domingo, 27 de enero de 2019

Riders of the Purple Sage


Riders of the Purple Sage (Barnes & Noble, 2004)
by Zane Grey
USA, 1912

Super famous but thoroughly hack western which, despite being intermittently entertaining in spite of itself, might be most "memorable" for the virulence of its anti-Mormon themes and for the fact that Indians are mentioned a million times in the course of the novel without ever once making a non-figurative appearance within its pages.  Weird!  Given that Riders is set in southern Utah in the 1870s, the narrative's obsession with Native Americans but only with Native Americans who are always offscreen struck me as much more mystifying than either the hackery or the religious intolerance.  I mean, even if some of the native "presence" conjured up by and apparently significant to Grey--the references to kivas and the vanished cliff-dwellers of bygone times, for example--is clearly attributable to the demands of landscape and plot, what are we to make of the profusion of "good" ("Little Fay there--she sees things as they appear on the face.  An Indian does that.  So does a dog.  An' an Indian an' a dog are most of the time right in what they see.  Mebbe a child is always right") (228), bad ("Then it was that Venters' primitive, childlike mood, like a savage's, seeing yet unthinking, gave way to the encroachment of civilized thought") (153) and indifferent ("My father got his best strain [of horses] in Nevada from Indians who claimed their horses were bred down from the original stock left by the Spaniards") (28) allusions to Indians when Indian characters are otherwise entirely whitewashed from the text (that last allusion being the closest thing to a possible exception)?  Was this a genre thing--giving readers what somebody thought they wanted, cowboys and Indians in absentia if you would?  Whatever, kind of a strange choice to wind up as "the most popular western novel of all time" although granted Grey's dual love stories, creaky, pulp plot shenanigans about masked riders and hidden valleys, and awkwardly earnest prose ("He saw destiny in the dark, straight path of her wonderful eyes" [117]) naturally just might strike a more Proustian chord with you than they did with me.  Then again, maybe not!

Zane and Dolly Grey, c. 1906

15 comentarios:

  1. Very entertaining commentary on this book. I have never read Grey. I know people who love him. It really does not sound like it has many redeeming qualities. I think that I saw the 1941 film version of this.

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    1. Grey and Louis L'Amour were both very popular in the ranch town where I spent my teenage years, Brian, so I at least used to know a lot of people who loved them as well. Don't understand the love for this hamfisted and very poorly-written book although I may be underestimating Grey's storytelling skills as aspects of the plot appealed to me as cheesy entertainment despite the howlers and other flaws also in (constant) evidence. Anyway, thanks for the visit and comments!

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  2. I occasionally wonder if I ought to read this book for (literary) historical thoroughness. Maybe I will, someday, but you remind me of why I have not.

    Just yesterday I read a Robert E. Howard Conan story, which I had never done before, so it is not like this is beneath me. But at least Howard is only prejudiced against, I don't know, Atlanteans or anyways peoples who do not exist.

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    1. I thought Grey might be good at landscape descriptions at least, but he really wasn't at all or at least not here. Writing quality-wise, think H. Rider Haggard or Horatio Alger with horses. Thanks for the laugh about the Conan story, by the way. Damn Atlanteans!

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  3. Enjoyed this review: always pleased to have a reason not to read something...

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    1. Always glad to help, Dorian, even if it means taking one for the team. Ouch!

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  4. Seems like you did! I hope you are reading something better now.

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    1. I had wondered about that novel for a while and it wasn't all bad, so I'm not totally upset that I read it. Still, I'm happy to be moving on to happier reading pastures for sure!

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  5. Good to see you posting, Richard, even if on a book the chief appeal of which appears to be its memorable title! I'm disappointed to learn that any evocative landscape description might stop there.

    My spouse, fascinated by all things Western, particularly Native American cultures, recently picked this up along with several other Zane Gray novels, but she has yet to read any. I eagerly await her expletives.

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    1. Thanks, Scott. I guess it's kind of ironic that of all the good stuff I read during my blogging hiatus, it was this extremely uneven title that welcomed me back so to speak! Anyway, hope your wife has better luck with Riders and/or her other Greys than I did. I don't know if it's exactly a positive or not, but I did feel more empathy for Grey's equine and canine characters than his human ones. Maybe that was a hidden "strength" of his, ha ha. Cheers!

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  6. I enjoyed the descriptions of this one. I thought it was cinematographic.

    I didn't expect anything subtle or accurate, just something that fit the genre. I wasn't disappointed. But I guess you're rarely disappointed when you don't expect much.

    Sorry it didn't work for you.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this one more than I did, Emma, and I should admit that there were one or two descriptive passages that I fancied even if on the whole I didn't find it "cinematographic" at all myself--wish I had! Quality-wise, I'm not sure how representative Riders is--I've seen dozens of westerns but read almost none. This one was educational for me in a sense even though I didn't exactly appreciate the lesson. Cheers!

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  7. I've also read this, and rather liked it but not enough to ever read any more Zane Grey. It's pulp fiction and I think has to be read as such. Characters will never be more than functional.

    Re Robert E. Howard, much as I love his Conan stories I'm afraid some of them (possibly just one actually) are pretty explicitly racist. He's an important and effective writer, but of his period.

    Unlike HP Lovecraft, whom I love but who was considered deeply racist even by the standards of his period.

    Pulp for me is about pace, plot and cinematography (I wish I could have had a third p there).

    In terms of westerns with more literary qualities, News of The World by Paulette Jiles isn't bad. There's a review at mine for those interested.

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    1. Belated thanks for your comment and for the tip on the Paulette Jiles novel, Max. I guess I've just had better luck (and more experience) with pulp detective stories because this novel underwhelmed me in ways that I really couldn't attribute to genre failings. That being said, I'm glad to have heard from a couple of people now who have enjoyed Riders of the Purple Sage. Interesting to hear what worked for other people. Cheers!

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  8. Sorry, that last comment was from Max Cairnduff - pechorinsjournal. For some reason it came up as anonymous.

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