A behind-the-scenes look at the unpublished work and unrealized aspirations of an iconic writer of Westerns.
“Far overhead a bird soared. Twice he looked at it, brow puckered.” Louis L’Amour (1908–88), ne LaMoore, wrote millions of words, almost always in simple declarative sentences. Vying only with Zane Grey, he dominated the Western genre; if without the flair of Elmore Leonard, his work was miles above the penny dreadfuls that had preceded him. It will surprise readers who know only his Western writing to learn from this overstuffed volume that L’Amour was interested in other genres, more than dabbling but often not quite committing to them; he tried his hand at the intersection of Westerns and horror but also played with science fiction, historical fiction, even variants of romance and literary fiction, examples of all of which abound in this gathering of provisional work. Often he achieved nicely atmospheric effects that wouldn’t be out of place in Hemingway (“The wind moaned and blew a few leaves across the campsite. Where they had been there was nothing but darkness and the cold”), and just as often he took formulas and breathed fresh life into them. Beau L’Amour, his son and editor, allows that his father was “trapped by his own success” in the Western genre—and by the need to support a family on writing alone, churning out books, magazine pieces, television scripts, and more. But on top of all that work, L’Amour constantly experimented, as this volume shows, making notes for and drafts of adventure, crime, sci-fi, and other kinds of fiction, even an odd exercise in speculative work that spoke to his interest in reincarnation and “the transmutation of souls.” While his son is quick to admit that Pop’s work wasn’t always, well, good, it’s refreshing to know that no matter how successful, L’Amour, his office piled high with books, was always looking to stretch.
Lost treasures indeed. A second volume is promised as well as other unpublished work to fill the shelves of eager L’Amour buffs.