Crossing the Divide Between The Western and Writing About the West
Stansbury, Lynn G
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The Western as a popular fiction and, later, cinematic genre has dominated the American mythos for more than a century, but the genre itself is grotesquely inauthentic. In this essay I survey the origins of the imagery of The Western in European hero myths and its translation into American colonial frontier mythology and then rebirth as an East-Coast urban male pulp fiction genre just as the Frontier was being declared closed, coincident with the forced confinement of indigenous populations. I then examine the literary trap that the genre represents for fiction writers attempting to write legitimately about the American west, particularly those writers like myself who are incomers, focusing on the work of Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and Thomas McGuane. Finally, I examine the work of two Native American novelists, James Welch and Louise Erdrich, as examples of the historic and artistic sensibilities of which anyone, local or incoming, wishing to develop a genuine western voice must be aware.
- English