by Louis L'Amour
1971, Bantam, mass market paperback; e-book edition
Could there be any question that Louis L’Amour is possibly the best-known and most popular westerns writer of all time? I have read lots of books in my life – many of them westerns – and enjoyed most of them. But darned, if I want to treat myself, I can almost always come back to a Louis L’Amour western and not be disappointed.
Off the top of my head, I can suggest several reasons for this.
The first, of course, is that while he may not be the world’s greatest Writer, he is a terrific Story-teller, who knows how to catch the reader from the very beginning. Take the first sentence in the first paragraph of the first chapter of his novel, Tucker: “When I rode up to the buffalo wallow pa was lying there with his leg broke and his horse gone.”
In only 19 words, all but one less than 3 syllables, he has set up the story, introduced the characters, complete with back story, and raises questions in the reader’s mind as to, “What is going on here? What is coming next?”
The second is that he respects the myth and legend of the west. His protagonist, Edwin “Shell” Tucker is a hero, but he is a hero because he remains true to himself and his goal: Not to gain revenge but to recover money entrusted to him by his friends back in his hometown. He is afraid, but he doesn’t stop. He is not invulnerable; he is shot more than once, but survives and keeps on going.
The third is that he also respects the true history of the west, warts and all. Yes, it was a beautiful land that was surely ravaged by the men moving west, but those same men also faced almost unimaginable hardships to make come true their dreams of land, home, and future for themselves and their families.
The final and perhaps most interesting is that L’Amour weaves in philosophy – quite quotable philosophy – into the story.
Here are some thoughts about being a man:
- “You never know how tough a man is until you’ve tried him.”
- “A man was what he did, how he shaped up at work, or against trouble.”
- “The thing that shows the man is his willingness to accept responsibility for himself and his actions. Only a tin horn blames what he is on his folks or the times or something else besides himself. There have been good men and great men in all periods of history, and they did it themselves.”
- “A man should stop ever’ now and again and ask himself what he was doing, where he was going, and how he planned to get there. And the hardest thing to learn is that there aren’t any shortcuts.”
- “The fact was staring me right in the face that a man may run all his life and get nowhere."
- “If you can read, you can learn. You don’t have to go to school to get an education, although it is the best way for most of us, and anyway, all school can give you is the outline of the picture. You have to fill in the blank places yourself, later.”
A good thought to end on: If you can read, you can learn.
As well as giving yourself a treat.
For more L'Amour quotes, see entry in A Writer's Journal.