Genres 101: Westward, Ho! (Today’s lesson – Western Fiction)

Filed in Genres 101 , The Quirky Lover Posted on August 3, 2011 @ 2:00 pm 3 comments

In the last lesson, we hit on some strangely named genres. One in particular, Cowpunk, got me thinking about a type of novel that I know very little about: Westerns. Westerns have been a  big draw when it comes to movie making or television series’ but is the same thing true about their bookish counterparts? It hasn’t been for me, that’s for sure, though  maybe I’m just being a little too prejudice (I also wildly dislike country music!). It’s time I open up my world (and yours!) and see what’s out there; what may in fact be great literature but I’ve (we’ve?) just been too stubborn to read.

The Western novel is a relatively new form of book, considering it deals with the “New World” and the struggles incurred while North America was being settled. According to Wiki though, this type of story peaked in the 1960’s, alongside the TV versions of this theme. There are some pretty big names, even ones I recognize, that can be attributed to Western fiction: Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard, and Zane Grey, to name only a few.

So what elements constitute a Western? As I understand it, there are similar ideas to Frontier stories (true or tall tales alike) found within the pages of any good example. Man versus the savage nature of the new world. Man versus man, in the battle for land ownership. Man versus himself, epitomized by the lone rider that enjoys his freedom but offers his help to a damsel in distress, etc. There are Cowboys, Indians (apologies for the non-PC terminology), Gunfighters, Saloon Owners, and more. Westerns take place “most commonly between the years of 1860 and 1900”, which would coincide with the times that North America was being developed further west than the original Mayflower occupants had ever ventured.

The bad news for Western Fiction is that readership has hit an all time low. Perhaps, in our tech-based world, we’ve lost all sight of the drama or romance of taming a new land or that rugged bachelor. But, this genre won’t go down without a fight, much like its main characters, the ideals of the characters involved have mutated into movies like Star Wars, or books, like Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. And even our HEA fans can find some of the same elements in Cowboy romance novels. While I may be jumping on the band wagon (pun fully intended) a bit late with this genre, I don’t think it will ever die out.

Now, I want to know, have any of you, our lovely readers, ventured into tales of the Wild West? Was it just for school reading or did you do it voluntarily? What parts of Western Fiction do you enjoy the most (or the least)? How do our International readers feel about these types of tales?

I’m truly looking forward to seeing if I’m the only one that has had no time for this type of novel!

About Jackie

Jackie is a quirky mom, living in Ontario, Canada. She's a bookkeeper by day and a book lover by night. She also blogs at The Novel Nation and writes occasionally for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

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  • jackie b central texas August 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Louis L'Amour, Max Brand, Will Henry, Zane Grey and so many more authors of the western genre graced my book shelves for so many years it is not funny… When I finally found something else to my liking was actually almost in my teens and the only reason was my older cousin gave my father and myself books that she had read and they turned out to be romances, science fiction and even some mystery thrillers. The rest is history as of course from there my love of the paranormal began and now almost every genre but westerns and straight out horror grace my shelves for reading pleasure.. My father is the one who started me on my western adventures as his favorite shows were Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, any and all John Wayne movies and of course Louis L'Amour's Sackett clan novels.

    I still have 2 small bookcases full of his beloved western paperbacks stored since his passing 2 years ago.

    Westerns for me Susi are now Lorelei James "Rough Riders" series and a Jodi Thomas story every now and again.. (not something my dad would have liked for sure!)

  • Jen B. August 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    When I was younger I never read cowboy stories. NEVER! A couple of years ago I found Lorelei James. Now I'm hooked. I have read a few other cowboy books from classics to contemporary. I just saw Cowboys & Aliens. It's good entertainment. And, of course, I saw True Grit. Both versions. Great story. I think cowboy stories are just out of style right now but they will come back.

  • Sheree August 3, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    I remember reading Westerns when I was young, during my horse-crazy stage. Then I stopped when I started reading mysteries and sci-fi.

    Nowadays, I still don't read that many Westerns even though I have read a few: Lorelei James, Sarah McCarty (post-civil War Western with vampires and werewolves!), the anthology "Give Me a Texas Outlaw" (because Paul Marron looks so scrumptious on the cover)…

    But are Lorelei James' books Westerns? Sure, they're filled with cowboys and rodeos and such, but they're contemps, not set in 1860 to 1900.

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