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Miss Johnson...had specified that the inscription on her grave marker be "PAID."

"God and I know what it means, and nobody else needs to know," she said.
    -OBIT: Dorothy M. Johnson, Author Of 'Liberty Valance,' Is Dead (NY Times, November 13, 1984)


This reprint of several of the great stories of Dorothy Johnston is an invaluable reminder of a great and unlikely talent in the Western genre. I have to confess I'd no idea that two of the classic Western movies, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and A Man Called Horse, were not only based on source material by the same author but a woman to boot. Reading the stories together here it becomes obvious that, though seemingly dissimilar, the tales are linked--as is in particular--by the theme of people trying to sculpt personal characters that they can be proud of, or at least live with. The man called Horse, for instance, has come West, despite being of a good family in New England, because he wanted to "live among his equals--people who were no better than he and no worse either." But when he is captured by the Crow Indians he is made a slave, little better than a horse. However, when he finds himself fighting with dogs for a chunk of meat he resolves that while he may be no better than a horse he is above the dogs, and so he begins to establish the boundaries of an acceptable persona and by the end of the story becomes a decent enough man that he makes a surprising self-sacrifice. Similarly, the tale of Ransome Foster, in Liberty Valance, resolves to a simple determination: "When I die, sometime today, he thought, they won't say I'm a coward." Indeed, the great strength of Ms Johnson as a story-teller, something lost in the epic film versions, is that she stripped away all clutter to get to the essentials of these characters.

As it turns out, Ms Johnson was quite a character in her own right--Dorothy M. Johnson: Taleteller was everyman's interpreter and guide to Montana and the West (JEFF HERMAN, The Missoulian)--and it's a wonderful thing to see her get the recognition she deserves.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

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Westerns
Dorothy Johnson Links:

    -OBIT: Dorothy M. Johnson, Author Of 'Liberty Valance,' Is Dead (NY Times, November 13, 1984)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Dorothy M. Johnson (IMDB.com)
    -The New York Times > Movies > People > Dorothy M. Johnson
    -UIowa - Papers of Dorothy M. Johnson
    -Montana Newspaper Hall of Fame: Dorothy M. Johnson
    -PROFILE: 17. Dorothy M. Johnson: Taleteller was everyman's interpreter and guide to Montana and the West (JEFF HERMAN, The Missoulian)
    -ARTICLE: Billings Premiere Showing of Documentary by MSU-Billings English Professor Sue Hart: "Gravel in Her Gut & Spit in Her Eye" About the Life and Work of Dorothy M. Johnson (MSU-Billings)
    -REVIEW: of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Dorothy M. Johnson (Billings News)
    -REVIEW: of The Bloody Bozeman: The Perilous Trail to Montana's Gold by Dorothy M. Johnson (Ernest Wallace, Journal of American History)

FILM:
    -INFO: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Imdb.com)
    -INFO: A Man Called Horse (Imdb.com)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (NY Times, May 24, 1962)
    -FILM REVIEW: A Man Called Horse (NY Times, April 30, 1970)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Hanging Tree (Bosley Crowther, NY Times)

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