Friday, February 05, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Lone Ranger - Gaylord Dubois

David Cranmer and Richard Prosch had some posts on their blogs recently about the Lone Ranger. Well, as it so happens, I’m a big fan of the Lone Ranger and have been since childhood. I always watched the TV show and read many of the novels by Fran Striker that were published by Grosset & Dunlap. In fact, I remember visiting some relatives one summer when I was about ten years old and going with my cousins to the local public library, where I was thrilled to discover about half a dozen of the Lone Ranger novels that I hadn’t read. My cousins checked them out for me using their library cards, and I was able to read all of them before we had to go home. Along about the same time, I began listening to syndicated reruns of the Lone Ranger radio show (along with The Shadow, The Green Hornet, and Gangbusters) and enjoyed those, too.

Later on, when I was in high school and college, I started watching reruns of the TV series and discovered that I still liked it, maybe even more than when I was younger. I even sat down one summer and wrote more than 25,000 words of a Lone Ranger novel that I never finished. (Yes, I know, fanfic. That’s not the only one I wrote, either. I actually finished my Tarzan novel.) Sure, I can see some of the cheesiness in the show (like the giant plastic rock and the fake trees that are in so many of the supposedly exterior scenes that were really shot on a soundstage), but the series as a whole just works for me, for whatever reason. I can still sit down, watch an episode I’ve seen many times before, and thoroughly enjoy it.

I hadn’t revisited the novels in quite a while, though. Last year for my birthday, Livia bought the entire set of novels from a collector friend of mine who was selling them, and gave them to me for my birthday. Those recent posts by David and Richard prompted me to get out the first one and read it for the first time in more than forty years.

First of all, despite what the cover says, this book wasn’t written by Fran Striker, who was the primary scripter of the radio show. It’s actually by Gaylord Dubois, as the title page admits, adding that it’s “based on the famous radio adventures by Fran Striker”. Later printings attribute the book itself to Striker, “based on the famous Lone Ranger adventures created by Geo. W. Trendle”. Trendle was the radio executive who came up with the idea, but I think most of the actual creation of the character came from Striker. Regardless of all that, Dubois is the real author of this one.

So how does it hold up? Well . . . I’m not going to lie and pretend it’s a great book by modern standards. Dubois’s prose is long-winded and just plain slow in many places. The plot, which involves sabotaging the building of the transcontinental railroad, has more whiskers than Gabby Hayes. And the Lone Ranger himself is off-screen for long stretches of the book that concentrate on the rather vapid and not-too-bright proxy hero and heroine.

But there are moments . . . moments like the one where the Ranger is racing to catch a runaway train to prevent a head-on collision with another train . . . or when he breaks up a lynch mob about to hang an innocent man . . . or when he has a showdown with a gang of outlaws that involves dynamite, railroad flares, and a bow and arrows . . . well, let’s just say that at those moments, I can hear the William Tell Overture playing faintly in the back of my head. If you’ve ever had that experience, you know what I mean.

A couple more interesting things about this book. It was originally published in 1936, which means it’s based solely on the radio series. Clayton Moore, Jay Silverheels, and the TV version were still more than a dozen years in the future. So the characterization and descriptions of the two main characters are a little off from what you might expect if you grew up on the TV series, as I did. Even though this is the first novel in the series, it’s not an origin story at all, and there’s no mention of how the Lone Ranger came to be. It does, however, begin with a lengthy sequence about how the Ranger found his horse Silver, which is at odds with the TV continuity. Then it goes on to the main story about the railroad sabotage.

I remember that even when I read these books as a kid, I thought there was something not quite the same about the first one. The edition I read then was credited to Striker, but it just didn’t seem as good as the other books in the series, which I liked better. Later on, of course, I found out why. Gaylord Dubois was actually one of my favorite writers when I was a kid, although I never knew anything about him at the time. But he was the writer on long runs of the TARZAN comic book (with the Jesse Marsh art), and also wrote the back-up feature in TARZAN, “Brothers of the Spear”. In addition, he created and wrote the comic book TUROK, SON OF STONE, which I also read every time I could find an issue. Dubois wrote a bunch of other stuff, too: more than 3000 comic book stories, Big Little Books, juvenile novels based on other radio shows and comic strips, like DON WINSLOW OF THE NAVY, which Dubois ghosted for series creator Frank V. Martinek, and probably a lot of other things I’m not aware of. I have to wonder if he really wrote that TERRY AND THE PIRATES novel I read a couple of years ago. There’s even a blog devoted to him and his work that’s maintained by his granddaughter, and it’s well worth checking out if you’re a fan of Twentieth Century pop culture.

So, should you run right out and find a copy of this book? If you’re not already a Lone Ranger fan, probably not. But if you are and you’ve never read it, I think it’s worthwhile, as a piece of history if nothing else. I enjoyed it, and I’m sure some of you would, too.

Meanwhile, I have all the other books in the series, the ones actually written by Fran Striker, sitting right here on the shelf beside me, just waiting for me to get to them. The next one is THE LONE RANGER AND THE MYSTERY RANCH. All I have to do is look at it, and I hear the William Tell Overture again, playing its siren song . . .


David Cranmer said...

I think the question everybody is going to ask is when do we see the Tarzan novel?

I've watched most of the first season of RANGER and I can't believe I've waited this long. Top entertainment.

Randy Johnson said...

I bought the Ranger series when they came out in paperback many years back. I also have the first three in hardcover though they are rather beat up(no dust jackets for one thing).

Richard Robinson said...

What a fine review, James, thanks. Your telling of that summer when you discovered the Lone Ranger books in the library was a high point for me, such tales are gold. I almost got a visual off it.

I watched the television show, but wasn't ever - that I recall now, anyway - captivated by it. I guess we kids all had our favorites, and Red Ryder, Zorro, The Cisco Kid, Sky King and Sgt. Preston all came before ol' silver bullet. I wonder how many pages these books ran, typically?

James Reasoner said...

I'm afraid the manuscript of the Tarzan novel is long gone. It was lost even before the fire, along with the fragment of the Lone Ranger novel.

All of my copies have dust jackets, which is pretty rare.

I liked all those shows you mention, too, with the Cisco Kid and Sky King being particular favorites. I think the Lone Ranger novels get slightly shorter as the series goes on, but this first one is 218 pages. I'd guess around 45,000 words.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I watched that show every Saturday of my childhood. I think he was almost a "father figure" for me since my Dad was always working on Saturdays.

Scott Parker said...

As I mentioned on David's blog, the Dynamite Comics update on the Lone Ranger is very well done. It's made me remember how much I enjoyed TLR. My parents had cassettes of TLR radio shows and that's how I primarily know him.

Evan Lewis said...

A lost Reasoner Tarzan novel. What a tragedy!

I've seen a photo of the original dust jacket of this one, with Dubois' name on it. I reckon that's rather pricey. My copy, like yours, says Striker.

James Reasoner said...

That Tarzan novel was written when I was 14 or 15 years old, so probably not too much of a tragedy. It was fun to write, though. That was the height of the secret agent boom in the Sixties, and I was a huge fan, so I had Tarzan get mixed up with an U.N.C.L.E.-like spy organization. The book was called TARZAN: THE MAN FROM A.F.R.I.C.A. We've all got to start somewhere, I guess.

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

When I read something that old, I take into account the "context" .. all this stuff was fresh and new then.

How does this lot compare with something of a similar vintage .. say Oliver Strange's "Sudden"?

James Reasoner said...

As a matter of fact, I'll have a post about Sudden coming up in the next few weeks, so I'll try to address that.

Anonymous said...

That's just wonderful.

Is it too much to hope that you recall what A.F.R.I.C.A. stood for?

John Hocking

James Reasoner said...

I've been trying to remember, but so far no luck.

David Porta said...

Bedridden in 1935 from chronic brucellosis which had plagued his life, 36 year old Du Bois had still not settled into a career but had drifted from one thing to another, and now found himself because of illness living off his parents at their home. He wrote a letter to Lloyd E. Smith, a pal from that one year at Trinity College, Hartford (1921-1922 school year), who had been an upperclassman then, and was now working at Whitman Publishing as an editor. Du Bois was looking for any work he could do to earn money while laid up, and so be less dependent on his parents. Smith gave him a script from the Lone Ranger radio program, told Gaylord that if he could turn it into a 60,000 word novel then there would be plenty of work to follow. Gaylord took the script, remarked later that it was not very good, salvaged what he could from it, and wrote the first Lone Ranger novel. Grosset & Dunlap, 1936. This was Du Bois' debut as an author.

Anonymous said...

I found a 1936 The lone Ranger by Gaylord Dubois - the binding is cracked but not bad shape otherwise. If anyone want to buy it, please call me at (804)453-9081.
Tom Kimmitt