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Stories of the Old West; Tales of the Mining Camp, Cavalry Troop, and Cattle Ranch. (Book Reviews).

Stories of the Old West; Tales of the Mining Camp, Cavalry Troop, and Cattle Ranch John Seelye; Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000, 512 pages

The popular image of the American West developed during European--American settlement has had greater impact than the reality of the American West. For example, the cowboy era--men herding cattle on long drives to the railroad head--was brief, but it has been replayed in literature, movies, television, and children's games for over a century. In Stories of the Old West, however, John Seelye did not include the traditional stories such as Owen Wister's Virginian or Andy Adams' Log of a Cowboy. By avoiding these stereotypes, Seelye provides a unique look at the West.

Seelye's introduction examined the writing of Western American literature, explaining that most authors were from the East and used age-honored literary character types. Seelye then introduced his selected authors, carefully placing them in a historical context and explaining how they influenced each other and changed Western writing. The introduction is easy to read and the summaries follow logically.

Before each section of five to ten stories, Seelye gave a brief biography of the author. These lacked interpretation and were not as helpful in understanding the stories as the introduction. Seelye included stories by Brett Harte, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Owen Wister, Frederic Remington, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Frank Norris, Stewart Edward White, O. Henry, and Mary Austin. These authors, who wrote during the 19th century, varied in their readability. Frederic Remington, for example, was a much better artist than author. O. Henry always added an unusual twist to the ending. Mary Austin gave personalities to Native American women. What the stories all shared were unique ways to examine the West. Even Owen Wister's stories were not the traditional pulp fiction and "B" Westerners. As Seelye explained in the introduction, "Things are seldom what you expect they will be in the American West."

Seelye's book is an excellent case study to show the many Wests in reality and in the imagination. The stories described unique situations and did not create new stereotypes. But the book is not one to sit down and read cover to cover. After reading for a short while, even the unique stories run together. Stories of the Old West would be a good textbook for a Western American studies or literature class. The short story lover would also enjoy glancing through the pages and reading selected stories. For those not into stories, however, the introduction can provide all the answers.

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Author:Embry, Jessie L.
Publication:The Social Science Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:421
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