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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.)
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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 viewing the settling of the West is a highly innovative element in his fiction. (p. 15)
[The] formal family groupings may well constitute the most ambitious and complex attempt to date to create a Faulknerian series of interrelated characters and events in the popular Western tradition. L'Amour seems to be able to create in his readers a feeling of belonging to a tradition; this in turn provides L'Amour with the basis for a popular, organic fiction that creates a familiar yet ever unfolding world within the formulaic Western world.
While this triad of families provides a formal structure within which the characters and events exist and to which the readers relate and refer throughout his fiction, there are also less formal family structures and images in L'Amour's works which provide the overall framework for an entire set of beliefs, attitudes, and values which characterize his fiction. The concept of the family is the thread that becomes the texture of his most successful fiction. (p. 16)
Whether the particular L'Amour hero is a pioneer, a gunfighter, a builder, or an intellectual, his value system is the same. For his qualities are those that built the West of the American imagination and qualities that define the fiction of Louis L'Amour.
The Female Principle receives significant attention in L'Amour's fiction because it is an essential element of his formulaic innovation of the concept of the family. A particular theme that receives repeated emphasis is the scarcity and consequent sanctity of womanhood in the West. In L'Amour's fiction there is no greater Western sin than molesting a woman…. (p. 17)
L'Amour's fiction moves towards the hearth and the implied social institutions with the same certainty evidenced by the lone cowboy in the well-known Christmas season advertisement for Marlboro cigarettes who drags his Christmas tree behind his horse as they move slowly, gracefully, yet surely towards the cabin marked in the snow by the warm, hearth-centered smoke pouring from its humble yet solid chimney. (p. 18)
While they embrace the hearth, the characters in L'Amour's fiction are at the same time quite conscious of their ties to the land, a conventional aspect of popular Western fiction that L'Amour enlarges by suggesting that the hearth is a second stage of development…. This hearth-modified view of the landscape adds the dimension of holding the land in trust for future generations to L'Amour's fiction. (p. 19)
The family is the protector of the law, moral standards, and social order. Without the family there is only the wilderness and its counterpart, savagery, a truth of which the Indians in L'Amour's fiction are keenly aware. For they, unlike the white man they often had to fight, would return to their lodges and their families after a battle. They considered their white enemies savages who wanted to fight family-less wars instead of family-centered battles.
L'Amour considers himself and his novels to be in the tradition of the oral story teller and his tales; he uses fiction as the vehicle of communicating with his ever increasing audience. But he considers his fiction a continuing epic of the American West that is a romance which combines elements of the West as it was with qualities of the West as it ought to have been. Despite the fact that he has sixty-seven titles in print, Louis L'Amour is writing one long tale with many parts, focusing on three families in particular and on the concept of the family in general as he unfolds the saga of the settling of the West. (p. 21)
Michael T. Marsden. "The Concept of the Family in the Fiction of Louis L'Amour" (originally a paper presented at the Popular Culture Association convention in April, 1977), in North Dakota Quarterly (copyright 1978 by The University of North Dakota), Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer, 1978, pp. 12-21.
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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 other clichés, too; "His eyes narrowed with thought" is a good example. Try it. In all fairness, though, it has to be conceded that there are some fine moments, as the following exchange indicates:
Temperamental as he is not, L'Amour is not exactly adept at ringing the changes of his plots either…. For all that, High Lonesome is not radically different from The Burning Hills. The good man triumphs over the villains, who are in hot pursuit, and ends up in the arms of the tamed tigress.
Paul Bailey, "A Man Is a Man …," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3937, August 26, 1977, p. 1037.
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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 Western saloon, all the while providing them with an entertaining romance. This approach to writing popular fiction is what Irving Wallace refers to as "faction," or the careful and skillful combination of real details with a fictional story. L'Amour takes the classical mandate for the writer/storyteller quite seriously: he writes to instruct as well as to entertain. (p. 211)
L'Amour's treatment of the American Indian is worthy of special note as a cultural indicator. His fiction early deviated from the purely formulaic treatment of the Indian and developed an interesting balanced view. (p. 212)
L'Amour's success as a writer has provided him the freedom to delineate his views on the Indian—who has been both maligned and beatified but not understood—in an extended number of novels.
L'Amour's treatment of women, however, has been inconsistent, suggesting that various social and cultural pressures, some contemporary and some historical, have influenced his work…. [Emily Talon in Ride the Dark Trail] defends the Talon empire against the villains who would destroy what she and her husband had built for future generations. She is quick and deadly, and by the end of the novel has not only shot out both kneecaps of a particular villain, but has also littered her homestead with a large number of corpses. Yet, at the same time, L'Amour stresses the stereotyped attitudes towards women, such as their being graceful creatures in need of zealous protection. He reflects a generally protective attitude toward women (evident in plots that emphasize that the quickest way to get hanged was to molest a woman), but invariably he has his protagonist indicate that he is looking for a woman who "will walk beside him and not behind him."
A possible explanation for this inconsistency is that L'Amour himself does not have a clear image of American womanhood. An even more probable explanation is that his fiction, like that of other popular writers who enjoy large audiences, reflects the pluralism of his society. To be successful, popular fiction must come to terms with a multiplicity of roles, sexual and other, which exist in the larger society. (p. 213)
Michael T. Marsden, "The Popular Western Novel As a Cultural Artifact" (reprinted by permission of the author; a revision of a lecture read at the American Historical Association on August 18, 1978), in Arizona and the West, Vol. 20, No. 3, Autumn, 1978, pp. 203-14.∗
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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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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 articulate or depict history itself; they are, as Henry James said of romantic fiction, "at large and unrelated," isolated excursions into a fictional and stylized Wild West. Out of these two conventional stories of the struggle for land come the expected moral conclusions: it is wrong to defraud the government of land, it is wrong to grab land from honest homesteaders, and it is wrong to settle the land without having reverence for it. It is right to love the land, to care for one's horse, and to give up the driftin' life in favor of settling down to married life and ranching. And along the way we learn a little lore as well, such as "Man freezes mightly quick, drinkin' whisky," and that a man can boil water in a cup made of birch bark. All in all, the lore, the trivia, the historical detail, and the morality, along with the numerous shootings and fistfights, add up to pretty light material—even for L'Amour.
In his other novels of this period, L'Amour's fiction takes on more purpose in depicting time and place and in expressing morality. Hondo is his best-known novel of the early phase, and one of his best-known overall…. The setting is more than functional … in the dimensions that it takes on. The desert, with its historical endowment of hostile Apaches, pervades all that takes place in the actions and thoughts of the main characters. Hondo Lane's guiding principle is to understand the desert, to know it, and to survive wisely in it…. Hondo's outlook, then, is a moral framework for information that would otherwise be gratuitous. In Hondo we learn, as we often do in L'Amour's novels, how to build a fire that won't be seen. We also learn, as we do elsewhere, that Apaches eat mule and horse meat, but not pork or fish. Where in other contexts this information is thrust in irrelevantly, here it sustains the prevailing sense of the desert and the need to live thoughtfully in it. (pp. 151-52)
In this novel the highest values are to survive with honor, to pass on what one has learned, and to die well. Like the characteristic L'Amour hero, Hondo doesn't die, but he does prepare to die well when he is faced with what seems to be certain death.
The values embodied and enacted by early L'Amour heroes are essentially those of the individual on the borderline of civilization. The hero is neither alienated nor isolated, since nearly every L'Amour plot involves the hero in someone else's complications. The opening up of the West nourishes the bullies, landgrabbers, and robbers, while the dangers of the frontier bring out the weaknesses of men who cannot cope and who expose virtuous women to the threat of hostile Indians and unscrupulous white men. (p. 152)
[The] novels of the early phase still share a broad central characteristic. In the context of historical conditions and touchstones, the footloose hero becomes civilized into a settler. Although L'Amour reiterates his American myth of domesticating the wandering fighting man, these early novels do not constitute—individually or collectively—an apologia for Westward settlement. That ambition would come later. For the present, he satisfied his reader with conventional plots, each cut loose and detached from the other, and "at large and unrelated" to any historical vision.
L'Amour's middle phase reaches from the late 1950's to the early 1970's and includes over half of his sixty-odd novels. This phase continues some of his established patterns, and lays the foundation for his later ambitions and purposes. Accordingly, the novels divide mainly into two groups. There is the continuing march of stories about the wandering hero who gets involved in other people's scrapes, and who meets a woman who will walk beside him and not behind him. Except for an occasional exception such as Kiowa Trail and The First Fast Draw, these novels are narrated in the third person as the early novels are. Also like the early novels, these novels have a different name for each new hero, as if to offer up an eligible bachelor for each new plot. From a survey of these books it would seem that nothing could shake L'Amour's fell purpose of domesticating tall, tough, broad-shouldered, fast-drawing men about thirty years old. But then there is the other group of novels, the ones with the same family names and the same men cropping up time and again. These books are almost all narrated in the first person, and refer to incidents … that take place in other novels in the group. While L'Amour continues producing the good old standbys in the middle phase of his career, he is apparently working, simultaneously, on a sort of interlocking family mythology. For what purposes, his later phase will tell.
In the good old standbys of this period we are treated to the L'Amour fare of variation and repetition in plot structure that we have come to expect and enjoy. In addition, a new dimension appears in several of the heroes in this group of novels. The hero is often a gentleman, and has been to Europe prior to knocking around on the frontier. The continental finish offers a less rough-hewn morality to be expressed through the hero, and it adds a new set of historical details that place L'Amour's stories in a broader historical context. (p. 153)
While L'Amour was working his way towards new moral vistas, he was creating a new race of heroes as well. The Sacketts are, we are told time and again, "fierce fighting men" from the hills of Tennessee. Being a fighting man is central to all L'Amour heroes, but the Sacketts are of a breed all to themselves. For one thing, even though one of them may get married and settle down, there is every possibility that he will re-appear in another Sackett novel. (p. 155)
L'Amour is not merely writing several stories about the same character as he did in his salad days with Hopalong Cassidy; he is putting together an assembly of interlocking stories about an extensive and ever-extending family. No longer is the reader set free with each new novel, to be entertained with a story "at large and unrelated" to all others. Each Sackett novel carries with it the burden of attachment to all other Sackett novels, and sooner or later the reader is obliged to feel that he is piecing in a larger story.
At about the time the reader is getting into more than he bargained for, he is also being treated to some of L'Amour's least successful narration. These novels are narrated in two ways: entirely first person, and alternating between first and third person. The Daybreakers is characteristic of L'Amour's first-person narration…. [We] don't always know whether L'Amour or Sackett should be the object of our smile…. (pp. 155-56)
The alternating narration of The Lonely Men has its drawbacks as well. One would think that L'Amour alternates his narration in order to have Tell Sackett narrate tersely and inarticulately, and leave the more garrulous business to the usual third-person narrator. But the separation of narrative effect is not maintained…. It seems that L'Amour merely follows a personal convention in having the Sacketts tell their own stories. Since the narrative texture is not at stake, he goes outside their point of view for expediency in giving the circumstances of the plot…. Writers like John Seelye and Jack Schaefer create narrators who tell much more than they understand at the time, but L'Amour doesn't try for that effect. Nor is he concerned with the sophisticated use of alternating narration that Dickens achieves in Bleak House. Rather than attempt narrative integrity or complexity, he follows the easiest trail in order to tell the story. As a consequence, the reader may become impatient, and his impatience may well vitiate the entertainment that is sought so expediently and that is usually the reward of a L'Amour novel.
The obscure motives behind the family web of the Sackett stories and the dawning morality of Under the Sweetwater Rim come to light in Sackett's Land. In the "Preface" to this book, L'Amour reveals the purpose (and status) he claims for himself….
Story by story, generation by generation, these families are moving westward. When the journeys are ended and the forty-odd books are completed, the reader should have a fairly true sense of what happened on the American frontier….
Apparently, then, the first-person narration of the Sackett stories is not an arbitrary choice. Telling "the story of the American frontier through the eyes of three families" is meant to give conviction and immediacy to L'Amour's version and vision of the American frontier. (pp. 156-57)
[L'Amour has become] a self-appointed chronicler of the Western movement. Consequently, his recent books are less autonomous than even the early Sackett sagas, and in no way as unfettered as the earlier stories about the tough man of the frontier. In the later phase, where characters and plots are spun for a grander web, L'Amour is a self-styled historian and apologist for Western settlement.
[Sackett's Land and Rivers West] were obviously written to fit into the overall design. The former tells the story of the first Sackett to come to America from Wales in 1599, and the latter tells of the first Talon to come from Canada in 1821…. By producing these two immigrant heroes, heroes who saw that their destinies were to help build and settle America, L'Amour coordinated his ethnic appeal with a larger trend in popular sentiment: the bicentennial fever. In his three bicentennial families [the Sacketts, the Talons, and the Chantrys] he established a fairly comprehensive ethnic and occupational range for his chronicles.
L'Amour's new mode could be maintained by his established conventions of plot and character, which could be modified with bicentennial history and morality…. What is new about the Sackett narrator is that he is now a mouthpiece for his author's moral version of history. (pp. 157-58)
Details that formerly might have offered a bit of historical verisimilitude (or at least momentary diversion) now cumulatively assert the veracity of L'Amour's historical overview. Where we used to smile at being informed, as in a passage on the culinary preferences of the Apaches, we now grimace at history being filled in for us pedantically, detail by detail, as part of an overbearing design. L'Amour the historian goes too far in these two novels, in that the narrative is constantly cloyed with historical detail and circumstance; and L'Amour the moral historian simply overdoes it in justifying American settlement as justice and democracy in action.
Following these two grandaddy novels, L'Amour's later phase has continued to produce stories about his bicentennial families, and about unrelated heroes. The Man from the Broken Hills and Over on the Dry Side … advance the family sagas and blend the ethnic and vocational elements of the original families into new characters. As he did in his middle phase, L'Amour lards his family stories with references to events and family members that the reader is likely to read of elsewhere. (pp. 159-60)
As extensions of L'Amour's family plan …, both of these novels fit into his monomythic rendition of American settlement. They also display the extremes in narrative quality that emerge from the master plan. The Man from the Broken Hills has a successfully created narrator. The speaking voice lapses occasionally, but for the most part Milo Talon's narration is evenly textured with humor and vernacular…. L'Amour achieves a narrator who is also an engaging character and who, unlike previous Sacketts and Talons, can tell a complimentary story about himself without boasting or apologizing. And since Milo is a tolerable narrator, L'Amour's stream of cowhand lore arises comfortably out of the narration. (p. 160)
While he achieves enjoyable narration in The Man from the Broken Hills, he does the opposite in Over on the Dry Side. As in The Lonely Men, the narration alternates between first person and third person, with many of the same flaws…. [What] results is a tedious story that serves as a vehicle for L'Amour's characteristic lectures. Entertaining narrative effect is lost in favor of flat introduction of historical details and moral speeches. The reader is left with the impression that L'Amour's fiction sometimes rises above and sometimes sinks below his avowed purposes.
For the reader who is not entirely in sympathy with the new demands placed on him—the demands of piecing together family chronicles and American history, all fraught with significance—L'Amour continues to produce the good old standby stories…. In Where the Long Grass Blows, L'Amour portrays an historically interesting West without presenting urgent messages that would get in the way of his perenially most successful work. In this novel the story of the range war is revived. Like The Man from the Broken Hills, the novel introduces information on how cattlemen used the range, how they discreetly stole from one another, how they conducted their roundups, and so forth. The information is more appropriate and interesting than the rundown on Elizabethan décor in Sackett's Land, and L'Amour succeeds at presenting material that bears upon the story line and is not inserted simply for the reader's edification…. This is not to say that in these books L'Amour achieves realistic fiction and the texture of historical reality, while in the Sackett-Talon-Chantry volumes he doesn't. L'Amour's strong suit has always been entertainment and his fiction entertains the reader with action, dialogue, description, and information. When the information advances rather than impedes the entertainment, the book is more successful and less pretentious. (pp. 161-62)
[From L'Amour] we can expect many more productions within his established range of fiction. Inelegancies of grammar and punctuation may well continue, accompanied by a not-so-rigorous control of narrative point of view. We will be wrong to expect high art or exquisitely crafted fiction. But we will not be disappointed if we expect a continuing variety of entertainment from an author who has regaled us with "stories that take off like a bullet" for a quarter of a century. (p. 163)
John D. Nesbitt, "Change of Purpose in the Novels of Louis L'Amour," in Western American Literature (copyright, 1978, by the Western Literature Association), Vol. XIII, No. 1, May, 1978 (and reprinted in Critical Essays on the Western American Novel, edited by William T. Pilkington, G. K. Hall & Co., 1980, pp. 150-63).
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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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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 building of a country; almost innumerable lectures on frontier lore; occasional analogies between the Plains Indians and Arthurian Knights, Bantus, and Europeans; and prophecies about the passing of the Indians and the buffaloes, and about the probability of stellar travel. (p. 315)
All of this would be more tolerable if it were not narrated in the first person, a point of view that L'Amour has labored with frequently and without much success. It seems that when the narrator is not serving as the author's mouthpiece for lectures in history and civilization, he is telling the reader of the many compliments he receives for his strength, good looks, and acute mind. As a youthful narrator, Bendigo Shafter dwindles in comparison with Dickens' Pip, Twain's Huck, or Schaefer's Bob Starrett, even though he is not quite as risible as the narrators of L'Amour's Rivers West and The Proving Trail.
Comstock Lode is a less comprehensive, less visionary book than Bendigo Shafter; perhaps also because it is written in the third person, it is more readable. In Comstock Lode L'Amour introduces a new set of authentic details, the fruits of L'Amour's renewed research, as he reworks the melodramatic plot of such novels as Reilly's Luck and The Proving Trail—the story of a young man who avenges his parents' death (the two earlier novels had a father and a father figure killed, while in this one L'Amour sets the wheels rolling with two murdered fathers and two violated, murdered mothers). Val Trevallion, like some of L'Amour's other recent heroes, is an immigrant who soon becomes whole-heartedly American in his devotion to developing the country. (p. 316)
Like Bendigo Shafter and L'Amour himself, Trevallion marries an actress. Grita Redaway, as she has earlier told the villain, will leave the theater only for love of the right man. To complete the melodramatic scheme, L'Amour has a villain who is as despicable as the hero and heroine are virtuous. He commits arson, rape, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, and murder. He bludgeons, stabs, and smothers his victims, and hires out his shooting. Moreover, he doesn't believe that women can be intelligent. But even though Comstock Lode is excessive in its melodrama, it is well plotted and well paced, and the lectures on history and mining are less gratuitous than the disquisitions in Bendigo Shafter. (pp. 316-17)
These two novels are thus far the pinnacle of L'Amour's craft, and they demonstrate how the conventional Western can be expanded without having its basic form altered. They will gratify the reader who likes historical and moral lessons as part of his or her entertainment, but they will not buoy up the reader who is looking for improvement or artistic innovation in the craft of popular fiction. (p. 317)
John D. Nesbitt, "Reviews: 'Bendigo Shafter' and 'Comstock Lode'," in Western American Literature (copyright, 1982, by the Western Literature Association), Vol. XVI, No. 4, February, 1982, pp. 315-17.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 169
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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