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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn E. Cook

Reading "The Virginian"

I've found that getting ebooks from the library is a fun pastime and a huge convenience. You can search the site while in your jammies and download when a book strikes your fancy. If it turns out to be a page turner, great. If not, no loss. The library simply takes it back in 21 days.

Recently, I came across something titled "The Virginian." The blurb about it sounded promising and I gave it a try. Even though this tome was originally published in 1902, I got only a few pages into it and was totally hooked.

"Lounging there at ease against the wall was a slim young giant, more beautiful than pictures. His broad soft hat was pushed back; a loose-knotted, dull-scarlet handkerchief sagged from his throat, and one casual thumb was hooked in the cartridge-belt that slanted from his hips."

Can't you just see this guy?

" 'You're from Virginia, I take it?' I began.

He answered slowly, 'Then you have taken it correctly, seh.' "

This story was written by a young man named Owen Wister. He came from an upper-crust Philadelphia family, was educated at Harvard, and Theodore Roosevelt was one of his lifelong friends. Wanting some adventure, Wister went west to Wyoming, where he worked on a ranch and soaked up the culture. His masterful achievement was in writing "The Virginian," considered the first fully-realized Western. (Dime novels don't count.)

All the elements are in place. The central character is a cowboy, taciturn and the embodiment of high morals. Then comes the slow-building romance with the schoolmarm, vast expanses of prairie and mountains, lonely towns providing food and saloons. Throw in some bad guys, fist fights, gunfights, horses, and cattle. The hero cowboy beats out the bad guys and finally wins the girl. The result catches the reader and doesn't let go until the last sentence.

Plus, Wister gave his hero a bunch of good lines to say. About the death of a friend, the Virginian mused --- "Well, he took dying as naturally as he took to living. Like a man should. Like I hope to."

Wister didn't intend to create a formula, but many Western writers, Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour, and others, followed the lead and produced countless novels. Movies followed, too, silents and then talkies. They gave us stars like Tom Mix, William S. Hart, Gary Cooper, and of course, John Wayne. The stories they told used some variation on Wister's elements and for good reason. They made for rip-snorting adventure. But "The Virginian" is the granddaddy of them all.

After I finished the ebook, I managed to locate a print copy at Half-Price Books because I'll want to read this fabulous yarn again. A real classic. Five stars.

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