Writing the Wild Frontier

200 Years of the Best Western Writers and Their Novels


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About the Book

For over 200 years, the American Western novel has chronicled much of the American experience, especially those of James Fenimore Cooper, Bret Harte, Andy Adams, Jack Schaefer and Larry McMurtry. Alongside the roguish figure of the cowboy, Westerns depict the experiences of women and minorities as they face the hardships and deprivations of the frontier.
This book is directed at the general reader who is interested in the literature, history and culture of the American West. Exploring novels that have achieved a high level of acclaim, it is a survey and homage to the frontier’s lasting works, detailing both the writers’ lives and their fictional creations. The author traces the development of the Western novel through biography, anecdote, summary, analysis and informed criticism, revealing the struggles and triumphs of the genre’s authors, the changing standards of the frontier story and the lasting effects of the region’s magisterial landscape.

About the Author(s)

Stephen J. May a literary critic, biographer, essayist and novelist, is the author of 11 other books, including biographies of landscape painter J.M.W. Turner, Western author Zane Grey, railroad titan William Jackson Palmer, and Pulitzer Prize winning author James A. Michener. A former university educator, he has written extensively on how the West has shaped the American identity. He lives in Arizona.

Bibliographic Details

Stephen J. May
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 269
Bibliographic Info: 27 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2023
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8898-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4822-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface 1
Author’s Note 4
One. James Fenimore Cooper
“The Transformative Power of Landscape” 5
Two. Mark Twain and Bret Harte
“The West Undone” 25
Three. Owen Wister
“The Cult of Western Manliness” 50
Four. Andy Adams and Jack London
“The Lure of the Wild” 74
Five. Willa Cather
“Our Ántonia” 91
Six. Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Luke Short
“The Fabulist Phenomenon” 111
Seven. Edna Ferber and Laura Ingalls Wilder
“So Big, So Little” 125
Eight. Walter Van Tilburg Clark and A.B. Guthrie
“From the ­Ox-Bow to the Big Sky” 142
Nine. Jack Schaefer
“A Few Good Riders” 161
Ten. Edward Abbey and Charles Portis
“The Defiant Ones” 176
Eleven. Wallace Stegner
“Explorations and Revolutions” 193
Twelve. James A. Michener and Larry McMurtry
“The Epic West” 212
Thirteen. Cormac McCarthy
“No Man’s Land” 234
A Timeline of the Western Novel and Other Notable Works of the Frontier 243
Chapter Notes 245
Bibliography 251
Index 255