Monday, February 02, 2015
How the West Was Written, Volume 2: Frontier Fiction, 1907 - 1915 -- Ron Scheer
The Western has a long and glorious history, and nobody knows the early era of Western fiction better than Ron Scheer. The second volume of his examination of the genre, HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN: FRONTIER FICTION 1907 - 1915, is pure pleasure to read for anyone who loves the genre. This book and its predecessor aren't really histories, but more of a critical look at various authors of early Western stories and novels, back in the days when what they were writing about wasn't far in the past.
Scheer's introduction focuses on Owen Wister and his novel THE VIRGINIAN, which established so much of what was to come in Western fiction. Then in turn he takes a look at cowboy stories, female and Canadian authors, the more pulpish and popular Westerns, and realistic tales of ranch life, mining, the timber industry, etc. There are a lot of familiar authors covered: Clarence E. Mulford, Zane Grey, William MacLeod Raine, Charles Alden Seltzer, Dane Coolidge, James B. Hendryx, and others, many of whose works are still available today, as well as once popular but now largely forgotten authors such as Peter B. Kyne and Harold Bell Wright. He also covers a number of authors almost completely unfamiliar to me.
All of it is fascinating and told in clear, insightful prose. I really enjoy books like this and have a hard time putting them down once I've started. That's certainly true of HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN. If you're a Western fan or just interested in American literature (it doesn't get any more American than Westerns!), I highly recommend both volumes in this series.