer.

“He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89, a slim man, dressed in black. ‘Call me Shane,’ he said.  He never told us more.

There was a deadly calm in the valley that seemed to focus on Shane.

‘There’s something about him,’ Mother said.  ‘Something . . . dangerous.’

‘He’s danger all right,’ Father said, ‘ but not to us.’

‘He’s like one of these here slow-burning fuses,’ the mule skinner said.  ‘Quiet . . . so quiet you forget it’s burning till it sets off a hell of a blow of trouble.  And there’s trouble brewing.'”–excerpt on back of novel

I did not enjoy Shane very much as it was an actual dime novel.  Schaefer’s characterization of the characters was commendable, but the novel lacked that extra something.  It served as a good example of the Hollywood-ized West and a coming-of-age story, as well.

We just finished reading We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher.  It is a memoir of sorts about the life of E. C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott as recorded by Helena Huntington Smith.

“E. C. Abbott was a cowboy in the great days of the 1870s and 1880s.  He came up the trail to Montana from Texas with the long-horned herds that were to stock the northern ranges; he punched cows in Montana when there wasn’t a fence in the territory; and he married a daughter of Granville Stuart, the famous early-day stockman and Montana pioneer.  For more than fifty years he was known to cowmen from Texas to Alberta as “Teddy Blue.”

This is his story, as told to Helena Huntington Smith, who says, ‘My part was to keep out of the way and not mess it up by being literary.”–description from back of novel

I loved this book.  By reading it, I feel like I now have a better picture of what the American West was truly like, not just the American West of Hollywood.  Abbott did not leave out the gritty details of the lifestyle of cowpunchers, but he never stated anything in an offensive way.  If you’re looking for a non-fiction book about the West, I highly recommend this book.

In addition to reading literature, we watch various film portrayals of the American West.  We’ve watched the following:

A Fistful of Dollars
My Darling Clementine
The Man from Texas
Pale Rider
Along Came Jones
High Noon
Gunsmoke–“Kangaroo” and “Saludos”

Most of the films are pretty cheesy, especially Shane.  The best film thus far has been Tombstone but only because Val Kilmer kills it in that movie.

We still have two more books to read and at least 5 or 6 movies to watch, so I’ll finish updating at the end of the semester.

2 thoughts on “The American West in Lit and Film

  1. Glad to hear you’re still alive!! 🙂 An American West class sounds really interesting, and I think I would take it as a lit/film class. I doubt I would take it as a history class because I get really angry about all of the bad things the government did to the Native Americans. I have never read a “Western” novel before, but I think I could try it.

    Hope your other classes are going well, too!

    1. Yes, I’m still alive! Basically just because I ended up dropping Middle English before it even began. =\ It’s fine though because I’m still right on schedule.

      If you decide to read a Western, I’d suggest reading a non-fiction Western. The fiction ones tend to be fairly cheesy. Plus, I find the brutality of the actual lifestyle intriguing, and a lot of authors seem to glorify the “hero” figure instead of telling it how it actually was.

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