Louis L'Amour 1908?–
(Born Louis Dearborn LaMoore; also writes under the pseudonyms of Tex Burns and Jim Mayo) American novelist.
L'Amour is a prolific and popular writer who has written over eighty frontier novels that have sold in excess of one-hundred million copies. His style of storytelling is suggestive of a campfire raconteur with an endless string of tales about life in the Old West. All of L'Amour's frontier fiction reinforces a traditional value system—a respect for the land, a protective attitude towards women, a dedication to the family unit, and a life and death with honor—which, along with L'Amour's entertaining style, makes his novels appealing to a large audience. Many of L'Amour's works have been turned into cinema and television movies, including Hondo and How the West Was Won.
L'Amour's works may be divided into two subjects. His earliest stories, and many others throughout his career, portray the wandering, tough frontier hero who is embroiled in many fights for justice, and finally becomes domesticated. Hondo is considered the best story of this type. L'Amour's second and most ambitious project is his continuing saga of three families (the Sacketts, the Chantrys, and the Talons), which parallels the historical settlement of the frontier.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3; and Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980.)
Michael T. Marsden
Louis L'Amour is the best selling Western writer of all-time. The reasons for his remarkable success in the marketplace are many, but none seems as pervasive or as consistently developed in his fiction as the concept of the family in the West.
The families in L'Amour's fiction, for example, his famous Sacketts, are often uprooted and transplanted from Eastern Soil to the Western landscape with their civilized virtues intact. Their romantic, idealistic, familiar attitudes serve them well on the Western frontier where they work to establish a new world in which civilization can thrive. While on the one hand presenting us with the formal familial triad of the Sacketts (the pioneers), the Talons (the builders) and the Chantrys (the thinkers), he also presents us with the more general family unit as a measure by which all other values in his novels are defined. (p. 12)
While his novels have most of the traditional, or conventional, elements that characterize popular Western fiction, they also contain a number of inventional elements that separate his fiction from the efforts of his less popular colleagues. For example, while the L'Amour hero is a tough, silent, and virile force protecting the interests of civilization that are constantly being threatened by the forces of the wilderness, he is also … in search of domesticity, of the family. (p. 13)
His development of a triad of families as a frame for...
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[In The Burning Hills Louis L'Amour] made his one and only attempt at Literature—but Literature lost, and Louis L'Amour became famous. Twenty years ago, L'Amour was obviously under the influence of T. S. Eliot: The Burning Hills contains dozens of references to "The Hollow Men" and the final section of The Waste Land. Early in the narrative, the hero, Trace Jordan, scoops up "a handful of dust" from the "red rock" in the shadow of which he is hiding, and in the book's closing pages thunder and lightning contribute much lively dialogue to scenes otherwise half-dead from exhaustion….
The women who feature in the L'Amour oeuvre are firebrands more often than not, as the philosophical Mabry in Where the Long Grass Blows has found to his cost…. Or they are like Maria Christina in The Burning Hills—part firebrand, part spitfire, part saint, but All Woman….
There is no sex to speak of in his fifty-odd novels. The only beds mentioned are at the bottom of rivers. L'Amour always fades out discreetly,… when passion looms. What rape there is is of the English language. L'Amour once said … that he was sick of writers who purveyed nothing but clichés about the old West. His self-loathing must have risen to immense proportions, in that case—stuck between the three stops of which he is so enamoured are nothing but well-tried, well-worn, well … clichés about the old West. And...
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Michael T. Marsden
Popular Western fiction has strong ties to the oral tradition in American culture. In his works, L'Amour clearly considers himself to be in the tradition of the oral storyteller…. (p. 206)
[In] the case of the oral storyteller, the writer is expected to be the spokesperson for the "community." This role is especially clear in the fiction of Louis L'Amour which reveals how a writer can function as a cultural filter, creating what become artifacts of immense significance for understanding the complex nature of American culture. (p. 209)
In L'Amour's fiction, the past is of major significance, for nothing is ever really new or being done for the first time. The present is closely linked to the immediate as well as to the distant past, especially in his more recent works, and the characters in his novels are quite conscious of their place in history. His readers are encouraged to share with the characters a sense of the past and are made to feel a part of it through the continuing development of the central families in his fiction. (p. 210)
[L'Amour] provides his readers with popular historical treatments of everything from the Custer disaster to the Westward migration…. In a single novel (Lando …), L'Amour instructs his readers on the historical and cultural importance of Madeira wine, the nature of longhorn cattle, the Great Hurricane of 1844, and the several cultural functions of a...
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[Hondo] remains a fine book unlike those which profligacy have recently made tediously repetitious. Hondo Lane is one of L'Amour's most engaging and interesting characters, rivaling in another genre Dashiell Hammett's creation of Ned Beaumont in The Glass Key in 1931 or Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe before Marlowe became sentimental. Hondo is self-reliant, capable without being excessively aggressive, sufficient unto himself without surrendering to greed…. Hondo is able to bridge the white and red cultures because he has lived five years among the Apaches and he possesses independence of perspective as well as of character…. L'Amour's conception of sexual relationships between men and women, such an important theme throughout his fiction, is a variation of [his belief] … that every man and every woman is a separate individual, best together when they are heading in the same direction. (p. 77)
Jon Tuska, "The Westerner Returns," in West Coast Review of Books (copyright 1978 by Rapport Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. 4, No. 6, November, 1978, pp. 73-9.∗
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John D. Nesbitt
To the person who reads with a slightly less abandoned mind, and to the critic who does not dismiss L'Amour with ridicule and contempt, L'Amour's novels are not just the same old story with the hero of each new volume given a different name and a different colored horse. His books have changed over the years, independently of story lines or plot formulas, according to an apparent change in moral and historical purpose. L'Amour's career can be divided into three phases—early, middle, and recent—and the novels from each phase reflect a change in his use of historical detail accompanied by a change in moral focus. (p. 150)
The novels of [the] early phase are entertaining in their unbridled violence, their directness of moral utterance, and their frequent (if pedantic) tidbits of Western lore and trivia…. Two of the novels from this period, Utah Blaine … and Showdown at Yellow Butte …, reflect L'Amour's simplest use of history and his most direct statement of morality…. In both of these books, history is the setting but not the subject. Historical range wars such as the Lincoln County War and the Mason County War, and mention of contemporary gunfighters such as Clay Allison and Wild Bill Hickok, constitute the backdrop of the land wars of these two novels. In addition, we are treated to details about pistols, rifles, and shotguns that were used during that period of time. But neither of these books attempts to...
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In Comstock Lode L'Amour tells, obviously, the story of people caught up in the great silver rush that played such an important part in this nation's history. If some of the writing is flat, and some of the characters incomplete or contradictory, well much the same can be said of life itself.
It is, in fact, pointless to discuss either the merits or weaknesses of L'Amour's writings, both of which abound, since it will have little or no effect on either the author or his public, which covers all ages, sexes, and intellectual areas. Suffice to say that the books do exactly what their creator intends. They present a historically accurate picture in an entertaining and informative manner of people facing a great challenge. Thus, while he may never be the subject of learned discourse in a creative writing class, it is not inconceivable that future generations may look to Louis L'Amour for guidance to the pathways of the past in history and sociology. Certainly he provides these lessons in a more energetic and painless way than, say, James Michener, to whom the comparison is more apt than many might think.
Steve Berner, "Tales of L'Amour," in Lone Star Review (copyright © 1981 Lone Star Review, Inc.), Vol. 3, No. 3, May, 1981, p. 10.
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John D. Nesbitt
Readers who wish to get a full sense of Louis L'Amour's productions, for whatever purposes, must inevitably take on his two blockbusters, Bendigo Shafter and Comstock Lode. These two novels, in their separate ways, continue the historical mode that L'Amour launched into with Sackett's Land, Rivers West, and Fair Blows the Wind, with the exception that the main characters of the later two novels are not members of the Sackett, Talon, or Chantry families. Both are marketed as historical novels rather than as Westerns….
In their broader features they perpetuate the pattern of all of L'Amour's fiction: there is a superlative hero who fights through adversity to ensure that the country will be settled and developed properly. Good and evil are clearly distinguishable from one another, and the conflict is resolved unequivocally through violence. The plot resolution, along with a steady stream of narrative comments, affirms the broadly held values of the mass audience. And in these novels, as in all of L'Amour's fiction, there is a sprinkling of errors in grammar, sentence structure, and word usage—errors that are overshadowed by a profusion of corpses and a liberal fare of "authentic" historical and geographical detail.
In Bendigo Shafter, the titular hero tells his own story of coming to manhood. Wise beyond his tender years, he lavishes upon his reader many mini-sermons about the...
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Louis L'Amour's [The Cherokee Trail] is both a little more and a little less than what I expected of the famed King of the Oat Epic.
It was more than I expected simply in the fact that I enjoyed it….
The story is mildly complicated in that many of the characters are thrust at the reader early in the story, and you have to keep them straight. Mr. L'Amour's simple, point-to-point prose is deceptively charming, and the unwary will find themselves swept up quite quickly in his tale-spinning.
In short, The Cherokee Trail is light, fast, and fun reading. It is ideal for the person who doesn't have much time to read, because you can put it down for a while, and still get right back into it. Mr. L'Amour recaps his action frequently….
Oh—Cherokee Trail was something less than I expected, because I thought there'd be more gunfights.
John Pivovarnick, "Fiction: 'The Cherokee Trail'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1982 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 42, No. 7, October, 1982, p. 260.
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