Within the ample genre of adventure novels, we encounter one of the most genuine and interesting varieties: the Western novel. The Western novel is also essential reading for those who desire to get to know, in depth, North American literature in all its dimensions.
The Western novel has roots deeply entrenched in the very creation of the United States and harvests stories taken from a saga that marked the character of this nation and its people. It is what is known as the American frontier spirit; a spirit that came about as a consequence of the settlement of pioneers and colonials in the newly won Western territories. It was this spirit of self-sufficiency and dependence on one’s own resources that helped to bring about the creation of a new musical genre, Country & Western, as well as new art forms, religious customs, gastronomy, and folklore. This frontier spirit, characterized by its independence, strength and optimism in the nation’s opportunities, was also expressed in literature.
Stories about colonists, pioneers, farmers, cowboys, frontier cities, duels, gunmen, evangelists and rustic landscapes without limits, marked by the strength of the mountains, the prairies, deserts rivers and valleys. Stories branded by characters with very defined and recognizable values, maximum representatives of the frontier life which determined North American spirit and character.
Western Literature, with its handful of great writers, has been able to recapture a vital era in North American history and transform it into popular culture. This type of novels speaks of history, but also tells stories about humanity, and values, about conquering nature, and civilization. These stories, that portray honestly what primitive life and the booming civilization in the West were like, have contributed to the genre of adventure novels and have consolidated the Western novel as one of the most read and acclaimed in United Status.
Writers like James Fenimore Cooper, Owen Wister, Mark Twain, Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurtry, Oackley Hall, Zane Grey, Stephen Crane, Robert B. Parker, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Marvin H. Albert, Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Bart Cassidy, T.T. Flynn, Thomas Thompson, Edward Abbey, and Cormac McCarthy, among others, are shining examples of this genre, which is directly connected with the best of the tradition of popular literature and entertainment in North America.
But they aren’t the only ones; there is an extensive list of authors that have contributed to the genre. Even the present day historical romance novel has a specific Western sub-genre that produces works of indubitable quality and enormous popularity. This is logical if we take into account that in the Western there have always been great romantic stories. In this group we can find authors like Linda Howard, Leigh Greengood, Elizabeth Lowell, Sara Donati, Rebecca Brandewyne, LaVyrle Spencer, Jill Marie Landis, Johanna Lindsay, Sarah McCarty, Judith Stacy, Lavyrle Spencer, Elaine Coffman, Ruth Langan, Jo Goodman, and Carolyn Davidson.
The origins of this literary genre can be situated in the writings of James Fenimore Cooper in his novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826), which takes us inside an era of colonists and American Indians during the primitive beginnings of North America. Later we find Washington Irving and his Western Journals (1832), and Francis Bret Harte, one of the founders of the Western literature, with his stories and poems about the life of pioneers, like, “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (1868), “The Outcasts of Poker Flat” (1869), “A Passage in the life of Mr. John Oakhurst”, “How Santa Claus got to Simpson’s Bar”, The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches, (1870), Snowbound at Eagle´s,(1886), etc; as well as Mark Twain, one of the founding fathers of North American Literature, who brought the quality of the genre to new heights with his realistic masterpieces that to this day, preserve the local customs and manners of a crucial era for the West, among which The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) stand out.
No doubt, another important names in the genre is Owen Wister, who, with his novel The Virginian, his vision of Wyoming, and the customs, the characters and the landscape of the West, was essential to the enrichment of the most habitual concepts of the Western. From Wister stems the idea of the essence of the cowboy as an indisputable hero, with conservative values and vital morals, like loyalty, courage, nobility, honor and a fair attitude in life
Apart from the Viriginian his works Red Men and White (1896), a collection of brief narratives; Lin Mc Lean (1898), stories set in the cattle raising West; The JimmyJohn Boss, a collection of narratives from 1900; Lady Baltimore (1906), a romantic novel which has Charleston as its setting.; Philosophy 4, (1903), set at Harvard; and other short stories gathered in the collections: The Seven ages of Washington, (1907),: The Pentecost of Calamity (1915); Neighbors Henceforth, (1922), and When the West Was West (1928).
Later, William Sydney Porter, O’Henry, one of the founders of the American short story, published his collection of stories Hearts of the West (1907), thereby making a new incursion in the genre; the same was done by Stewart Edward White with The Westerners (1901) and the collection of stories Arizona Nights.