I was the only avid reader in my family when I was growing up, well, except for one uncle.
The man had books stacked up on bookshelves and end tables, and when he wasn’t playing gin rummy, he had a book in his hand. While I was busy devouring Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the Trixie Belden mysteries, he was reading something quite different, books with boring covers and stories that were uninteresting to my young heart.
He was reading Louis L’Amour westerns!
Fast forward to the present. Last weekend, I came home from a meeting and stayed off the internet. I’d spent so much time away from my husband with travel and meetings, I decided to devote the evening to watching TV with him. And he had a movie on, a Western. I’m not really much for Westerns, but I sat down and started to get interested.
It helped that Tom Selleck and Mark Harmon played the hero and villain respectively, and that the heroine was played by Virgina Madsen, a gorgeous actress whose beauty isn’t saturated with narcissism, and whose presence on screen always reflects intelligence.
Crossfire Trail, the movie, is based on a Louis L’Amour book of the same name. So, we learn that the heroine has a romantic interest in the hero, Tom Selleck. The villain, Mark Harmon, has an interest in her, not because she’s a beautiful and smart widow, but because she has oil on her land.
Harmon visits the heroine’s home late one night, and she says “What are you doing here” and he says, “Wear that white satin dress I gave you tomorrow.” “Why?” she asks, and he says “We’re getting married tomorrow.”
She says (paraphrasing here) “Up yours, buddy, I’m never marrying you.”
Sure enough, the next day, she’s in her plain homespun, in the General Store, and Mark Harmon enters and tells her “We’re getting married today,” and she says “No, we’re not,” and we have reached the dark moment that tosses us into the story’s final battle.
He literally drags her out of the store to, of all places, the saloon. (The saloon!) And why? Because that’s where the town’s judge hangs out. To make a long story short, Harmon shoots the only person brave enough to object to the wedding, tells the judge to proceed with the wedding, and clamps his hand over her mouth when she says “I do NOT.” All of the townspeople look on, appalled, but none has the guts to intervene.
The judge pronounces them husband and wife and Harmon drags our heroine upstairs to the bedroom. Through all this, Madsen doesn’t give in, and doesn’t back down. A fight ensues. She punches him, he punches back, and so forth, and I’m shouting, “somebody shoot that ba****d.”
“Calm down,” my husband says. “You’re upsetting the dog.”
I plopped back onto the sofa and had a romance author’s ah-ha moment: Louis L’Amour was a master of engaging the reader’s emotion. That’s why my uncle loved him. That’s why he sold hundreds of millions of books, why twenty-seven years after his death, so many of his titles are still in print, and why so many were made into movies and television shows.
The Wikipedia bio of L’Amour quotes a literary critic’s take on L’Amour’s work:
His Western fiction is strictly formulary and frequently, although not always, features the ranch romance plot where the hero and the heroine are to marry at the end once the villains have been defeated.
The literary critic’s go-to cliché about genre fiction, no?
If you read my blogs you know I love the American West. I confess, though I haven’t read L’Amour and I don’t read much in the way of Western romance, but it is VERY popular. Romance author Debra Holland, a chapter-mate from Romance Writers of America, has had great success with her sweet Montana Sky series. Another chapter-mate, Callie Hutton, has her popular Oklahoma Lovers series. Check them out!
Do you like Westerns? If so, share your favorite authors or movies/shows in the comments!
Images: Wikimedia Commons (stacked books), Wikipedia (movie cover), Amazon, (book cover), the author (that cute dog!)