Wednesday, July 21, 2021

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)


Thanks for stopping by today! What's your favorite western novel? I know, there are so many good ones out there it's hard to pick just one, isn't it? So...maybe the top five on your favorites list? Let's hear them!

18 comments:

  1. How different is the movie from the novel?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ending is completely different. I like both endings, and I understand why they did it the way they did in both cases. Loved the movie and the book both! Talking about it makes me want to go back and re-read it again. LOL

      Delete
  2. Great synopsis of SHANE, Cheryl. What I've always like about the story is its uncomplicated plot: land baron vs settlers. But, of course, the stakes are even higher for the settlers because they have no formal protection from law enforcement. These ranches and farms were often a long way from the local sheriff. Homesteaders were often at the mercy of the big rancher who recruited a hired gun. But that's the beauty of SHANE. He becomes the protector--an un-hired gun, if you will. A sold tale of the West that's never stale, no matter how many times you return to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tom, I agree! I can't even imagine how it must have been to feel so isolated and just be hoping that the people who settled around you were "good people" and not there to try to take over the land or run roughshod over everyone else. Because then what would you do? You'd either have to leave and move on, or stay and fight, and in the face of someone so evil as the antagonist in Shane, you would surely die. So there'd be no choice in a lot of cases--if you were killed, then what would become of your family without you? This is one of those stories that really is thought provoking in so many ways, because Shane really was honorable, and he proved it.

      Delete
  3. I've loved everything I've read by Jack Schaefer, both novels and short stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I need to get more of his stories and read them. I want to read Monte Walsh...I'm just not sure that anything will ever stand up to Shane in my own mind. LOL

      Delete
  4. Cheryl, I have two favorite Westerns. One is Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, which has the feel of an epic tale set in the Wild West, and the other is Thomas Berger's Little Big Man, a spoof that finds a unique way to look at frontier legends. The book is also as sympathetic to Native Americans as is Dances With Wolves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Louis, I loved Lonesome Dove, too. My dad was not a big reader of fiction--he read more biographies and gardening and "how-to" type books, but I got him hooked on Louis L'Amour stories and he loved the mini-series of Lonesome Dove, so he did read the book and he really enjoyed it. I have not read Little Big Man, but I'm putting it on my list. Another one of my favorites is St. Agnes' Stand by Thomas Eidson--he also wrote The Missing, but St. Agnes' Stand is my favorite of all his tales. What a powerful ending it has!

      Delete
  5. Shane is a great book. We actually studied it in English class at school when Was eleven years old and it had a huge impact on me.

    I preferred it to Owen Wister's The Virginian, which I only read after watching the TV series with James Drury and Doug McClure. The character of Trampas was changed dramatically in the TV series, so he became an endearing guy rather than the villain of the piece. Accordingly, the impact of that great line 'When you call me that, smile!' - was diluted down somewhat.

    Nevertheless, we called out dog Trampas, but inevitably it became abbreviated to just 'Tramp.' He was a good dog.

    Thanks, Cheryl. Your post 'rekindled memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Keith--I love it that this books speaks to so many people on so many levels. Youngsters could SOOOO identify with the young boy's idolization of a man like Shane and his sadness as Shane rode away. I think the ending of the book was 'better' in many ways than the movie because of the growth it showed for Bob, and the realization that Shane could NOT stay.

      I also preferred it to The Virginian. To me, it was much more highly emotional in so many ways.

      I love that you named your dog Trampas. LOL I had a cat one time named "Sundance" (which was shortened to "Sunny"). Glad you enjoyed the post--there are so many wonderful western stories out there--thank GOODNESS!

      Delete
  6. Great blog, Cheryl. While SHANE is a great book, I remember preferring another Schaefer novel FIRST BLOOD, which you might want to check out. Other favourite novels include HOMBRE by ELMORE LEONARD, BLOOD BROTHER by ELLIOT ARNOLD, THE BUFFALO SOLDIERS by JOHN PREBBLE, LITTLE BIG MAN by THOMAS BERGER, THE AUTHENTIC DEATH OF HENDRY JONES by CHARLES NEIDER and THE BUFFALO RUNNERS by FRED GROVE. When it comes to 'series' westerns, I really liked the McALLISTER series by MATT CHISHOLM.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, this is a treasure trove of great reads! All of these are going on my list, Andrew. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

      Delete
  7. Great synopsis! I love Shane, although I admit to being a bit more partial to Louis L'Amour's Sackett men. My favorite is Tell, the big-boned "homely" (although I can't really believe that is accurate) mountain man who features in several of the novels. I re-read many of these novels frequently because I love the lyrical descriptions and the way the Sackett family sticks together (even if all they know is "A Sackett is in trouble").

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved those Sackett stories, too, JES! I got my dad reading those, and then he was asking, "Are there any more?" LOL I went to the used bookstore and bought up a copy of every LL book they had and took them to him in a big brown paper grocery sack. He was so thrilled! LOL I know he enjoyed them all. Like you, I love the descriptions, and their bond of loyalty. Those are some great stories!

      Delete
  8. I just finished reading Shane a few days ago. I liked the fact that the character is a sharply-dressed gunfighter/gambler type, rather than the buckskin-wearing Alan Ladd character (who looks more like a trapper). He's also a lot more emotionally tense, troubled & vigilant than in the movie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I liked that about him too, in the book. It would have made a difference. Not sure why they did that in the movie with Alan Ladd's character. I loved the book because of course, there are so many ways of showing what the character is feeling and the emotional angst, as you were saying, than in a movie. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Delete
  9. Excellent post. I have not read Shane, yeah I know, but it's on my list.

    I do have a number of favorite authors, but L.P. Holmes book, Smoky Trail, has stayed with me from the moment I read it. The book may not be a classic, but the premis and story seemed to resonate with me. I've tried to figure out why, but haven't succeeded yet.

    As for the film, I've seen it and loved Jack Palance. According to the trivia on IMDb, Montgomery Cliff was originally cast to play Shane. What a different film it would have been. (Of course, I love reading trivia about just about anything. LOL) Doris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doris, Shane is not very long--I bet you could read it quickly--but I think I've read it 3 or 4 times because I always end up finding something I had not noticed before when I read it again. Now, I've gotta find Smoky Trail...

      Delete