Larry McMurtry McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 7)

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McMurtry, Larry (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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McMurtry, Larry 1936–

McMurtry is an American novelist and essayist. His landscape is his native Texas; within this setting, he treats the problem of the dissolving "worthy tradition" of the past and the lack of a present tradition to replace it. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[Since] three of his novels—Horseman, Pass By (1961), Leaving Cheyenne (1963), and The Last Picture Show (1966)—have been adapted to film, McMurtry has been responsible for revitalizing the filmic as well as the fiction Western. Equally important, his comments on Hud and his collaboration on the screenplay of The Last Picture Show make him a pivotal figure who demonstrates how an exchange between film and fiction can each enrich the other. (pp. 81-2)

For fiction as well as film, McMurtry recognizes that the continuing vitality of the Western genre entails new modes, but there is, nevertheless, a pronounced nostalgia in his writing. The title of his works—Horseman, Pass By, Leaving Cheyenne, The Last Picture Show, In a Narrow Grave, and Moving On—all suggest an elegy for the desecration of the land, the temporality of an older order, and the death of the patriarchal figure who is its embodiment. In fact, McMurtry claims [in In a Narrow Grave] that all his stories originate with "the heart faced suddenly with the loss of its country, its customary and legendary range."… Hence, his characteristic situation involves metamorphosis, whereby older, magnanimous characters capitulate to or are replaced by their less admirable successors. McMurtry's fiction and likewise the film adaptations make this accommodation for past and present by encompassing, though in varying degrees, the high mimetic, low mimetic, and ironic modes; significantly, originals and adaptations are set in the Fifties, the period McMurtry designates for the shift in modes.

The first of McMurtry's novels to be adapted to film was Horseman, Pass By, renamed Hud…. McMurtry defines [this] film as an example of the low mimetic mode which tends, at several points, toward the ironic…. Mainly, the modes in this film are defined by the characters…. Homer is the film's high mimetic hero. The distance between the high mimesis and irony is established by the blatant contrast between the Moses-like Homer who has "never been wrong," and Hud, who "just naturally had to go bad in the face of so much good." (pp. 82-3)

By contrast, the characters in The Last Picture Show are more consistent vehicles for their modes. Their portrayals, both in novel and film, show that McMurtry is again blending modes, but with a greater emphasis on irony than in Hud. For one thing, both film and novel contain a greater number of flat, two-dimensional characters whose presences heighten the satire and elicit our ridicule. (p. 84)

The modes in Hud and The Last Picture Show, particularly the high mimetic and the ironic, are amplified by the animal metaphors. In both Horseman, Pass By and its adaptation, the animal references to Homer signify his sympathetic response to nature, a trait reinforced by his refusal to drill for oil on his land. In his preface to In a Narrow Grave, McMurtry states that in former times the horseman was "the god of the country"…; hence, Homer's nickname, "wild Horse," indicates his legendary status, which even the cynical Hud recognizes. Homer's parallels with the longhorn cattle sharpen his character: like Homer the long-horns are the foundation of the ranch and a remembrance of times past. When Homer states that "them big horns'll never go through a chute," he is describing his disability to be circumscribed by the limitations—legal, geographical, and moral—of an encroaching society. The novel's animal references to minor characters are diminished in the film and increased at Hud's expense, where they are usually degrading, thus enforcing his role as ironic protagonist. (pp. 84-5)

In both novel and film version of The Last Picture Show , the animal references are more muted, due to the dislocation...

(The entire section is 2,207 words.)