Thursday, January 15, 2009

09.01 Riders Of The Purple Sage by Zane Grey

Riders Of The Purple Sage (1912) by Zane Grey

I thought I would take another stab at the Western genre. I have read a couple of Elmore Leonard's western novels but those are more of a re-imagining of the style. Sort of like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven as compared to The Great Train Robbery*. Zane Grey on the other hand is the real deal. He was one of the founders of the genre and Riders of the Purple Sage was one of his first books.

There were a few things that surprised me about this book. It was a long novel (over 300 pages) and the plot was moderately complex. The story takes place in western Utah in 1871 in a small Mormon town. A young woman whose dead father was the scion of the town has taken up a spinster life managing her fathers vast holdings and associating with cowboy Gentiles (non-Mormons). The town elders and other top Mormons don't like this and begin a campaign to ruin the woman. Through the help of her Gentile friends she eventually comes to see the true evil of the supposedly upstanding Mormon community.

I can't totally figure out where I come down on this novel. The writing can be really simplistic with dialogue that is just plain bad. Also, I expect because of the era in which it was written, there is little or no "grit" - no violence or hard language. This is too bad because he sets up some really incredible confrontations between characters.

However, there are some nuggets of gold to be found in here. The descriptions of the country are amazing and powerful. There is a scene where a thunderstorm washes across the sage that was incredibly vivid. Also, some of the action (especially the horse chases) were really a lot of fun.

I am not going to be one of those huge Zane Grey fans buying up all his oeuvre but given the option of one of his books on one of those dismal hotel used bookshelves I would definitely read him again.

* The first film version of Riders was made in 1918, then again in 1925, 1931, 1941 and in 1996 with Ed Harris.


Crumbolst said...

And he's off...

Apparently Hondo by Louis L'Amour is among the best of this genre.

Olman Feelyus said...

Nice review. I've got to check out some Louis L'amour. When I was a kid, I had a book of Louis L'Amour baseball stories that I quite enjoyed. I'm a bit surprised at the lack of grit. I wonder if they get harder as he got older. I see at wikipedia that he was writing write up until he died in the '80s.

Note, I don't think you are using "scion" correctly. It means son, usually of a noble family.

Lantzvillager said...

The book was by Zane Grey not Louis L'Amour.

M-W: descendant , child ; especially : a descendant of a wealthy, aristocratic, or influential family b: heir 1 (scion of a railroad empire)

That is how I intended it.

Olman Feelyus said...

Holy crap! I have to stop smoking crack. Okay, let me rethink all this now. I read your whole review thinking you were talking about Louis L'Amour.

Ah, okay, I'm not so crazy at least, because it was Zane Grey's baseball stories that I had when I was a kid.

I guess he is really at least a generation ahead of L'Amour and thus truly classic.

I think all this time I had the two confused in my head.

I still don't think you are using scion correctly. "Scion of the town" implies that he is going to inherit the power and influence of the town, not that he already was the main man. Or that he is literally the son of the town. Scion doesn't mean "leading man", it means "son of a family, generally noble."

Lantzvillager said...

You are right. The old man wasn't the scion but his daughter was. She is the descendant of a wealthy family.

Why is there a car called the Scion?

Olman Feelyus said...

I guess it means your parents bought it for you!

Buzby said...

If you make it to fifty this year I will make you my scion.

Funny: the little word verification for this post is "ardscion"

trout guy said...

Great review! I just finished the book myself this weekend. For anyone who has spent time in Utah's red rock canyons, it was easy to see that Zane Grey knew what he was talking about when it came to his descriptions of the landscape.

Anyway, just wanted to comment that I enjoyed your review. I just finished posting mine this morning.