Category: Western

Book Commentary from a Cowboy

The Virginian

The Virginian

In April 2015 my book group read The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, by Owen Wister. One of the fun things about this novel is that the school teacher in the story, Molly Wood, gives books to the Virginian to read. When he returns a book to her, he gives his spirited observations about it. His remarks about Fathers and Sons and Kenilworth are so intriguing that my group added those books to our list for 2016. Some of his comments—such as those about Emma, by Jane Austen—are about books we have already read. One of his observations is about The Mill on the Floss, a George Eliot novel the group hasn’t read yet. I wanted so much to add the Virginian’s comment about The Mill on the Floss to this post that I read it on my own.

I’ll warn you right now; the Virginian’s observation about The Mill on the Floss contains a significant spoiler, so you may want to skip down a few lines to Fathers and Sons. If you’re like me, however, you may prefer to avoid tragic surprises in a book and are more likely to read it if you get a warning, so here it is, from Chapter 12: Continue reading

Young Pioneers

Young Pioneers, a.k.a. Let the Hurricane Roar, by Rose Wilder Lane (YA historical)

Young Pioneers

Young Pioneers

“Newlyweds Molly and David are only sixteen and eighteen years old when they pack up their wagon and head west across the plains in search of a new homestead. At first their new life is full of promise: The wheat is high, the dugout is warm and cozy, and a new baby is born to share in their happiness. Then disaster strikes, and David must go east for the winter to find work. Molly is left alone with the baby—with nothing but her own courage to face the dangers of the harsh prairie winter.”


After a recent read of O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, I decided to try another book about pioneers in the Midwest—Dakota Territory—entitled Young Pioneers, by Rose Wilder Lane. Both books celebrate the pioneering spirit and are frank about the fact that circumstances were often so difficult that many pioneers gave up their dreams and returned to their families and previous occupations in the east. What struck me in particular about Young Pioneers was the passion and hope this very young couple feel about their life together in this rough and beautiful farmland despite the fact that they live in a dugout, in very primitive conditions. I’ve often wondered what drove so many to leave their comfortable or at least tolerable lives for circumstances so savage. Continue reading

The Virginian

The Virginian

The Virginian

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, by Owen Wister (American classic)

“Still as exciting and meaningful as when it was written in 1902, Owen Wister’s epic tale of one man’s journey into the untamed territory of Wyoming, where he is caught between his love for a woman and his quest for justice, has exemplified one of the most significant and enduring themes in all of American culture. With remarkable character depth and vivid descriptive passages, The Virginian stands not only as the first great novel of American Western literature, but as a testament to the eternal struggle between good and evil in humanity, and a revealing study of the forces that guide the combatants on both sides.”


This is one of those novels that has everything—cowboy card games, coarseness, and pranks without much in the way of foul language; action, adventure, and a climactic shoot-out without any gore; and romance, passion, and an incredibly intimate honeymoon scene without any mention of sex. One of the most important events in the book, in fact, is a hanging that happens off-stage. By modern literary standards, this story ought to fall apart. As a proponent of wholesome fiction, I am delighted to tell you that it works! And, by the way, don’t scroll to the end of the novel to read that incredibly intimate honeymoon scene to see what I mean, because that won’t work. (Okay, so I know you’re going to do it anyway, but seriously, you’re going to be disappointed!) The way Owen Wister accomplishes the seemingly impossible is by building a complex vision of the protagonist phrase by phrase, scene by scene. A reader needs the context of the entire book to appreciate that final honeymoon scene. Continue reading

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