Thursday, June 2, 2011
“Best Western Novel I Have Ever Read – John Wayne”, reads the cover blurb.
Want to start right off by probably committing a HUGE sin here in confessing that I don’t much like Louis L’Amour. I know, I know….biggest selling Western novelist of all time. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but that doesn’t make him the best, though. He was far from it. And, surprisingly, a little bit of a priss for someone who was a former boxer.
There were, and are, scads of Western Writers (too many to list here) much better at storytelling and presentation than Mr. L’Amour ever was. That isn’t to say, though, that he didn’t have shining moments as a writer.
HONDO is probably the best of his lot. There are other really good ones, too, that came before and after HONDO, but at some point he turned dull and pretentious and it became a chore to slog through one of his books.
I find it hilarious that through his own negligence, he let the copyright on some of his early stuff expire and a publisher called “Carroll & Graf” snatched these stories up in the 1980’s. They began publishing them without a dime of recompense going to Mr. L’Amour. One of the C & G collections, “The Hills of Homicide”, was a volume of some of his pulp detective stuff.
I read the Bantam edition of “The Hills of Homicide” – which he rushed to publish to compete with C & G (so the fans wouldn’t be “short-changed”, I suppose) – and found these stories amusingly awful. Of course, I’d hate to be judged myself by writings I did when I was just starting out, too, so I might be a little harsh here in my criticism of him. Wait….nah, those stories blew.
So our ol’ buddy Louis whined about the C & G books, rushed out his own Bantam editions (which included some boring and uninsightful new commentary) and refused to sign any of the books that weren’t “The Only Authorized Version”.
I suppose he had a right to complain about getting ripped off by C & G, but, then, he was too busy cashing royalty checks on his other stuff to pay attention to those early stories slipping into the public domain. Therefore, my sympathy for him on this was (very) limited.
As a side note, I had another reason not to like him that much. When I inquired, I was told at the 1984 Western Writers of Convention that Mr. L’Amour wasn’t going to attend unless he was PAID to show up. Apparently, Lou was more interested in earning book signing fees elsewhere than actually showing up in Branson, Missouri that year to promote the art of Western Writing. His presence would no doubt have caused an excitement amongst fans and would have increased their attendance by hundreds at the book signing event that took place.
As it turned out, it did not appear that any of the writers doing signings missed out on sales or that any of his peers missed Louis.
Anyway, HONDO. Enjoy it as some of L’Amour’s finest work and leave it at that.