Zane Grey's most famous, most successful Western novel makes for an exciting read. Just as interesting and captivating is the story of how Zane Grey came to write the famous book.
Who would have predicted that a New York dentist would become the most famous Western writer in America? Thanks to the efforts of writer and professor Stephen J. May, now we know how it about as TwoDot published May's "Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage: The Real Story Behind the Wild West’s Greatest Tale," in April.
I haven't read Zane Grey in years. I had quite forgotten how lyrically and powerfully he writes in his descriptions of the untameable West that he loved so well.
Here is a scene of a confrontation between Venters and a bad actor named Oldring.
"Venters had one glimpse of his great breadth and bulk, his gold buckled
belt and hanging guns, his high-top boots with gold spurs... his whole
splendid presence so wonderfully charged with vitality and force and
strength seemed to afford Venters an unutterable fiendish
joy because for that magnificent manhood and life he meant cold and
Who in the world writes about how it feels to slay an enemy, the joy it brings to the heart to put one's foe down to death? Who would dare to put hot-blooded killing in such terms? Only Zane Grey.
We get to learn about Grey as a man flawed, his inner demons, his women, and all about him. But we care about Zane Grey because of his power with words, his ability to put us in the scene and in the moment in the most visceral way possible.
May does not restrict himself to Grey's life and books but also spends some good number of pages on the movies made from the books. Did you know that Gary Cooper appeared in the 1925 version of “Riders of the Purple Sage” starring Tom Mix? The most recent and some say the best version of the tale to make it to the big screen came out in 1996 with Ed Harris as Lassiter and Henry Thomas as Venters.
Only a brief mention of Rim Country, where Grey visited and wrote in for years, see's light in the book. Musician Craig Bohmler visited the Zane Grey cabin in Payson, which inspired him to write the operatic and quite successful musical version of the famous story.
Mr. May has penned two other biographical works about different aspects of Zane Grey's life and writing. May is among the rarest of the breed of PhDs, an academic who writes with the grace and vigor of the better novelists. Here May describes part of a wilderness journey made by Grey prior to writing “Riders of the Purple Sage.”
“The sun rose on their right flank, burned like a cinder at noon, and set as a
pale, red wafer into the inky twilight.”
Beyond his word slinging, which is grand, I appreciate Mr. May for giving me a reason to remember and to go back and read Zane Grey. That will be time well spent.
The 240-page "Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage: The Real Story Behind the Wild West’s Greatest Tale" is available on Amazon for $26.95 (hardcover) and $19.49 (Kindle).