Set in a railroad town “almost within gunshot of the great continental divide,” Nan of Music Mountain is all action.
At every juncture where he could have produced something other than a formula piece, author Frank H. Spearman backs out.
Nan of Music Mountain by Frank H. Spearman
N. C. Wyeth, Illus. Gross & Dunlap, 1916,.432 p. 1916 bestseller #8 Project Gutenberg ebook #29571. My Grade: C+.
Gunman Henry de Spain, summoned to represent Sleepy Cat in a shooting contest, loses the contest—and his heart—to Nan, “the little Music Mountain skirt.”
So when William Jeffries asks de Spain to stay on to run the Thief River stage line, de Spain does.
Phone calls from the gambling hall and stagecoaches made by Studebaker hint at a cultural clash between Old and New West, but Spearman stops at hints.
By turns droll, dry, or ingratiating as a presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, de Spain could have been an interesting character. Unfortunately, readers can’t be sure which is the real Henry de Spain.
Spearman keeps de Spain on the gallop, with a blend of every plot line that was hackneyed by the time of the talkies except tying for the leading lady to the railroad tracks.
Nan of Music Mountain has so little personality that tied to the tracks, she’d be mistaken for a cross tie.
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.
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