Saturday, April 30, 2011

Red Ripper- Conan at the Alamo

Back in 2000 I remember seeing a book called The Red Ripper plastered on every drug store and supermarket book shelf.  It had a vaguely celtic, proto-Outlander cover, and I assumed it was some sort of Scottish romance novel.  Years later I connected the author, Kerry Newcomb, with a series of oddball westerns about a family that were all secret agents of George Washington, or something like that.  Turns out I loved The Red Ripper, despite (or maybe because of) it many glaring historical inaccuracies.

Any time that you read a Kerry Newcomb book, you have to be willing to completely push reality out of your mind. Although he writes historical novels, Newcomb is a fablist and a teller of tall tales, not an historian. Take the author's note, for example: "The Red Ripper is a work of fiction, and that's a fact. I have taken liberties with time and events where it suited the yarn. If you're writing a thesis on the Texas Revolution this probably isn't the research novel for you, unless your topic is tall tales, high courage, dangerous days, and a legendary hero."

And the there's the opening page: "This is his story, just as he lived it. And what isn't true... ought to be."

You can't read this opening and expect a fact based novel. Red Ripper is actually almost entirely fictional. The novel takes place from 1829 to 1836. The real William "Big Foot" Wallace didn't arrive in Texas until 1838. Almost nothing in the story is accurate, but that isn't the point. Newcomb probably saw that the Texas revolution was a great story, that Big Foot Wallace was a great character, and the two should be stuck together. So what if it isn't exactly true?

What you do get is a big, crazy, Kerry Newcomb story. I've read almost a dozen of his novels, and they all start the same way. An incredibly heroic young white man suffers tragedy, is betrayed, and spends the next couple of hundred pages exacting a bloody revenge and finding forbidden love. His novels don't read as westerns so much as sword and sorcery novels with the sorcery replaced by the mythic West. If you replaced Big Foot Wallace's red hair and sombrero with dark hair and a loin cloth, this could be renamed Conan and the Alamo (Conan was also created by a Texan).  The Red Ripper isn't accurate, but it is a ripping yarn, and that's all that it needs to be.

The Battle of the Alamo if Conan was there.

No comments:

Post a Comment