Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Immortality of the Western

Every few years or so, rumors start up again about the supposed "death" of the Western.  It seems to go on a cycle and if the rumors are to be believed, then the Western has died a thousand times. 

Yet, the genre is still around and going strong today. Granted, it is not nearly as popular as it was during the Fifties and Sixties, but it is a long way from being dead.

Iconic Western actor John Wayne believed in the durability of the genre. 

"Don't ever for a minute make the mistake of looking down your nose at Westerns. They're art–the good ones, I mean.  They deal in life and sudden death and primitive struggle, and with the basic emotions–love, hate, and anger–thrown in.  We'll have Western films as long as the cameras keep turning. The fascination that the Old West has will never die."

The Western will never die for one simple reason.  It is the one contribution to literature that is entirely and uniquely American.  Just as the great works of the Greeks and Romans are remembered today, so will the Western be remembered thousands of years from now. 

For some reason, some folks seem to want the Western to die or they at least want society to believe that it has, perhaps because it is not politically correct and may offend some people's delicate sensibilities.  However, there are much more offensive things in other genres than there will ever be in the Western.  The so-called offensive things in the Western are historical fact. 

There is nothing wrong with any aspect of the genre.  Some folks prefer the classic Western with the hero wearing the white hat versus the villain who wears the black hat.  Personally, I prefer my Westerns of the gray anti-heroic type.  

I enjoy all of John Wayne's movies and watch them time and again, but my biggest influences are Clint Eastwood's movies, from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to The Outlaw Josey Wales to Unforgiven.  However, perhaps my biggest influence is legendary writer, Louis L'Amour. 

The Western is not as popular as it once was, but that is not because there is anything wrong with the genre.  The reason that popularity has waned is because society has drifted away from the principles and ideals portrayed in the Western films and books of the past, as well as the ones being written today. 

Whenever I meet new people and tell them that I'm a writer, the first question they ask is about the kind of stories that I write.  When I tell them that I write Westerns, most of them generally frown and mutter something about not reading Westerns.  To which I always ask, why not? 

There are a lot of great Western stories being written today, all over the world.  In addition, the Western lends itself well to blending with other genres.  There are a lot of great Western mystery stories and a lot of Romance Westerns, even Horror Westerns.  Generally, there is some kind of Western story for everyone. 

Any story can be told as a Western and can be told better as one in my opinion because of the great tapestry that the backdrop of the Old West provides. 

There's no reason to change anything about the genre.  If we do that, then we aren't writing Westerns anymore.  The genre has gotten along just fine like it is and will continue to do so.  

Regardless of what some tenderfoots may think, the Western is just too tough to die.  

11 comments:

  1. Well said, Matthew. I've said much the same in my introduction to my book Write a western in 30 Days, beginning with 'Received wisdom would have us believe that the western genre is dead.'
    I'm posting this in my blog.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Nik. It's ironic how that rumor starts up every few years or so. And thank you for posting it on your blog. I appreciate it.

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  2. Matt, you know my feelings about the western genre. We've been in enough threads debating it.
    I'm a Traditionalist. I was introduced to the western at a very young age by my father who took me to the John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford western movies. I also got his western novels hand-me-downs and I was hooked.
    But,the western is diluted now. The Searchers, not Cowboys and Aliens, Warlock, not BrokeBack Mountain and The Magnificent Seven, not Firefly, are westerns.
    You see in Television too. Longmire and Justified, although quality shows, are no more westerns than Walker, Texas Ranger or McCloud were. They are COP shows set in a western state and happen to wear western hats.
    I write westerns, as you know, but you won't find an alien, ghost or SUV in any of my stories. Guaranteed! And if I lose readers because of that, then I'll quit writing, ride off into the sunset, find me a good used book store and stay there all day and read some real westerns.

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    Replies
    1. Howdy, Larry. Thanks for commenting. You must have confused me with someone else, however, because I haven't debated anyone. I don't consider Longmire or Justified to be Westerns and have never watched an episode, but I watch Hell on Wheels religiously. The traditional Westerns are great. I just watched High Noon again the other day.

      Delete
  3. Nice tribute to a genre we both love, Matt. The publisher markets my Sheriff Tilghman series as a Western, though it's set in the 1890s in Pennsylvania. Personally I call these historical mysteries, but she claims they have the "spirit of the Western."
    I hear Larry groaning--another dilution. Maybe. Still it keeps the term Western alive in the public mind and, hopefully, it might contribute to a call for more, including traditional Westerns.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, John. I'd say your publisher is correct. I've enjoyed the Sheriff Tilghman mysteries very much.

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  4. Well put, Matt. Tweeting this. Hope more people take it to heart and pick up a good Western to read.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, John and thank you for tweeting it.

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  5. Matt,
    I am pleased to meet you, via your blog.
    Your comments are well taken and I appreciate them. I would like to add another dimension: the Western is a novel of values, not of dates. I say this for personal reasons, of course, because I have (independently) published a novel about a Western banker who went to jail in 1929 for doing the right thing by his depositors. Currently I am seeking an agent and publisher for a finished novel about a sheriff who leads a posse in 1948 to bring in a man whom he raised as a son. In the latter quest, I have run into a well known agent who rejected it because "Westerns don't have a market beyond 1895" and a well known publisher who said, "well, 1920, at the latest."
    Having been raised in the West, what I am writing about is what my father and grandfather and his father brought to the settling of an unknown and threatening environment. To be sure, I believe a new business venture in 2013 has the same characteristics; I just do not believe the characters involved have the same values.
    So, to your argument, I do not think the Western will die anymore than I think the defining characteristics of Greek philosophy will disappear from our society.
    Thanks for the prompt, I would not have articulated this otherwise.
    Edward

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  6. John Wayne is truly an icon, one of the eternal saviours of the early TV era. I love you, JW. God bless you. Not to glorify myself, though, but our blogs aint sumtin to shake a schtick at, y'heer?? Goldangit...

    Wanna wiseabove to help a 'Plethora Of Wurdz' [POW!] which are look'n for a new home in your novel?? Yay! Whew...

    Q: Can anyone tell me the difference between K2 and IQ? A: Nthn. In Seventh-Heaven, we gitt'm both for eternity HawrHawr Need a few more thots, ideers, raw wurdz or ironclad iconoclasms? Voila!!

    VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI: As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go through in this lifelong demise, I just wanna help U.S. git past the whorizontal more!ass! we're in (Latin: words to [the] wise)...

    "This finite existence is only a test, son," God Almighty told me in my coma. "Far beyond thy earthly tempest is where you'll find tangible, corpulent eloquence". Lemme tella youse without d'New Joisey accent...

    I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET! any moe curly, party-hardy-endorphins, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs (in [the] end without end -Saint Augustine) when my beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girly passed-away due to those wry, sardonic satires.

    "Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity" -Daniel 12:3, NJB

    Here's also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you' -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

    Go gitt'm, girl. You're incredible. See you Upstairs. I won't be joining'm in the nasty Abyss where Isis prowls
    thesuperseedoftime.blogspot.com
    infowars.com
    -YOUTHwitheTRUTH
    -------------------------------
    PS Need summore unique, uncivilized, useless names? Lemme gonna gitcha started, brudda:

    Oak Woods, Franky Sparks, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, Roman Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Penelope Summers, Sophie Sharp, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zacharia Neptoon, Mercurio Morrissey, Fritz & Felix Franz, Victor Payne, Isabella Silverstein, Mercedes Kennedy, Redding Rust, Phoenix Martini, Ivy Squire, Sauer Wolfe, Yankee Cooky, -blessed b9 (or mixNmatch)...

    God blessa youse
    (trust-N-Jesus)
    -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL

    ReplyDelete
  7. John Wayne is truly an icon, one of the eternal saviours of the early TV era. I love you, JW. God bless you. Not to glorify myself, though, but our blogs aint sumtin to shake a schtick at, y'heer?? Goldangit...

    Wanna wiseabove to help a 'Plethora Of Wurdz' [POW!] which are look'n for a new home in your novel?? Yay! Whew...

    Q: Can anyone tell me the difference between K2 and IQ? A: Nthn. In Seventh-Heaven, we gitt'm both for eternity HawrHawr Need a few more thots, ideers, raw wurdz or ironclad iconoclasms? Voila!!

    VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI: As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go through in this lifelong demise, I just wanna help U.S. git past the whorizontal more!ass! we're in (Latin: words to [the] wise)...

    "This finite existence is only a test, son," God Almighty told me in my coma. "Far beyond thy earthly tempest is where you'll find tangible, corpulent eloquence". Lemme tella youse without d'New Joisey accent...

    I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn't GET! any moe curly, party-hardy-endorphins, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs (in [the] end without end -Saint Augustine) when my beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girly passed-away due to those wry, sardonic satires.

    "Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity" -Daniel 12:3, NJB

    Here's also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: 'the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you' -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

    Go gitt'm, girl. You're incredible. See you Upstairs. I won't be joining'm in the nasty Abyss where Isis prowls
    thesuperseedoftime.blogspot.com
    infowars.com
    -YOUTHwitheTRUTH
    -------------------------------
    PS Need summore unique, uncivilized, useless names? Lemme gonna gitcha started, brudda:

    Oak Woods, Franky Sparks, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, Roman Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Penelope Summers, Sophie Sharp, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zacharia Neptoon, Mercurio Morrissey, Fritz & Felix Franz, Victor Payne, Isabella Silverstein, Mercedes Kennedy, Redding Rust, Phoenix Martini, Ivy Squire, Sauer Wolfe, Yankee Cooky, -blessed b9 (or mixNmatch)...

    God blessa youse
    (trust-N-Jesus)
    -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL

    ReplyDelete