When I see certain actors, the first thing that pops into my mind is how perfect they are cast as cowboys. Tom Selleck. Sam Elliott. Robert Duvall. It was an interview I saw with Duvall many years ago that really drove home for me why I like westerns so much.
“It's ours . . . It's American. The English have Shakespeare, the French have Moliere, the Russians have Chekhov. The Western is ours."
Like most Americans, I have strong opinions when it comes to our country, our government, and how the world at large views us. One thing always sticks in the back of my mind, though—the United States is a country founded by immigrants. Unless you’re native, we all came from somewhere else. It is what makes this country great, and it makes us unique. Nothing quite exemplifies this like the American West, which for many people meant freedom, a second chance, a way to start over and make their way in the world.
People traveled west for a variety of reasons, but if you were to distill all those reasons down to the essence, you’re left with “I want to better my lot in life." The idea that the lives of children and grandchildren should be better than the lives of their parents and grandparents still exists to this day.
Themes of redemption, second chances, and bettering yourself are fairly universal. They’re easy to relate to. We all experience the desire for forgiveness. We all have regrets and want to start over, even if it’s just in a small way.
Even as the sub-genre’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years, that’s the appeal of the western. That’s what authors, publishers, and devotees of the genre need to remind readers of. Certainly dukes, viscounts, ballrooms, and elaborate ball gowns are the stuff of fairy tales for a lot of romance readers. They provide that immediate escape. The idea that any girl can find her Prince Charming. But who is to say that Prince Charming cannot be a common man? A man working to improve his lot in life? A man who isn’t afraid of hard work, and willing to pour every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears into building a better life for not only himself, but for those who may follow? And frankly, what could be sexier than that? To my way of thinking, not a whole lot.
That’s the appeal of the western. That’s the reason I spend a lot of time promoting it, in the vain hope that one day it will make a huge resurgence. It hasn’t happened yet, but like those cowboys, I’m not willing to give up without a serious fight.
Image courtesy of Kevin Zollman via Flickr
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.