Robert Lewis Taylor Essay - Critical Essays

Taylor, Robert Lewis


Taylor, Robert Lewis 1912–

Taylor is an American novelist, biographer, journalist, humorist, and author of short stories. Best known for his adventure stories, Taylor won the 1959 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. This picaresque novel, generally considered his most successful, is distinguished by its lively narrative, vivid dialogue, and imaginative characterizations. Taylor wrote New Yorker profiles from 1939–48, many of which were later collected in book form. He has also written full-length biographies of figures such as Winston Churchill, W. C. Fields, and Carry Nation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 10.)

Lewis Nordyke

["The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters" is] a top-quality tale of the trail to California's gold fields and grassy valleys in 1819. (p. 40)

This novel is as authentic as any story any man could have told after making the trip. It is based largely on the journal of an adventurer who did make it—Dr. Joseph Middleton. In addition to this on-the-scene report, many other authentic narratives and documents contributed to the story.

Mr. Taylor … is a versatile writer. In the main, he tells this story in the first-person, out of the mouth of a 14-year-old lad, Jaimie McPheeters—but the heart of it is related in the letters and journals of Jaimie's father, Dr. Sardius McPheeters. Mr. Taylor pivots nimbly and convincingly from the words of an unusually bright lad … to those of a rather blustery, but lovable, man.

This is a tremendously exciting novel, and it has the added zest of being in sharp focus historically. Some of the incidents of violence will curl the hair of many a reader. (p. 41)

Lewis Nordyke, "Western Odyssey," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1958 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 16, 1958, pp. 40-1.

Winthrop Sargeant

"The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters" is full of thoroughly researched minutiae about wagon trains, Indian ways, gold mining, life in the San Francisco of the time, and such, and is delivered in a cheerful, funny, and headlong prose that makes its unabashed theatricality a total delight.

Winthrop Sargeant, "Books: 'The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1958 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 22, 1958, p. 154.


Let not the size of ["The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters"] dismay you. It is a small-scale "Anthony Adverse" of the California gold rush with touches of "Huckleberry Finn," a lively, often funny, picaresque tale that conveys a real feel of what it must have been like on the immigrant trails and in the gold fields, and only occasionally does the story become too long. The publisher's blurb stresses the author's "meticulously researched facts," and he himself appends a bibliography of nigh on to 150 titles, but he is too good a novelist to let mere facts stand in the way of a good story.

Considering the enjoyment this reviewer had from the book, he should not carp at minor faults, but a few comments must be made. On the score of "meticulous research," it is odd to find Algonkian words in the mouths of Caddoan-speaking Pawnees, or an Indian Maiden whom the Algonkian Cheyennes of Minnesota called by a New Mexico Tewa name.

Yes indeed, there is an Indian Maiden. One of the charms of this book is its unabashed use exclusively of stock characters. There are Bad Indians who are cowardly, do not wash, and stink. There are Good Indians, who are brave, generous and well scrubbed. Jaimie's father is that old standby, the brilliant, highly educated, charming ne'er-do-well, whose weaknesses keep himself and his son in the state of motion necessary to maintain the story while he enables the author to make comments of which Jamie...

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Michael Mewshaw

"A Roaring in the Wind," Robert Lewis Taylor's 14th book, is described on its cover as a novel as well as a "History of Alder Gulch, Montana." But unfortunately it falls far short in both categories. At best it is a fitfully interesting miscellany of vignettes and facts about frontier life….

Taylor, with a weakness for mere cataloguing, does little to shape his material or to pace the accumulation of incidents. It takes more than 100 pages for him just to reach Alder Gulch and by the time he gets there, he seems to have forgotten why he made the trip. Perhaps he, like this reader, was distracted by the lackluster style of the historical journals and diaries from which he incessantly quotes. (p. 32)

One can't avoid noticing that the journals appear to have infected Taylor's own prose. To cite several examples among hundreds: "News of the arrest rolled like a prairie fire"; "Time, even a short time, is the only real healer"; "The miners cried like babies."

To compensate for lines like these, it would take a story of rare strength or characters of preternatural interest. But "A Roaring in the Wind" lacks both. (pp. 32-3)

In the American West, with its acres of emptiness and dinning silences, pioneers often lost their sense of time and direction. Robert Lewis Taylor … seems to have suffered the same fate, staggering through barren spaces, wandering in circles, never realizing that he has lost his way and his reader. (p. 33)

Michael Mewshaw, "Three Novels," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 5, 1978, pp. 32-3.∗

Kris Schusler

Having loved novels dealing with the early West, when one comes along that so captures the essence of that time, the book becomes a treasured piece to share among friends…. [A Roaring in the Wind] captures that essence of the nostalgia and romance of the American frontier…. It is with the introduction of the vigilance committees, the Vigilantes, that Taylor's knowledge of the early West comes into play. In the process he weaves a tale that is both fascinating and humorous.

Kris Schusler, "Books in Review: 'A Roaring in the Wind'," in West Coast Review of Books (copyright 1978 by Rapport Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol 4, No. 2, March, 1978, p. 26.

Randy Shipp

Historical fiction buffs may find ["A Roaring in the Wind"] somewhat of a disappointment. Taylor's description of life in frontier gold rush towns is lively and entertaining, but his plot and character development leave something to be desired….

Looking for adventure, a young man … finds himself a part of the rough mining towns of preterritorial Montana. His description of the people and places he encounters reads like a cross between the rollicking humor of Mark Twain's "Roughing It" and the poignancy of Bret Harte's short stories.

The novel's authenticity is enhanced by the quotes from diaries and newspaper accounts of events of the era. In this respect, it is similar to...

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Paul Schlueter

A Roaring in the Wind, one more work about the Old West, with all the usual clichés and overworked situations and characters, simply didn't seem very promising.

But Taylor has done a good job. The extensive bibliography merely suggests that he has done his homework (or at least looked up book titles); the novel itself suggests that he has been able to transform the deadness of facts into the life of fiction in a manner that may well win him the same acclaim that his The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters did some two decades ago. In fact, there is an echo of that earlier work….

Taylor has an undistinguished style, and the "footnotes" included by Ross, the narrator of the...

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