Friday, April 02, 2010

precis som en död mula som skulle flås

Two westerns that use the same stock cover, whose splendidly homoerotic haunches have very little to do with either volume, unless you look into the matter from an angle that the books themselves do everything to obscure.

Chet Cunningham's Guld till döds (translator Solveig Rasmussen, English title: Die of Gold) is a tough number from 1973. Jim, the hero who is bound and flayed by the brutal Bert Ronson, does happily get to take his revenge, affectionately assisted by the irrepressible good-time girl Melinda, who in my opinion easily steals the show.

-- Tänk bara, sa Melinda med lysande ögon. Vi skulle kunna ta guld för tusen dollar och förvandla det till tiotusen dollar i dubbelörnar. Det är ju bättre än att spela poker.

-- Glöm det, Melinda. Det där är inget för mig. Jag skulle aldrig kunna stå vid en het smältugn dagarna i ända.

-- Jim, felet med dig är att du är alldeles för hederlig! sa Melinda besviket och tog ett steg tillbaka. Hur kan du säga nej till en så perfekt plan? Vi kan ju leja två killar som gör jobbet åt oss. Vi har vårt eget privata myntverk och ingen kommer åt oss.

In 1973 the western was not a dead genre, nor is it now, but the transmutation that produces Alan Irwin's Raiders of the Panhandle (2000) is a particularly odd one. You may have noticed that your local bookshop does not brim over with unpretentious westerns. The Black Horse Western series is published, moreover, in hardback and I suppose that it is aimed entirely at libraries, whose audiences will sometimes want to read what they would never buy, and may include some who never normally read at all, e.g. in hospitals, prisons, etc. Irwin's narrative is entirely functional and even its dialogue is of the plainest, preferring indirection ("The rancher went on to tell Jim of the entirely unforeseen catastrophe which had befallen the family on the previous day"). The extremely chaste courtship of Jim and Miriam ('"I'm all in favour of that idea of yours" - Jim kissed her...') seems comically out of synch with the usual medley of knives plunged in the heart and multiple shootings. (The villains, surprisingly, are eventually boxed in and then carted off to be hanged by due process, somehow a far more disquieting end than being gunned down in a shoot-out.) Atmosphere and detail arise solely from Irwin's precision about hardware ("his old American Arms 12-gauge shotgun") and about notating the action.

Standing against the front wall of the stable with his men, Vickery knew that they would have to leave soon. As he looked towards the open doorway of the stable, his eye was caught by a large oil lamp hanging from a bracket on the wall. He reached for the lamp, took it down and shook it. He estimated that it was about half full of coal-oil. Quickly, he lit the lamp, moved up towards the doorway and, extending his arm, he flung the lamp over the heads of Jim and the others, towards the middle of the stable. Just as the outlaw released the lamp, he yelled with pain as a bullet from Jim's Peacemaker drilled through his hand. A moment later, the lamp ricocheted off a post set in the floor of the barn and fell on to a pile of hay, the oil spilling out of it. Immediately, the dry hay started burning fiercely.

Remarkably, something survives that we recognize, in a malnourished way, as the same old genre with the same old power.

This blog entry is really an ad to encourage to you to pay a visit to the Brief History and read about Oliver Strange and The Marshal of Lawless...

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At 11:32 pm, Blogger Unknown said...

Michael, A whole cult (for want of a better word) revolves around Black Horse Westerns. A good place to start learning more is the website

The site is run as a quarterly ezine independently of the book publishers (Robert Hale Ltd). In the current and previous editions you will learn that not all Black Horse Westerns have relationships that are "extremely chaste" or "comically out of synch" with the usual blood-and-thunder content of the Western. Although, as the articles "Justice and the Western" and "Defending Faith a Futile Exercise" will indicate, that is the direction allegedly favoured today by public libraries.

I also like to think, as one of them, that many BHW writers still meet the most exacting reader's requirement for atmosphere and detail, narrative that is more than functional and dialogue that is more than plain!



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