In his father’s day, a gun-fighter worried only about better gunfighters. Since then the Rangers have been organized to bring law and order to Texas.
Buck Duane will be the last of his gun-fighting family.
The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Gray
Project Gutenberg eBook #1027. 1915 bestseller #9. My grade: B-.
After killing a man in a gunfight, Buck flees in the Rio Grande country. He lives among a gang of outlaws long enough to make enemies, then wanders alone for some two years.
Captain MacNelly of the Texas Rangers hears enough good of Buck to offer him a pardon if he’ll work undercover for him.
His task is to find and destroy the gang whose mastermind, Cheseldine, no one appears to have ever seen.
In Fairdale, in the heart of cattle rustling country, Buck is captivated by the mayor’s lovely daughter.
Most readers will guess how the plot resolves itself.
Why Buck feels drawn to kill is the story’s real interest. Zane Grey makes Buck’s first gunfight into what we’d call a virtual reality experience today—and we’d seek a label warning it isn’t suitable for all audiences.
Grey suggests some possible answers, but doesn’t come to any conclusion. Instead, he ruins the story by promising Buck will stop killing because of “the faith and love and beauty of [a] noble woman.”
The Lone Star Ranger isn’t a great novel, but it deserves a better ending than that.
© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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
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