America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 33-35.

 

L’Amour, Louis.  Bendigo Shafter.  New York: Dutton, 1978.

Literary critics have generally disregarded Louis L’Amour as an author of very formulaic novels in a sub-literary genre.  Certainly, his prodigious output might suggest a more workmanlike than reflective approach to writing fiction.  For over three decades, L’Amour produced at least three novels each year, becoming a fixture on his publisher’s list of new titles and a dependable revenue producer.  Yet, late in his career, L’Amour’s distinctive achievement was acknowledged when Bendigo Shafter was not only a surprise finalist for the National Book Award but actually won the award.

An eighteen-year-old native New Yorker who likes to read Plutarch and Thoreau, Bendigo Shafter is headed to California with a heterogeneous group of pioneers when an early blizzard closes the mountain passes and forces them to seek an alternative destination at least for the season.  They decide to hunker down in Wyoming, and after surviving that winter, instead of resuming their journey to California, most of them agree to establish their own town there.  Just eighteen, Bendigo throws himself into the heavy labor involved in building a town from scratch.  He eventually recognizes that he has, in fact, invested a great deal of himself, beyond just his labor, in this town.  With a deepening sense of what it takes for a community to endure, he helps his neighbors through the periods of hard weather and tries to mitigate the effects of speculative ventures and gold rushes on the town’s residents.  After he has established himself as a community leader, Bendigo decides to return to New York City to see if he can re-establish a relationship with a girl with whom he had once been very infatuated.  When he arrives in New York, he faces a set of challenges very different from those he has confronted and largely mastered in Wyoming.

 

L’Amour, Louis.  The Daybreakers.  New York: Bantam, 1964.

Among L’Amour’s most popular works have been the novels in the “Sackett” series.  This series included eighteen books and proved so popular that L’Amour himself compiled The Sackett Companion: A Personal Guide to the Sackett Novels, which was published in 1988, the year of his death.  So, although it is clear from the introduction to the Companion that L’Amour did not view the series as a finished project, his death transformed the Companion into a complete guide.

The series in somewhat unusual in that, instead of focusing on a single character or several generations of a single family, it depicts the experiences of a broad clan.  Some of the characters and branches of this clan appear more often than others; some of their stories are conventionally dramatic, while others are more mundane.  This approach allows L’Amour to treat the whole history of the West from the Canadian to the Mexican borders without the artificial device of one character or small group of characters having to be witness to everything in the historical epoch.

The Daybreakers focuses on the westward journey of the brothers Orrin and Tyrel Sackett, who have an extra incentive to go West when they need to put some distance between themselves and the law in their home community in eastern Tennessee.  Interestingly, that community is itself not far removed from the frontier, having experienced recurring guerrilla fighting during the Civil War and having more than its share of long-running blood feuds.  The brothers make their way to New Mexico, where they become cattle drovers and become exposed to the Latino people and culture of the region.  As they settle down and the settlement closest to their homes becomes a real community, they bring their mother and other relatives West.

 

L’Amour, Louis. Down the Long Hills.  New York: Bantam, 1968.

L’Amour received a Spur Award for the Western Writers of America for Down the Long Hills.  In this novel, he synthesizes elements of the survival tale and the novel of initiation and maturation.  The resulting narrative becomes a sort of folk allegory of the opening of the West and the tests of survival endured by the American nation in its formative years.

The novel’s protagonists are Hardy and Betty Sue Collins, a brother and sister, aged seven and three.  When Indians attack the wagon train that their family has joined in the westward trek, Hardy and Betty Sue are the only survivors.  In the aftermath of the massacre, the two children manage to recover a knife and a horse, and they set off to find some sort of safe haven.  In their prolonged wandering in the wilderness, they confront ruthless outlaws, more hostile Indians, and wild beasts—in particular, a grizzly bear that stalks them.  In each case, the horse is the main target of their antagonists.  In the end, their survival becomes a testament to their instincts, their ability to learn from their experiences, and their luck.  On the frontier, that combination was relatively rare among the fully grown, never mind among those so young.

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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/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 3-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/16/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-3-5/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 6-8: https://academeblog.org/2014/09/20/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-6-8/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 9-11: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/04/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-9-11/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 12-14: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/12/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-12-14/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 15-17: https://academeblog.org/2014/10/21/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-15-17/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 18-20: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/02/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-18-20/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 21-23: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/09/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-21-23/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 24-26: https://academeblog.org/2014/11/23/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-24-26/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 27-29: https://academeblog.org/2014/12/25/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-27-29/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 30-32: https://academeblog.org/2015/01/19/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-30-32/

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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/

 

8 thoughts on “America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 33-35.

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