I enjoy reading Westerns. In fact, when I have the opportunity (or make the opportunity) to read for pleasure, it’s often to either a British mystery or a Western. In particular, I’m fond of Louis L’Amour. I blame this in part on the uncle that introduced me to L’Amour when I was a teenager. However, my appreciation of a good, clean Western is deeper than that.
It wouldn’t be worth being a theologian if I didn’t try to dissect ideas that others would simply enjoy. So, I will try to explain why I like Westerns. I think there are at least three reasons.
Three Reasons I Like Westerns
There is an escapist quality to Westerns. They are realistic, but they are set in a time and place remote from where I live. Since I reside in North Carolina, the canyons, deserts, and mountains of L’Amour’s novels allow me to get out of the four walls of my house in the wilderness or the untamed towns of a previous century.
Instead of thinking about the dissertation I should be writing, the work that is waiting, or the current political turmoil, Westerns allow me to witness a life and death struggle without the perils of actually being stampeded, shot, or hanged. Additionally, since the drama tends to be much more exciting than hunting for typos in a manuscript, the stories are more interesting than my daily life.
The second reason I like Westerns is that you can nearly always tell the good guys from the bad guys. Call me a simple, but I don’t like spending a hundred pages of a book trying to figure out if I should be rooting for the protagonist or wishing that the main character would get snuffed out by a vigilante.
No, give me a good, old fashioned white hat, black hat Western where you can honestly like the good guys and dislike the bad guys. L’Amour’s heroes aren’t perfect, which makes them a bit more relatable than some others. However, the bad guys are always selfish, arrogant, dirty, murdering, and dishonest. Some hold this simple dualistic perspective against Westerns, but I think it makes the genre more enjoyable. If I wanted to deal with complex emotions I’d watch a day-time talk show.
The third reason I like Westerns is that the guy nearly always gets the girl. This is where the closet romantic in comes out. Again, there isn’t a lot of drama and introspection about liking and not liking someone. Instead you get attraction, mutual admiration, and sometimes conflict. You know, the usual.
L’Amour’s stories are enjoyable because there is usually a strong female lead to complement the male lead. In a few books, the protagonist is a female. Without demolishing all types, the simplicity of romance in Westerns allows for a clean, healthy, enjoyable romance. In a world that seems to want every romance to be against type, the simplicity matters.
I don’t get a lot of time to read fiction, but I have a decent collection of L’Amour’s stories that I return to now and again. I’ve read some other authors, like Zane Grey, but I’ve never gotten into them. Much like my preference for reading Dorothy L. Sayers over Agatha Christie, I think this comes down to the slightly more complex characterization, while still keeping it light and fluffy.
For me, Westerns are an oasis in an otherwise rocky terrain. They allow me to be a hero without getting saddle sores. They entertain me and expand my world a little without sucking me dry emotionally. This is a good thing, I think.