The Literature of the Western... suggestions?

Hey, compadres… a year or two ago, we had a conversation here about what films I would use in my class I was teaching on the History of the American West. My administrator was so impressed by the overall construction of the class that he and I are now developing a new class… The American West in Film and Literature, a 15 week course. I don’t have much of a problem with the film part, but I’m trying to think of the best literature selections. As much as I’d love to cover Lonesome Dove, it’s just too damn big - it would be a course unto itself.

So far, I’m thinking of: The Virginian, The Oxbow Incident, an old dime novel if I can get a digital copy of one (anyone help me with this?), and perhaps something more in the popular vein, such as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. This is a community college level course.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Thanks.

I haven’t read that much Western literature compared to my film viewing of the genre, but two author’s names that spring to mind immediately are Ernest Haycox (thirties/forties writer and might be useful) and the inevitable Elmore Leonard (is he too “populist” for your course?).

I would suggest the Edge novels by George g Gilman for a dime or pulp novel.

No, Elmore Leonard is not too populist. Thanks for the suggestions… keep 'em comin. I’ll have to check out the Gilman, not familiar with him.

The Edge books are nasty l’il paperbacks - very macho, full of smart-arse one liners, and bullets splintering bone etc.
I’ve got a dozen or so kicking about that you are welcome to if they’re any good to ya.
I’d imagine ‘kids’ will lap this shit up… I did! ;D

[Edit - ooops :-[ I think I may have taken 'em to the charity shop already :-[ … sorry!]

Two you shouldn’t leave off the list: True Grit by Charles Portis and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

I was considering the McCarthy one. Thanks.

That’s good! I don’t know though, so times “if” I were teaching a course on say, British literature at degree level, I’m not sure I’d include such well-known authors as say Charles Dickens or Jane Austen because of the instant familiarity with them by the students and thus judgement and closed-mind attitude towards them, positive or negative. Of course, that initial familarity might not affect teaching a course in Western literature because its exponents aren’t as well known.

In my experience, the way around that, John, is to either teach the books with which they’re not familiar via six thousand movie adaptations – e.g. Bleak House, Mansfield Park – OR give them Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice, and steer discussion to aspects of the book that aren’t replicated, represented or challenged by the adaptations.

You may actually want to give McCarthy a read-through yourself before turning it over to a community college class. An hour after I recommended, I thought about assigning it to a class of college freshmen or sophomores, and…it honestly might be both too dense and too darkly violent. I might rescind my recommendation.

Also, here’s Jesse James, the Outlaw a dime novel from 1901.

Blood Meridian is beautifully written, but also a very strange and disturbing book. A monster of a book …

Lordradish, how old are the kids you are teaching?

As far as I’m aware, in the U.S. people go to Community College after graduating from High School, so 18 onwards I’m thinking, usually.

The Virginian and Ox-Bow Incident are good choices, JD.
In addition, I would definitely recommend the work of Thomas Eidson. An excellent writer and all his books share a theme of strong women in the west. Something that I suspect would be useful to include in a college course of this type when so much of the literature will be “male-centric”. Charles Portis’ True Grit could also fall into this category, as could Glendon Swarthout’s The Homesman. All good books with plenty to discuss packed into reasonably short texts. (a bonus for any student and teacher alike)

In terms of ‘popular’ western writers you can’t go past Elmore Leonard for my money. Not only are his westerns well written they also, I believe, are cinematic in style and their adaptation to the screen (often by Leonard himself) should give some interesting opportunities to compare and contrast the west of literature and film. Also, Leonard is a good example and measuring stick of the shift in American tastes in regards to the western genre. He started writing almost exclusively westerns in the 1950s because he perceived a constant demand for such stories but then switched to crime fiction during the 1960s when this market was steadily drying up.

Lastly, perhaps something that interweaves fiction with factual characters and events might be of interest. Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man springs to mind as an obvious example. Depiction of characters such as Custer and Hickock for example as well as the 60s revisionist view of the west.

Just some ideas anyway from the top of my head.

Portis’ True Grit and Leonard’s Hombre are pretty good.

Here is an author you might consider - Frederick Faust. He wrote westerns under the pen name Max Brand. A huge volume of work from around 1920-1940. Most of his stuff is still being published so easy to get your hands on.

Sorry I hadn’t signed in and responded, folks. I got sidetracked. I’m going to print out this whole thread and start researching your suggestions. Thanks a lot!