Themes / Characters
Two of the most memorable characters in popular western fiction appear in Singing Guns — the courageous but guileless outlaw giant, Annan Rhiannon, and his canny Welsh friend, Sheriff Owen Caradac. Although masculine friendship or "bonding" is an ancient theme of the frontier story — as old as Hawkeye and Chingachgook in James Fenimore Cooper — and some versions of this theme may be found in Faust's predecessors, like Grey and Clarence Mulford, the intense comradeship that develops between an outlaw and sheriff is an original contribution of this story. The friendship between Caradac and Rhiannon springs up after an opening confrontation in the mountains where Caradac, trying to track down the legendary outlaw Rhiannon, is wounded and then nursed back to health by the bearded and half-savage Rhiannon, Rhiannon, a brave and skillful warrior who lives alone in the mountains, has a kind heart and suffers from loneliness. The reason for his becoming an outlaw is never clearly explained, but it is obvious that Rhiannon is a Max Brand hero in the manner of the archetypal outsider, Whistlin' Dan Barry, in Faust's first western, The Untamed (1919). Rhiannon is clearly too independent to adjust to civilization easily, and he lacks the guile that enables a man like Caradac (a fighter of the same mettle) to accommodate himself successfully to a life in society. Both Rhiannon and Caradac recognize that there is a curious kinship between them, which goes beyond the circumstances of their meeting: the outlaw and the man hunter are alike in their love of danger and their willingness to take life threatening risks, and this quality, or this need to test one's courage and prowess regularly, sets them apart from the commonplace middle class citizens whom Rhiannon robs and Caradac tries to protect. The similarities between Caradac and Rhiannon are symbolically emphasized by Faust's giving them the names of Welsh heroes.
Caradac's guile and essential humanity are demonstrated in his plan to help Rhiannon find a new life as a small rancher, while his cleverness and wisdom are also expressed in his effort to keep a fatherly eye on Rhiannon during his probationary period. Even more admirably, Caradac proves himself a master of intrigue in his ability to outwit the cunning Nancy Morgan, the female trickster who plays damsel in distress in order to manipulate Rhiannon into leading her to the cavern where a fortune lies hidden. As a wise and tutelary older figure, Caradac becomes the archetype of experienced and pragmatic characters who aid Faust's heroes in the later westerns, like Lanky, who guides the naive Nelson Gray through perils in Dead or Alive (1938) and, of course, Jim Silver or Silvertip, the mythic figure who helps younger characters in the Silver-tip series. Caradac is also a prototype of the wise but disenchanted Dr. Gillespie in the Dr. Kildare novels and films.
Rhiannon represents the hero of Max Brand westerns learning to come to terms with society, or at least making a negotiated truce with it. In many earlier Max Brand westerns, the hero is not only an "untamed" figure like Dan Barry — who never learns to accept society and is finally killed by his pursuers in the final Dan Barry novel, The Seventh Man (1921) — but the hero's acceptance of civilization, and the concomitant marriage that often goes with such acceptance, is an extremely tenuous act, often entered reluctantly. Sometimes, in fact, the endings of earlier Max Brand westerns are clearly cynical concessions to the audience's expectations of a happy ending in the manner of Zane Grey (marriage and monetary success for the hero) — as in The Border Bandit (1926), where the hero's enjoyment of the freedom he finds in outlawry does not seem likely to prepare him to accept a tame, domestic life with his sweetheart. In Rhiannon, however, Faust created an "untamed" Dan Barry type, who, despite...
(The entire section is 962 words.)