The Western Still Rides (Admittedly, Into the Sunset)

Book cover for Doc by Mary Doria RussellBook cover for Travis by T. T. FlynnAmbush Creek by Phil DunlapEverywhere I go, whether it’s the saloon, cattle ranch or the Western section of a library or bookstore, people are saying the same thing: “Howdy, partner. Don’t you reckon that as a genre of fiction the Western is dead?”

I certainly don’t reckon that. Someone says, “How can the Western be relevant? Horses are extinct, bar doors tend to fill up the entire entryway and only Wonder Woman uses a lasso.” I can’t immediately answer, so I think about it and follow the person around for an evening. When the answer comes, I tap him on the shoulder, and, after defusing his alarm at finding me still in his wake, I say, “You rarely see elves or lizard people, but that doesn’t mean that stories featuring elves or lizard people are irrelevant.” My subject looks puzzled. “Pardon me?” he says. Now I yell, “The Western isn’t dead just because horse-thieving is no longer a lucrative and fulfilling career! The Western isn’t dead just because its elements are no longer part of day-to-day life!” At this point I’m working up quite a froth, and it takes some real effort on the part of my listener to get my attention and inform me that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about and that “for the last time” he’s not the person engaging me in conversations about the survival of the Western. At this point my face gets extra red, and, with a tip of my cowboy hat, I retreat into the night.

My point is: some people think the Western is dead, but they are incorrect. Sure readership is dwindling, between the cowboy dying out and a growing distaste for the backwards ideals of the genre’s era. Granted, there may soon come a day when no one reads a Western which doesn’t feature aliens or robots or time-travelling zombies or ninja turtles. But there being less demand for–and more strange elements in–Westerns doesn’t mean that there isn’t still great work being done in the genre.

For example, Bill Ott of Booklist claims to list the 10 best Westerns of the past few years.

If that isn’t good enough for you, consider this. Lots of smart people figure that Cormac McCarthy is a genius, and sometimes he writes stuff with horses in it. Louis L’Amour wrote nearly 50,000 Westerns (fact check needed). Zane Grey was loved by Colonel Potter of MASH television fame. This pretty much exhausts my knowledge of Westerns, but check it: I’ve just produced a list of Westerns you can browse to see if any suit your demanding standards.

That’s over 3,000 Westerns, and some of the best ones are on a display table on the second floor of the Columbia Public Library. Just look for them below the handsomest Western-themed poster you’ve ever laid eyes on, partner.

About Chris S

Widely regarded as capable of growing a beard, Chris has been a competent cat owner for over 8 years.
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