Sunday, February 17, 2013

SHANE! COME BACK! by Cheryl Pierson


Jack Schaefer’s book, Shane, has been classified in many sub-genres, but to me, it will always remain my favorite western romance.

Romance? Shane?

This story cannot have a truly happy-ever-after ending for all the principal characters, so it normally wouldn’t make it to my “Top Ten” list for that very reason. But the story itself is so compelling, so riveting, that there is no choice once you’ve read page one—you are going to finish it. And it’s not just a story about a very odd love triangle, but also about Shane discovering that he is worthy, and a good person, despite what he’s done in his past.

Shane is the perfect hero, or anti-hero;—a drifter, a loner, and no one knows why. He plans to keep it that way. If only his pesky conscience didn’t get in the way, he might have stopped briefly at the Starrett’s homestead, then moved on.

But from the beginning of the book, we know there is something different about Shane. The story is told through the eyes of Bob Starrett, the young son of Joe and Marion. Bob is about ten years old, and his account of the people and action that takes place are colored with the wonderment and naivete of a child who will be well on his way to becoming a young man before the story is over.



The book starts with tension, as Bob is watching the stranger, Shane, ride in. Shane comes to a fork in the road. One way leads down toward Luke Fletcher’s, the cattle baron who is trying to force the homesteaders out of the valley. The other branch of the fork leads toward the Starretts, the homesteaders who will ultimately force Fletcher’s hand. Shane chooses that path, toward the Starretts, and the die is cast.

He would have looked frail alongside father’s square, solid bulk. But even I could read the endurance in the lines of that dark figure and the quiet power in his effortless, unthinking adjustment to every movement of the tired horse.

He was clean-shaven and his face was lean and hard and burned from high forehead to firm, tapering chin. His eyes seemed hooded in the shadow of the hat’s brim. He came closer and I could see that this was because the brows were drawn into a frown of fixed and habitual alertness. Beneath them the eyes were endlessly searching from side to side and forward, checking off every item in view, missing nothing. As I noticed this, a sudden chill, and I could not have told why, struck through me there in the warm and open sun.

In a nutshell, Shane drifts into the Wyoming valley, and is befriended by the Starretts. Once there, he is quickly made aware of the brewing trouble between the homesteaders and the powerful local cattle baron, Luke Fletcher, who is set on running them all out of the valley. Shane is firmly committed to helping Joe Starrett and the homesteaders who want to stay. Fletcher’s men get into a fistfight with Shane and Joe in the general store, and Fletcher vows his men will kill the next time Joe or Shane come back into town.


Fletcher hires Stark Wilson, a well-known gunhawk, who kills one of the homesteaders that stands up to him. Joe Starrett feels it is his duty, since he convinced the others to stay, to go kill Fletcher and Wilson.

Shane knocks Joe out, knowing that, though Joe’s heart is in the right place, he’s no match for a hired gun like Wilson. There’s only one man who is—Shane himself, and that’s going to set him back on the path he’s so desperately trying to escape.

Shane rides into town and Bob follows him, witnessing the entire battle. Shane faces Wilson down first, and then Fletcher. Shane turns to leave and Bob warns him of another man, who Shane also kills. But Shane doesn’t escape unscathed—Wilson has wounded him in the earlier gunplay.

Shane rides out of town, and though Bob wishes so much that Shane could stay, he understands why he can’t. No. Bob does not utter one of the most famous lines in cinema history—“Shane! Come back!” There’s good reason for this. In the book, Bob’s growth is shown because of what he learns from Shane. To call him back would negate that growth process.

He describes Shane throughout the book, and in many ways, with a child’s intuition, understands innately that Shane is a good man and will do the right thing, which is proven out time and again. So, he also realizes that there is no place for Shane there in the valley, now that the trouble has been handled.

Bob witnesses the conversation between his mother and Shane, as well, where so much is said—and not said. It’s one of the major turning points in the book, though Bob, in his telling of it, doesn’t realize it—but the reader is painfully aware of it. If Shane really is a good man, he will have no recourse but to leave.

This happens as the novel is drawing to a close, when Marian, Bob’s mother, asks Shane if he’s going after Wilson just for her. He has knocked her husband out to keep him from going after the gunman.

Shane hesitated for a long, long moment. “No, Marian.” His gaze seemed to widen and encompass us all, mother and the still figure of father huddled on a chair by the window and somehow the room and the house and the whole place. Then he was looking only at mother and she was all he could see.

“No, Marian. Could I separate you in my mind and afterwards be a man?”

Shane was Jack Schaefer’s debut novel, published in 1949. It was honored in 1985 by the Western Writers of America as the best Western novel ever written—beating out other works such as Owen Wister’s The Virginian, Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage, and Louis L’Amour’s Hondo.
In 1963, Schaefer wrote Monte Walsh, a book that chronicles the passing of the Old West and the lifestyle of the American cowboy.

Schaefer never deliberately wrote for young adults, but many of his works have become increasingly popular among younger readers. Universal themes such as the transformation and changes of growing up, the life lessons learned, and rites of passage from childhood to becoming a young adult in his writing have been responsible for the upswing in popularity with this age group.

Though I consider Shane a romance novel, it’s a very different and memorable love triangle because of the unshakable honor of the three characters. I love the subtlety that Schaefer is such a master of, and the way he has Bob describing the action, seeing everything, but with the eyes of a child. If you haven’t read Shane, I highly recommend it—at less than 200 pages, it’s a quick, easy read, and unforgettable.



A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that. (Shane to Marian)

A man is what he is, Bob, and there’s no breaking the mold. I’ve tried that and I’ve lost. But I reckon it was in the cards from the moment I saw a freckled kid on a rail up the road there and a real man behind him, the kind that could back him for the chance another kid never had. (Shane to Bob)


I will be giving away a copy of KANE'S REDEMPTION, the first in a trilogy of the "coming of age" story about Will Green, a young boy who was kidnapped by the Apaches, and his rescuer, Jacobi Kane, to one commenter today. Please be sure and leave contact info! And thanks for joining us today at the WESTERN FICTIONEER blog!

37 comments:

  1. One of my all-time favorites as well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Troy,
    There is so much good to say about this book that I barely scratched the surface. What a miracle debut novel...amazing. I go back and reread this book every so often because I just love the way it's written.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  3. A beautifully written homage to a wonderful piece of literature. Your love for the story comes through in every word. "Shane" deserves to be at the top of any list.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A beautifully written homage to a wonderful piece of literature. Your love for the story comes through in every word. "Shane" deserves to be at the top of any list.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Sorry, don't know why the computer published comment twice.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ron Brawdy oupapa@yahoo.comFebruary 17, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    Hey Cheryl, Can honestly say I never read the book, but LOVED the movie, Alan Ladd was Great!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Cheryl, aha! A ten-year-old boy telling the story that has always remained your favorite? Makes me think you had subconscious reasons for telling Kane from that perspective. Whatever the reason, I'm glad because I love those books.

    My favorite western (other than yours or Jacquie Rogers') would be one by Louis L'Amour. Can't go wrong with any of them, but my favorites are FALLON, CONAGHER, HOW THE WEST WAS WON, and the Sackett books. His contemporary LAST OF THE BREED was also great.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Doris,
    Thank you so much for that lovely compliment. I appreciate it. I do love that book so much--every sentence is just beautifully written. Thanks so much for coming by today. You are always so supportive.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  9. RON! Welcome to the Western Fictioneers blog! I hope you will come back often and follow the blog, as well, since there will be lots of opportunities for giveaways here.

    I loved that movie, too! Of course, it had to end differently than the movie because there wasn't any way the movie could go into Bob's thoughts as the book could.

    I'm so glad you came by and hope you'll make a regular habit of it--something new here every day. I've got you entered in the drawing. Check back tonight around 10:00 to see if you won.

    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  10. Caroline, I am sooooo glad you think so highly of the trilogy. I enjoyed writing those so much and I'm still wondering how I can continue the story on once Will is a little older. I have an idea or two! LOL

    Yep, you probably have something there about my wanting to tell Will's tale from his POV. And bless you heart for saying that some of my books are some of your favorites! Oh, I loved The Last of the Breed and Conagher. Both of those were just classics, weren't they? The ending of The Last of the Breed just sent chills up my spine.

    Thanks for coming by today and commenting!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well, I couldn't pass this one up. Westward the Women is a favorite, but it's not what I call a real Western. If you're talking about recent Westerns, my favorite is Open Range--Kevin Costner and Robert Duval.

    But of the oldies, my favorite is Red River, 1948 movie about a big cattle drive north. John Wayne is the owner of the ranch and herd, and Montgomery Cliff is his adopted son--I think.
    Anyway, the reason I like this John Wayne movie when JW has never been a favorite of mine (I know, get a rope--go ahead and hang me)--is because he plays a more realistic role--imo--than in all his others when he's always the hero.
    But in RED RIVER, JW becomes tyrannical and hard-headed about taking the herd in a certain direction. MC argues the route is harder, and they need to turn toward Kansas City to a railhead to get them to market faster and in better shape.
    A fight ensues, and JW angrily deserts the herd, his men, and his son. MC sucessfully gets the herd to the railhead.
    (I hope my memory is good, here.)
    Anyway, I didn't like the ending because it turned frivolous and almost cute--when a reconcilitation in another way might have been better. However, it was the best role JW ever played, much better even than Rooster Cogburn (yes, I'm being sacriligous, here!)
    Whew.
    Good question--but you always ask good questions.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I had Shane on the shelf for a long time, but since I saw and liked the movie never read it before I passed it on. I'll have to get it and check out the ending.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hi Celia!

    Movie-wise, I loved Open Range--in fact, we just watched it again last night. I loved the movie of Shane, too, but I just have to give the book the edge. As Caroline mentioned, Louis L'Amour's books Conagher and The Last of the Breed (even though it wasn't a western in the sense that we're talking about)were just wonderful. There are so many it's hard to choose!

    Thanks for coming by today! I always love your comments.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oscar,

    Although the movie stayed true to the book for the most part, the book just had so many passages that are just beautiful writing that you won't experience in the movie. And the ending is a heartbreaker in both cases. I hope you will get it again and read it. You won't be sorry, and it's a very short read.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  15. Great post, Cheryl. You have certainly made a study of this novel!

    I have to agree, Shane is simply a classic, a book that deserves to be on a list of favourites you would want to take to a desert island.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great post, Cheryl. You have certainly made a study of this novel!

    I have to agree, Shane is simply a classic, a book that deserves to be on a list of favourites you would want to take to a desert island.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Nicely done, Cheryl. A fitting tribute to a fine book. Thanks for putting it out there.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hard as it is to believe now, but Shane was required reading when I was in high school, at least where I went, Notre Dame in West Haven, CT. I stopped by my old alma mater for the first time in many, many years last year.... and was pleasantly surprised to find Shane still on the library shelves. Not required any longer, though, which is a shame. All high school students should be required to read at least one Western novel. After all, the Western is the only truly original American form of literature, although some will argue for the detective story.

    Jim Griffin

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you, Keith. Yes, it's one of those novels I love to draw on when I teach writing classes. I wish more people who want to write novels would read this one and take time to savor the beauty of it. It just blows me away to think of this being a debut novel. And you're right--it is one of the books I would definitely want on a desert island. Thanks for commenting!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  20. Frank, thank you so very much. It was my pleasure. There just aren't very many books out there in any genre that could top this one, in my opinion.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  21. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Jim. SHANE should definitely be required reading for all high school students. I believe that there is a love for the west even among the younger generation that needs to be fostered but wonderful books such as this one.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  22. I saw the movie, Shane, with Gary Cooper and I loved it, except I hated that Shane left. Sadlt, I haven't read the book. Books are almost always better than the movie.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Sarah, I do love the movie, but the book truly is better in my opinion. I just love being able to know what they're thinking. LOL

    Thanks so much for coming by!
    Hugs,
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  24. You got a great conversation going, Cheryl. Good for you. I'll go with a piece of trivia. I never could figure out why Alan Ladd was in buckskins and Shane was in black. Maybe because he would have clashed too much with Jack Palance who was also in black.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hey Chuck! I agree! I think you're right. Jack P. had to wear the black--he was the "baddie"! LOL
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  26. MY WINNER FOR TODAY'S DRAWING IS....

    RON BRAWDY!

    Ron is an old friend from "back in the day"--I've known him since we were in elementary school, and let me tell ya, that's while back there! I will be in touch with you about your prize, Ron. Don't be a stranger here at the WESTERN FICTIONEER BLOG!
    Cheryl

    Congratulations, RON!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  27. I am a writer of westerns (and other novels) here in Germany. "Shane" is among my favorites as well, the book, not the movie, I didn't like Alan Ladd and the boy that much. My favorite western is "No Survivors" by Will Henry/Clay Fisher (and anything else he wrote), follow-ups are "Hondo", "Flint" and "Down the Long Hills" by Louis L'Amour, Elmer Kelton's "The Time It Never Rained"... oh I have an endless list.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Sorry I missed reading this -- I will have to hunt the book down. Should have known the book is better. Never did like Alan Ladd in it, and I didn't care for the movie's ending either. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hi Tom!

    My mother always said, "WHY did they pick Alan Ladd to play that part?" LOL And the boy, Brandon deWilde--well, he wouldn't have been my pick either, but back then in those studios things were different than they are now by a long shot.

    I'm making a list from the books people say are their favorites, and you've given me some new ones here--No Survivors being one of them.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.Hope to see more of you here at the blog!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  30. Meg, you won't be sorry. It's a short read and one that will stay with you.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  31. Here I thought it was Gary Cooper that played Shane and it was Alan Ladd. Shows you what I know. LOL Sam Elliot would have made an excellent Shane...but he makes an excellent cowboy in any movie.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Loved the book, not so crazy about the movie. For one thing, I thought Alan Ladd was horribly miscast. He isn't tall. He isn't tough. I hated his hat and the fact that the cover showed a man in black and Alan wore buckskins....I also didn't care for Jean Arthur, I think it was, who played Marion. But the book is a keeper. I first read it when I was a kid myself and it wasn't until I read it again, when I was older, that I realized there was something going on between Shane and Marion.....

    ReplyDelete
  33. Sarah, SE WOULD have made a GREAT Shane, wouldn't he? It would be hard to cast Shane, I think (back in those times)but I sure don't think I would have put Alan Ladd in the role from the description in the book.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete
  34. Mandy, I agree about Alan Ladd being miscast.Not that he wasn't a good actor, just not the one for that part. Yes, the book is wonderful. I had to laugh when I read the part about you realizing something was going on between Shane and Marion later on. I remember so clearly watching that movie on TV with my mom. She was ironing and when that "moment" came in the movie, she raised her eyebrows and went..."hmm"...LOLLOL I know now she was probably wondering if I "got it" or not.
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete