Books, Culture and Society

The Western Rides Again!

Critics are quick to tell you the western is dead. Even some writers are quick to tell you the western is dead. Publishers are quick to tell you the western is dead. But readers will be quick to tell you the western is very much alive and well. You might have to search for it, but it's out there, coiled like a rattlesnake amongst the sagebrush and waiting to strike.

The Western Rides Again!

* Thomas McNulty is the author of Trail of the Burned Man, Wind Rider, and Death Rides a Palomino. Visit him online at thomasmcnulty.com. He is also a passionate advocate of lifelong learning through audiobooks on cd collections from http://www.goldensagestories.com.

The western story, which originated in the nickel and dime pulp magazines of the late 1800s and flourished for a remarkable period from 1925 through the early 1960s, has always been available in some form. The western came of age as a pulp magazine and then as a paperback. The 30s and 40s was a Golden Age for pulp magazines, but these pulps are slowly crumbling to dust.

The paperback market began to dry up in the 1970s as the celluloid western was replaced by the profitable science fiction extravaganzas. With the exception of books by Louis L’Amour, the western story was deemed a thing of the past. Well, not exactly. Although many knowledgeable people will tell you the western was effectively dead by the late 1970s, the truth is the western never died. It’s been mishandled, misunderstood, and often ignored by certain factions of the writing community who view such stories as inferior. But it’s not dead.

A pulp renaissance is underway and numerous companies are reprinting the classic pulp stories from the glorious Golden Age. Galaxy Press Publishing has realized popular and critical success with their reprints of Hubbard’s seminal work including “Branded Outlaw”, “The Baron of Coyote River”, “Six-Gun Caballero” and “Under the Diehard Brand.”

Black Dog Books has reprinted Lester Dent’s westerns in a collection titled Hell’s Hoof prints where readers can read classics like “Fear Ranch,” “Trigger Trap,” and “The Haunted Saddle.” Another of their popular titles is Robert Leslie Bellem’s, “Lust of the Lawless,” is a collection of hard-boiled westerns from the pages of Spicy Western Stories magazine.

These reprints are all faithful to the now disintegrating pulp magazines that are so prized by collectors. The cover colors were always vibrant and the landscape could be as breathtaking as a photograph or as simple as a comic book illustration. But the American west was (and remains) exotic. The vastness of the land itself and the perils of the wilderness called out to the armchair explorers and daydreaming heroes who were swept away by the galloping black stallions and swarthy gunmen who populated this landscape with blazing six-shooters and that determined ferocity painted into their eyes. This image, coupled with that of actors like William Boyd, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, was enough to drive the imagination of several generations who yearned to become like the heroes they saw on the silver screen or read about in magazines.

Then there are the stories themselves. The pulps told simple stories in masculine prose.

The prose gets right to the heart of the matter and often achieves a hard-boiled poetic tone that elevated the prose to a higher creative level. In “The Baron of Coyote River,” Ron Hubbard described the scene thus: “Ahead the Coyote River basin spread out before them like a winning hand in a poker game.” Short and to the point, but such images leave an indelible impression on readers. Similes are unleashed with the ferocity of a blazing six- shooter.

The reading public knows a good story when they see one, and the demand for pulp reprints is high. Good stories told by talented writers transcend time. They appeal to each generation with their raw sincerity, action and romance. So if anyone ever tells you the western is dead hand them one of these classic reprints. The western is alive and well.

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