On this site:


Montana's Enduring Frontier

Cowboy Girl





Red Lodge

About John

Get this feed:

Subscribe to John Clayton's Blog by Email


Why we care about Zane Grey 

I have often been frustrated by Jonathan Miles' reviews: puzzled as to why the New York Times anoints him their expert on the West, and puzzled as to why he accepts that pigeonholing when he doesn't much seem to like the literature under consideration. But here is an essay worth reading. He's reviewing a new biography of Zane Grey, and it's a seriously revisionist portrait.

Why is Miles in particular worth reading here? In part, there's the delicious opening paragraph, and in part, there's his effective articulation of the lasting cultural importance of early 20th century cowboy novelists (regardless of their skill). Here's the heart of that argument:
Grey was a profoundly bad writer who combined mawkish sentimentality with geographic fabulism. (Exception: Grey's fishing essays are largely devoid of the pinched overexertion of his fiction, and are actually quite excellent.) But bad writing hardly disqualifies an author from our interest, an axiom we might call the Harriet Beecher Stowe Principle. By the thunderous force of his popularity and the potency of his mythologies, Grey had a deep and pervasive effect on the way America saw itself

Thus, Miles says, the true-life adventures that gave rise to these mythologies are of lasting interest to all of us. In Grey's case, these adventures include sexual obsessions that may not be surprising to anybody who has examined his imagery. In the case of Caroline Lockhart, I believe, the adventures will be of interest not because anybody kept a diary of her exploits in bed, but for two less-prurient, more-fundamental reasons. First, unlike Grey, she actually lived full-time in the West -- and thus had to reconcile the mythology with everyday realities. Second, unlike his overmasculinated fantasies, she experienced that West as a woman.

I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks.dottcom

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?