o I was in the middle of a book of collected short stories, thoughtful pieces about reservation life by an American Indian. After a while, the hopelessness and despair of it all got to me. I needed a break.
So, what, I read a cowboy book? A bit incorrect.
But it’s Louis L’Amour, and nobody does chaps and six-guns like Lou. It’s escapism at its best, just wide-open spaces and all that.
In North to the Rails, Tom Chantry comes west to save his soon-to-be-father-in-law by getting a herd of desperately-needed beef to the Union Pacific railhead. Of course, he’s not really skilled at this, having left the west as a little boy and only just returned. And Chantry doesn’t think that killing is the way to go about it. He won’t carry a gun; he won’t kill if he can avoid it.
Like I said, Tom’s been away from the west for a while.
But Tom is no idiot, or maybe he’s a total idiot – the jury is still out. He trusts bad men. He’s honest and fair. He rides right into Indian camps and confronts the warriors. And for a lot of this, his ideals keep him from wearing a gun. This is an interesting thing, an American thing, that runs as a vibe through the story (even through it was written in the early 70’s, it’s still a constant). And that is, of course, guns and their place in society. And I’d have to agree with the point L’Amour seems to be making – that perhaps in the civilized world of the east, no gun is needed since civilization keeps one safe. But in the west, where there is no civilization, one needs a gun to ensure safety. Perhaps that’s the entire point of the conflict in our society – are we civilized or not (me, I’d say that a certain sense of paranoia drives the discussion, but this is a literary blog, not a political one).
But anyway, slowly Chantry comes out of his shell and carefully and deliberately changes his worldview. And when he does start slapping leather (as the gunslingers say) it’s a joy – there are a number of galoots who deserve killing. So it was a good book (in the way Westerns are meant to be) – sweeping and thrilling and fun. It was a good break from the world and an easy mosey along this dusty trail of storytelling.