Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: To Tame a Land by Louis L'Amour

So it's not a mystery or a thriller, but I'm reviewing it here anyways!

Title: To Tame a Land
Author: Louis L'Amour
Genre: Western
Pages 154
Publisher: Bantam
Year pub: 1965 (orig), 2009 (reissue)
Rating: ★★ 2.5 out of 5

To Tame a Land was the first western I have ever read. Normally I read fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries, but on a lark I decided to give the western genre a try. While I know next to nothing about it, I do know that Louis L'Amour was one of the big names in the genre, so I picked up three of his books from the public library (although one of them is a collection of sea stories and not a western). I started with TTL because I came across a thread on a subreddit about L'Amour's books and somebody recommended it as a starter.

The plot in brief: The main character is Ryan "Rye" Tyler who starts the book at age 12 and ends it at 20. His dad is killed by Native Americans after their wagon breaks down and they're left behind by the rest of the wagon train. He survives and makes it back to the wagon train and is taken under the wing of a man named Logan Pollard who teaches him the proper use of his guns and how to survive in the wild.

Now, the thing about Rye is the boy has a body count. He personally kills two of the attacking natives and claims another when he tracks them down for revenge. Did I mention he was 12 at this point? Yikes.

So anyways, after roaming and working for a while, he and Pollard settle in California with a woman from the wagon train that Rye's dad would likely going to end up marrying. She ends up marrying Pollard instead and life is good until one day Rye runs into the man he blames for his father's death. The confrontation ends with Rye shooting the man down and having to leave. From there, he travels around the West and Midwest, gets a job as a horse breaker, falls in love with a girl, leaves, then spends the rest of the book trying to find the girl again.

And along the way he kills over eight people. Yikes again. Infinite yikes, really. The thing is, Rye isn't some bloodthirsty maniac. He despises killing and wishes nothing more than to live some place where he wouldn't have to carry a gun all of the time. When it does happen, it's typically in self-defense because he can read people and tell if they're planning to draw on him.

What is disturbing though is that Rye only counts the white people he's killed whenever he thinks or mentions his body count, not any of the people of color he's gunned down, such as the Native Americans he tussles with on several occasions in To Tame a Land. At first, I thought this was something L'Amour had simply overlooked, but nope, Rye just doesn't count them. It's disturbing because it implies that Rye doesn't consider them as people or as a separate "race" from whites. Unfortunately, that was a common worldview white people had back in the day and sadly quite a few still hold to today.

Something I thought was odd was that L'Amour portrayed Rye as being much older than he actually was. He ends the story at age twenty but even before that, he comes across as being ten years older than that. His life in those eight intervening years is a rough and tumble sort and as a result he's forced to grow and mature much faster than he should have had to, but it's still weird to read a seventeen year old acting like he's nearly thirty.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I had never read a western up to this point, so I didn't know what to expect. To Tame a Land wasn't a bad book. It wasn't a knock my socks off either, but I don't regret reading it. It was fun broadening my reading horizons a bit and I might very well revisit the genre soon. I still have two more of L'Amour's westerns - Taggart and The Mountain Valley War - that I could read after I'm finished with my other books.

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