The Mine with the Iron Door Isn’t Played Out Yet

“Love ain’t no big deposit that a feller is allus hopin’ to find but mostly never does. Love is just a medium high-grade ore that you got to dig for.”

Harold Bell Wright’s The Mine with the Iron Door is an easy-reading western with a faint whiff of ideas clinging to it.

The story ‘s center is Marta Hillgrove and her “fathers,” Bob Hill and Thad Grove. She was a toddler when the prospectors rescued her from people who were clearly not her family. Unable to locate her real family, the men settled in the hills near Tuscon to raise her.

Seventeen years later, a handsome young stranger arrives. Hugh quickly wins Marta’s heart and buckles down to digging for gold enough to marry Marta and get out of the country before he is recaptured and sent back to jail.gp_mineopendoor

A secondary plot about Natachee, an educated Indian with a grudge against whites, temporarily overshadows the romance. Then Marta is abducted; Natachee joins Hugh in getting her back.

The orphaned toddler is a familiar romance plot; Wright himself used it elsewhere.

Marta and Hugh are also standard issue. You’ll have forgotten about them a few hours after you’ve closed the book covers.

The memorable bits of the book are in the minor characters. Natachee in particular is unforgettable in his resentment of the education that renders Indians unfit for either the Indian or the white world.

The Mine with the Iron Door
by Harold Bell Wright
D.Appleton and Company, 1923
339 pages
1923 bestseller # 7

Photo front piece of The Mine with the Iron Door. The illustrator is not identified.

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

To the Last Man‘s Frantic Pace Blurs History

Rams feeding Zane Grey based his 1922 bestseller To the Last Man, on the “Pleasant Valley War,” a notorious feud in the Tonto Basin of Arizona.

Grey whips through the narrative scarcely giving readers time to turn the pages, which is probably just as well. Neither plot nor characterization can withstand much analysis.

Jean Isbel’s father summons him from Oregon to Pleasant Valley to champion the cattlemen’s rights against the sheepherders who are trying to force them out. Jean is on his way to the ranch when he falls in love at his first sight of Ellen Jorth. When she learns he’s son to her father’s worst enemy, Ellen hardens her heart against Jean.

Although the outline of the story is a predictable, romantic Western plot, the novel reveals as many explanations for the feud as there were participants. Some novelists could make such ambiguity seem natural, but here it feels like poor plot development.

Grey doesn’t do any better with his character development. He changes Ellen in a matter of months from a morose, self-absorbed teenager into a perceptive, rational woman. Maybe love could do that, but I find it unlikely.

To the Last Man will keep you turning pages, but it won’t create any lasting impression. I was reading the final chapter when I realized I’d read the novel before: It’s that forgettable.

To the Last Man
Zane Grey
Project Gutenberg ebook #2070
1922 Bestseller #9
My grade: B-

Photo credit: “Animal” by Darryl J Smith,Freelance Photographer, Ardlethan, NSW, Australia

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Man of the Forest Has Feminine Appeal

If Zane Grey is synonymous in your mind with plot-heavy cowboy stories, The Man of the Forest might change your thinking.

Taking shelter from a rain storm in the Arizona mountains, Milt Dale overhears outlaws plotting to kidnap Helen Reyner so their boss, Beasley, can get the Auchincloss ranch to which she is heir. Milt decides to save her. He doesn’t know she’s also being stalked by an Eastern scumbag named Riggs.

With the aid of a quartet of Mormons, Milt rescues Helen and her younger sister, Bo, and keep them safe in his forest hideaway until Auchincloss comes for them. Bo falls for a handsome Texas cowboy, and Helen falls for Milt.

The requisite number of narrow escapes, show-downs and shoot-’em-ups occur before the story reaches its happy ending.

Grey uses the story to explore the virtue  and destructiveness of a solitary life. Milt instructs Helen in the code of the lawless American frontier. He shows her the impulse for self-preservation in herself.

Helen teaches Milt that “work that does not help others is not a real man’s work.”  By the end of the novel,  Milt accepts Helen’s  civilized values and saves her happiness just as he saved her life.

The Man of the Forest
by Zane Grey
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1919
383 pages
1920 #1 bestseller
Project Gutenberg Ebook No. 3457

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni