America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5.

 

Blevins, Win.  Stone Song: A Novel of the Life of Crazy Horse.  New York: Forge, 1995.

Win Blevins has been writing full-time since the early 1970s, but it has taken him some time to find the subject that has given his fiction focus and force.  He had written several historical novels about the West and a handful of nonfiction books about the region, most notably the Dictionary of the American West.  But, beginning with Stone Song, he has undertaken to do justice to the many mythic currents running through the history of the West.

In Stone Song, Blevins remains true to the fundamental facts of Crazy Horse’s life as it has been detailed in the historical record.  But that record is, of course, very incomplete and, beyond identifying them as influences, says relatively little about the cultural convictions and the mystical visions that animated the spirit of the Plains Indians’ most celebrated warrior.  Within the form of the novel, Blevins is able to suggest what it was like to be Crazy Horse—that is, what it was like to be celebrated equally by one’s tribesmen and one’s enemies and yet remain, essentially, an enigma to both.

Blevin’s subsequent novels have included The Rock Child (1998) and Ravenshadow (1999).

 

Brand, Max. Destry Rides Again.  New York: Dodd, Mead, 1931.

Max Brand is just one of the six pseudonyms under which Frederick Schiller Faust wrote Westerns.  Faust, who died at the relatively young age of 52 while covering Allied operations against the Nazis in Italy, published his first novel in 1919 when he was 27 years old.  Normally one would not speak of a novelist’s work being squeezed into a quarter century, but, just as Max Brand, Faust published 76 Western novels and 10 adventure novels during his lifetime.  In addition, in what must rank as one of the most prolific posthumous careers in literary history, 91 Western novels, 7 adventure novels, and 28 collections of short stories and short novels with the Max Brand byline have been published from Faust’s manuscripts.

Faust honed his writing skills in producing stories in abroad range of genres, but principally the Western, for the pulp magazines of the 1920s.  His novels exhibit the hallmarks of that apprenticeship. The out-sized characters are drawn in broad, bold strokes.  The hero undertakes mythic adventures against antagonists almost equally matched to him.  And there are, at most, only passing references to the landscape and the daily life of the West, and to most of the issues that have defined the region.  In Destry Rides Again, the hero begins as a rogue who is framed for a stagecoach robbery and sent to prison.  Afterwards, he discovers his true character through his paternal relationship with a young boy who, he begins to recognize, has idealized him as a heroic figure.  That the title of the novel has become something of a catchphrase in the popular culture suggests the degree to which aspects of Brand’s work continue to linger in the American consciousness.

 

Brown, Dee, Killdeer Mountain.  New York: Holt, 1983.

Acclaimed for Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), his nonfiction study of the several centuries of conflict between Native Americans and Europeans, Dee Brown was also an accomplished novelist.  His novels exhibit his interest in the history of the West and typically are drawn from actual historical incidents.

Exploring many of the themes treated in Brown’s other novels, Killdeer Mountain is structurally the most complex of his novels.  The primary narrator is a reporter named Sam Morrison who writes for a St. Louis newspaper and is always looking for thrilling stories of parts West.  One night he gets more of a story than he is looking for.  He boards a steamboat heading up the Missouri River.  A group of people on board is traveling to be present at the dedication of a rebuilt fort being renamed in honor of Major Charles Rawley, the son of a prominent senator from Ohio, who had a very strange career as an Indian fighter.

The story starts with Rawley’s leading his troops into a massacre at Killdeer Mountain.  There is apparently only one survivor from among Rawley’s troop.  This survivor eventually identifies himself as Rawley but he may have been a trooper named Hardesty or another man named Selkirk who wasn’t even present at the massacre.  In any case, this man convinces Rawley’s superiors to permit him to lead another troop in pursuit of the Indians who were involved in the massacre.  But this mission also ends disastrously.  Rawley is redeemed only by his apparent capture of a notorious chief, but it turns out that his captive may have been an imposter.  In the end, during a bungled attempt to free the captured chief from his imprisonment, the fort now being renamed for Hardesty burns to the ground.  A body, assumed to have been his, had been found in the ruins.

The novel provides multiple accounts of the same events in this very ambiguous story and still remains very readable and suspenseful.

 

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Previous Posts in This Series:

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/10/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-1-2/

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Posts in the Previous Series:

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/01/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-6-7/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 8-10: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/04/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-8-10/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 11-13: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/06/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-11-13/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 14-16: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-14-16/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 17-19: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/18/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-17-19/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 20-22: https://academeblog.org/2014/06/25/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-20-22/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 23-25: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/07/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-23-25/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 26-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/11/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-26-29/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-30-32/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 33: https://academeblog.org/2014/07/29/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-33/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 34-36: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/10/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-34-36/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 37-39: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/15/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-37-39/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 40-42: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/21/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-40-42/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 43-45: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/23/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-43-45/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 46-48: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/26/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-46-48/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 49-50: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/

 

18 thoughts on “America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5.

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