As I was camping the Colorado Plateau to see the arches,
plateaus, buttes, mesas, canyons, hoodoos, and caves of God's
country, I decided my tour of the great southwest would not
be complete until I had read, cover to cover, a true fist-fighting,
gun-slinging, horse-riding, cowboy-hat-wearing, western novel,
so I strode into Goulding's Trading Post in Monument Valley
to find one as tough as the jerky I had eaten for lunch that
day at a truck stop on the 160.
I passed the turquoise jewelry, the handmade Navajo blankets,
the silver belt buckles, and crossed to the bookshelf on the
far wall. Indian drums pounded through the speakers over my
head, and the sweet scent of frybread drifted in the door
from the restaurant across the way as Larry McMurtry caught
my eye. Here was a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, surely
his work would be worth reading. Just then Zane Grey distracted
me. Wasn't Colonel Potter always reading Zane Gray novels
on M*A*S*H? Wouldn't an old cavalry man know a good
But as I moved down the shelf, I saw that most of the novels
were written by a man I had often heard of but never read:
it was finally time, I thought, to read a novel written by
the bestselling Louis L'Amour.
This novelist published over 120 books, 260 million of which
are still in print around the world; his work has been translated
into twenty languages, and at least forty-five of his stories
have been made into television movies and feature films. In
1983, the United States Congress awarded L'Amour the Congressional
Gold Medal, and, one year later, President Reagan honored
the author with the Medal of Freedom.
Clearly, many admire, even worship, the work of Louis L'Amour.
As I read the novel, I had chosen, Utah Blaine,
I thought about why he was so staggeringly popular.
In Louis L'Amour novels, we get a good story that follows
the conventional narrative trajectory. No Faulknerian, postmodern,
stream of consciousness confusion here. Just a simple story
Secondly, the traditional western film evolved into a genre
critics called the "adult western" in which the
clear lines between good and evil were blurred. Students of
our political history have also seen similar blurring. Slavery,
Native American removal, the Civil War, the Korean War, the
Vietnam War, among other events, have sickened and confused
us. In Utah Blaine's world, good and evil still live in the
separate provinces of black and white. No gray dims our moral
Lastly, Utah himself personifies the myth of the cowboy.
Rugged, independent, tall, and strong, he can whip the biggest
man in town in a fist fight, outdraw the most proficient gunmen,
command employees, gather wealth, and win the heart of the
fairest maiden. In short, he's the hero most men want to be,
and most women want to marry.
Feminists and the politically correct would probably not
enjoy a novel like Utah Blaine, but for those of us
who prefer not to wrestle our way though The Sound and
the Fury or Paradise, for those of us who would
like to avoid, if only for a couple of hours, American guilt,
for those of us who long for a simple world devoid of postmodern
confusion, a good Louis L'Amour and a vacation in the majestic
Southwest is just what the doctor ordered.