Saturday, March 24, 2012

Louis L'Amour Killed the Western

When you go to a book store and look for the western section, you find two things: first, there are hardly any westerns there.  Second, they are at least half Louis L’Amour books.  I can’t help but think that the two are related.  The sci-fi and fantasy sections are not big, but they are lively and always changing.  Tolkien and Howard only wrote a handful of books between them, and at the pace he’s going George R.R.R.R Martin isn’t going to take up a whole bookshelf of Game of Thrones volumes any time soon.  The shelves have gone from being full of military sci-fi, to paranormal romance, extra-planar horror, and now sexy steampunk volumes.  Sci-fi and fantasy keep changing.

The western section, by comparison, tends to be dominated by a single author- L’Amour.  Take a look at the two (that’s right, only two) shelves of westerns that I found recently at a fairly large used book store in New Hampshire.  L’Amour’s books are all of the paperbacks and most of the hardbacks.  Hugely success, yes, but by dominating the western market for so long did he in fact narrow it and crowd out new and exciting directions for the genre?

I have gone from being an elitist snob about L’Amour to really enjoying his writing.  I’ve been listening to a collection of full cast production Chick Bowdrie short stories from Audible, and love them.  L’Amour isn’t as sentimental as I’d suspected (frankly no western authors have, to my surprise as I noted in this post).  Some of the dialogue from Jubal Sacket, in fact, stayed with me as I went into and out of heart surgery last year. 

So I have grown to enjoy L’Amour, but also regret his place in the genre.  With 89 novels and 14 short story collections taking up the shelves, there isn’t room for much more, and fewer new finds to entice readers.

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