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Hondo ()


    The best Western novel I have ever read.
        -John Wayne

Hey look, I'm not about to argue with the Duke.  Louis L'Amour is probably the best-selling Western writer of all time and Hondo his first big, and perhaps his best, novel.  It is reminiscent of Shane (see Orrin's review) and Riders of the Purple Sage (see Orrin's review), but with Apaches on the warpath taking the place of hostile cattle ranchers or intolerant Mormons.  Hondo Lane is the gun fighter, Army dispatch rider, hero who, along with his feral but loyal dog Sam,  meets Angie Lowe and her young son Johnny who are homesteading in Apache territory in late 1800's Arizona.  Angie has been abandoned by her low down snake of a husband, but refuses to leave her land.  Hondo must ride back to the Fort to warn the Cavalry that the Apache chief Vittoro is on the move, but then returns to help defend woman and child.

If the story does not quite reach the lofty literary heights of Shane--perhaps because the focus is so much on what Hondo needs from Angie and Johnny, as opposed to the way in which Shane was the object of the Starrett family's affection--it is still quite enjoyable.  Three elements that really stand out and offer a contrast to the easy caricature of the genre are the respectful portrayal of the Apaches, the centrality of the romance angle to the story and the blithe depiction of the difficulty and brutality of frontier life.  Even in so formulaic a tale as this one, the American Western demonstrates a level of maturity and nuance that critics seem bent on denying.

With the possible exception of the romance novel, there is perhaps no other genre of fiction which the critics and academia take less seriously than the Western.  But consider the fact that by the time of his death L'Amour had sold over 200 million books and among his avid legion of readers were two of the most decent men ever to become U.S. Presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.   It seems to me that the failure of the intelligentsia to reckon with Western reflects poorly on themselves, rather than on the literature.  L'Amour says at one point:

    No man knows the hour of his ending, nor can he choose the place or the manner of his going.  To
    each it is given to die proudly, to die well, and this is, indeed, the final measure of the man.

It is easy, too easy, to dismiss the ethos of the Western as a kind of macho posturing.  But those lines and the general "code of the West", however much it may be a fictional construct, reflect a concern with reputation which, when observed, has had a salutary effect on men.  In an excellent essay on "The Greatness of George Washington"  (Virginia Quarterly Review, Volume 68, Number 2) historian Gordon S. Wood traces Washington's greatness and his stature among his peers to what our generation would perceive as an overweening concern for his own reputation.  But this same zealous regard for his own name and place in history motivated Washington to lead a life of exemplary moral rectitude and he created in himself the ideal man to lead a nascent and fragile democracy, a man capable of resisting the temptations of power because reputation was more important to him.  It is no surprise then to find that two of the only other presidents we've had who can even approach him in stature immersed themselves in this idealistic and rigidly moralistic fiction.  God knows what Bill Clinton reads (actually one book we know he enjoyed is Vox by Nicholson Baker, see Orrin's review), but rest assured, it ain't Louis L'Amour

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)

  

Websites:

See also:

Westerns
Book-related and General Links:
    -Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) originally Louis Dearborn LaMoore; pseudonyms Tex Burns and Jim Mayo (kirjasto)
    -OBIT: Louis L'Amour, Writer, Is Dead; Famed Chronicler of West Was 80  (JAMES BARRON, NY Times)
    -Louis L'Amour's grave (photo)(Forest Lawn in Glendale, California)
    -INTERVIEW: Louis L'Amour Interview by Jean Henry-Mead - ReadTheWest
    -PROFILE: Behind the Best Sellers; LOUIS L'AMOUR (Edwin McDowell, NY Times)
    -Louis L'Amour | Official Website (Random House)
    -Louis (Dearborn) L'amour (1908-1988)
    -Louis L'Amour (1908-1988)- the Un-Official Tribute Site
    -ClassicWesterns.com - Louis L'amour
    -Louis L'Amour at ReadingChair.com
    -AWARDS: The Rough Rider Awards North Dakota's Highest Honor
    -ARTICLE: BRIEFING; L'AMOUR, TOUJOURS (Marjorie Hunter and Warren Weaver Jr., NY times)
    -ARTICLE: PUBLISHING: THE DISPUTE OVER L'AMOUR'S STORIES (EDWIN McDOWELL, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: TRAILING LOUIS L'AMOUR IN NEW MEXICO SEVEN OF THE POPULAR WESTERN AUTHOR'S MANY NOVELS ARE SET IN THE 'LAND OF ENCHANTMENT, AND THEY OFFER REAL HISTORY AND REAL GEOGRAPHY FOR  ADVENTURESOME HISTORIC TRAVELERS (BERT MURPHY, History Net)
    -ESSAY: The Soviet Novel and the Western (David A. Goldfarb, CCACC, Rutgers University, 30 November 1990)
    -REVIEW: of  JUBAL SACKETT By Louis L'Amour (Louise Erdrich, NY Times Book Review)

FILM:
    -REVIEWS: Epinions.com - Hondo

GENERAL:
    -ARTICLE: WESTERN NOVELS RIDE HIGH AGAIN (EDWIN McDOWELL, NY Times)
    -Western Novels and Novelists
    -ESSAY: WRITERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (Russell Martin, NY Times)

Comments:

I have just received 4 books given me by my Colorado daughter and havc read 3 of them...I could read ALL of them as I love reading and these novels are the BEST I have read and although I cannot buy them - I eagarly wait for more books to come my way....There is also a book he wrote on poetry that I cannot wait to get hole of .....So from a nobody, take this to the bank that Louis L'Amour IS THE WRITER THAT I GIVE THE HIGHEST MARKS TOO,,,,

- N.E. Fritz

- Oct-31-2008, 00:17

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Excellent thoughts on the place of the Western in literature.

- ernest deschoening

- Apr-02-2007, 10:42

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