I was in seventh grade when I discovered Louis L’amour in the Junior High library. About two weeks later I had plowed through all of the Sackett books except for Lando, which we didn’t have. I rushed over to the Public Library and pestered a librarian until she located it in another city and had it sent over to me. What had appealed to me about Lando? I read an excerpt in another book about how he could bend silver dollars in his hands. Awesome.
I’d lie in bed every night tearing through books like The First Fast Draw and Bowdrie’s Law. I had a rubber band pistol that I would draw with in the mirror. I would look for ladies of questionable virtue with hearts of gold that I could rescue. I mourned the fact that no Western sage could be written about myself and my siblings, because Hanagarne is just not as catchy or fun to say as Sackett.
I moved into the Zane Grey books, then graduated to Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and the others in the series.
My discovery of L’amour led to my near-simultaneous obsession with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. I would watch any western I could find, when I needed a break from the books. And the mustache of Sam Elliot needs no introduction.
What was it about these books and films that ensorcelled me so? (ensorcelled is my new favorite word). Who knows? The masculinity. The chivalry. The guns and smoke and the tough guys that didn’t back down. I also love to ride horses and take trips, so that didn’t hurt. I also liked that the books were usually short and I could read three of them in a day.
It hasn’t changed. When I saw that the Coens were remaking True Grit I just about wet my pants. Every time I watch Unforgiven my face locks into the same squinting scowl Clint walks around with for 99% of the film. Every time some new idiotic movie full of blaring noise and CGI and explosions comes out, I wonder why Sam Elliot can’t just make a short film every week where he puts on a cowboy hat and disciplines bad guys.
In short: I love Westerns. When done well there are few things I enjoy more. And I can’t wait for Cowboys and Aliens.
How about you? Any favorites, or are you one of those nuts who just can’t stand the genre?