Thursday, November 14, 2013
Ranger Jim’s Ramblings for November
I’ve decided to take a break from the story of the El Paso Salt War for this month. The reason for this is Rod Miller’s recent post about GENESIS, his favorite Western short story. Rod’s post got me to thinking once again about one of my biggest pet peeves, which will be the subject of my post this month.
GENESIS is a more realistic look at cowboy life than most Western fiction, which of course it will be, since it’s a memoir. And that’s my point. Why is it that so many “literati” complain about how Western fiction romanticizes the West, yet hardly anyone complains about other genres romanticizing the period in which they were set?
We all know that cowboying wasn’t glamorous at all, that it was dirty, lonely, low-paying, and dangerous work. Yet, at the same time, it was that same dirty, lonely, low-paying, dangerous work which formed the basis of the only true original American hero, the cowboy.
The medieval “knight in shining armor” is highly romanticized, yet where are the critics of that genre? You don’t read about the knights, and other people of that era, being filthy, dirty, smelly, lice-covered, and taking a bath maybe once a year if they were lucky. Same goes for the heroes of Greek literature, or the Roman legions. The examples go on and on. Yet most self-described experts on literature seem only to pick on Western novels as being highly romanticized and untrue.
The one theme all critics of Western fiction seem to settle on is that cowboys weren’t the gunfighters so often pictured in Western books. Now matter how true this is, there were plenty of heroes of the old West who did indeed enforce law and order or help bring civilization to a wild land by use of the gun if necessary. The annals of the Texas Rangers alone provide enough true stories of gunfights to fill several history books. There is a mother lode of material to mine for Western fiction that is based on absolute truth. And there were indeed “super” horses that, while they could never duplicate some of the feats attributed to equines in the pages of the pulps, did indeed perform heroically or raced long journeys far beyond normal endurance to help their riders escape trouble or bring help to some far-flung outpost or settlement.
I for one refuse to apologize for writing Western fiction. I love the genre, which is THE ONLY TRUE AMERICAN GENRE in literature, and hope to keep promoting the Western until I’m no longer breathing. To borrow a phrase from Kit Prate in her introduction to her short story, THE REDEMPTION OF CADE BEAUCHARD, in the Western Fictioneers’ anthology THE TRADITIONAL WEST: “… My love affair with the West and things Cowboy continues still; but bear in mind -- I write fiction, not history.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.