America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 36-38.

 

Manfred, Frederick.  Lord Grizzly.  New York: McGraw, 1954.

Frederick Manfred was a giant of a man who had giant literary ambitions that he never quite fulfilled.  But, in the effort, he produced a diverse and very substantial body of work.  For the most part, his fictions explore the history and culture of the West and, in particular, of his native region of the northern Great Plains, which he called “Siouxland.”

Manfred sought not just to write the “great American novel,” but a cycle of novels that would be comparable to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha cycle.  From 1949, the novels of Manfred’s “World’s Wanderer” trilogy, a coming-of-age saga, were published to generally positive reviews.  Then, over the next decade and a half, he produced (among other works) a tetralogy of novels about the opening and settlement of the Great Plains: Lord Grizzly (1954), Riders of Judgment (1957), Scarlet Plume (1964), and King of Spades (1966).  This tetralogy is one of the singular achievements in Western American literature.

Lord Grizzly retells the story of Hugh Glass, a legendary mountain man.  Hired to hunt for a trapping and trading party traveling up the Missouri River, Glass was terribly mauled by a grizzly bear.  His wounds were sewn up, but no one expected him to survive.  Because he could not be moved and because there were hostile Indians in the area, the leader of the party asked two men to stay behind with Glass until he died, while the rest of the party continued upriver.  But, when he did not die for several days, those left with him became anxious about their own safety, and so they left him alone in the middle of the vast, largely unexplored wilderness. He was not quite dead, but they were certainly convinced that he would very shortly die.  Of course, he didn’t, and through his incredible story of survival, Manfred explores the themes of self-reliance and luck, vengeance, and forgiveness.

 

McCarthy, Cormac.  All the Pretty Horses.  New York: Random House, 1992.

Born in Rhode Island, McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee.  In the 1960s and 1970s, he became one of the most eccentric new voices in the inherently eccentric Southern Gothic tradition.  His first five novels were set largely in Appalachia and featured grotesque types.  Then after a brief lull, he produced the highly regarded literary “Western” Blood Meridian.  That shift in focus set the stage for what became the centerpiece of his career, The Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses (1992), the Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998).

For All the Pretty Horse, McCarthy received both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Award.  The novel is a maturation tale set in the contemporary West, 1949 to be exact.  It focuses on a sixteen-year-old boy from Texas named John Grady Cole.  He and his friend, Lacey Rawlins, set off for Mexico in search of adventure.  In the process, they surprisingly experience much of the same mix of unexpected thrills and hardships that defined the Old West for the early explorers, settlers, and travelers who entered the region.  Although this novel and the trilogy as a whole are much more “mainstream” than McCarthy previous work, they are still less accessible and considerably darker than, for example, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove cycle.

 

Portis, Charles.  True Grit.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968.

This quirky Western novel has become imprinted on the American consciousness because, for playing the lead in its film adaptation, John Wayne finally won an Academy Award.  Wayne’s character, Rooster Cogburn, is a grizzled, hard-drinking, and wryly irreverent U.S. marshal.  He imposes a very rough and idiosyncratic sort of justice to a region that has remained largely lawless between its few settled communities.  On the verge of becoming an anachronism, Cogburn remains something akin to a force of nature.

The basic story line of the novel is quite simple.  A spunky young girl is determined to bring the murderer of her father to justice.  She hires Cogburn but insists on accompanying him in order to protect her investment.  After they meet up with the outlaw gang that includes her father’s killer, she is bitten by a poisonous snake, and Cogburn rides her pony into the ground getting her to a doctor.  In the end, she recognizes the great core of courage and empathy in this great bear of a man who has become conditioned to killing.

Portis is an undervalued novelist in part because he has produced only five novels over the last forty years.  But each of those novels–the others include Norwood (1966), The Dog of the South (1979), Masters of Atlantis (1985), and Gringoes (1991)—focuses on eccentric but genuine characters who negotiate their ways through peculiarly challenging situations.

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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/

America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: 33-35: https://academeblog.org/2015/02/05/america-re-imagined-in-retrospect-fifty-notable-american-novels-about-the-west-33-35/

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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”: 36-38.

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