FROM HOPALONG TO HUD: Thoughts on Western Fiction by C. L. Sonnichsen

FROM HOPALONG TO HUD: Thoughts on Western Fiction

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Highbrow criticism of lowbrow writing can be carried off with incisiveness and without condescension (Henry Nash Smith, above), but C. L. Sonnichsen just doesn't steer the true path in From Hopalong to Hud. Defining ""Western fiction"" in a sense broad enough to include Chicano novels, sharecropper novels, even contemporary sexy westerns, the book takes off with the well-worn premise that ""from the cultural historian's point of view pulp fiction can be more revealing than serious works."" What we get is an impressive cataloging of clichÉs. Dismissing more elaborate (and more interesting) explanations of the vitality of the good old shoot-'em-ups, Sonnichsen blandly concludes that they satisfy ""a natural and normal hunger for a heroic past."" Hopalong as Achilles in chaps? Yes, and this followed by a sanctimonious debunking of the ""Earp legend."" The book does have some interesting things to say about the influence of the ""Black Legend"" of Renaissance Spain on the portrayal of gringos in contemporary Chicano novels. Historical insights sometimes emerge from the very sweep of material discussed. The impact of Sixties novels like Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show on sex and violence in the pulps reveals much about the interaction of serious and popular cultures. But does it really push ahead the frontiers of cultural history to show that in 1908 Edward S. Ellis portrayed Apaches in Trailing Geronimo as a ""desperate band of wretches"" while in our own times they are more often seen as noble victims? In too many chapters Sonnichsen omits analysis of potentially fascinating material (the role of women, the cult of violence, the anti-hero, the mock-hero) to summarize plot after plot after. . . . True cultural history asks for much more.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1978
ISBN: 0890961891
Publisher: Texas A&M Univ. Press