Zane Grey

Journal: 057

Zane Grey (1872-1939) was born in Zanesville, Ohio. How cool is that? Zane was his mother’s surname and the city was built on land owned by her family. His original first name was Pearl, as in pearl grey, the colour of Queen Victoria’s mourning dress (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true).

He is of course famous as a writer of cowboy stories, 90 odd all-up. Grey lived in Pennsylvania from 1905-1918, then in California. He was married, had numerous affairs and travelled extensively (within USA). From 1923-1930 he had a cabin in Arizona. The book I listened to recently, Captives of the Desert seems to have been written in 1925. It is set in desert country in Arizona which he describes with great affection. What’s most interesting is that although this is ostensibly the story of John Curry, a cowboy  – a herder of intrepid tourists rather than of cows, and in fact the properties in the desert seem to mostly run sheep – the other principal characters are all women: Mary who is married to a no-hoper; Mary’s friend Catherine who has come out from the east to be with her sister who is an invalid; and Magdalene, a young Navajo woman who has been away to school and now finds herself neither western nor native American.

The feeling I got is that Zane Grey is far more liberal than you might expect from a writer of pulp fiction for rural working men. He has a lot of sympathy for the shit the Navajos have to put up with and in particular the difficult situation Magdalene is in, where her education is not valued by her fellows and yet there is no place for her in white society.

Curry is hopelessly in love with Mary. Magdalene and maybe Catherine are hopelessly in love with Curry. Mary slowly comes to despair of her husband, who leaves her when he realises Mary is not the heiress he hoped for.

While we are driving old cars or riding horses and mules through desert canyons, dealing warily with the local native Americans, and conducting tourists on trail rides, the husband is having another shot at making his fortune selling liquor – which was banned on Indian reservations in Arizona by state law and subsequently by federal law (1920-1933). Magdalene gets pregnant; various people get shot; and yes there is a happy ending, two in fact.

Both Mary and Curry are very nineteenth century. Mary in her determination to be a good wife to a man she despises, and Curry in his honourableness, his wish to serve Mary but to not compromise her marriage. I found Captives of the Desert to be good, thoughtful reading (listening).

I didn’t mean to write so much about what is after all an obscure book, but Zane Grey is interesting for the light he shines, or the study of him shines, on the Bulletin school of Australian writing. As with many other issues, 1950s US movie culture – in this case cowboy and indian movies – stands between us and a proper understanding of where society was at pre WWII.

There are lots of things I haven’t done that I mean to and following up the myth of the American ‘Noble Frontiersman’ (in Canada as well as the US) and how that feeds into Australian Legend is one of them. I wonder if I can get ES Ellis on audiobook.

After not this last trip but the one before, I didn’t look for any freight at the end of the week and was happy, even on my own, to have a weekend at home. As it happens, I loaded the following Thurs and stayed on in Perth a couple of days, to be out of iso for just one day for the first time in months, had tea at Milly’s and took our granddaughter out to lunch for her birthday.

As you know, Melanie/GTL and I were working on The Slap and in the course of our interchanges I sent her a photo of a dingo which came up to my truck at Nullarbor station. She promptly imagined a whole story around Bingo the dingo, including adopting it and heading off on a road trip in a red convertible. I turned around very quickly in Melbourne and Bingo was still there when I got back, and although it’s not apparent in this photo, she’s clearly a bitch who has just had pups. So now it’s Lady Bingo and maybe the whole Thelma and Louise scenario (Don’t do it Melanie!).

I’m settling down with the new WordPress editor and have even converted the Truck Pix page of my work website to a slideshow, following a hint from WG. Next step is to play with Tables which Karen/Booker Talk makes a start on here in Comments.

Did you see WG’s most recent Monday Musings where her 100 year old father burst into song. We got onto my own father singing – in 1959, just me and him on the road from Leongatha to Sea Lake (500 km). His grade 6 had done HMS Pinafore for speech night, and he sang it to me to wile away the hours.

I only have Pirates of Penzance and The Gondoliers in the truck , but Pinafore is the one that has stuck and I was silly enough to boast that I could still sing Dear Little Buttercup (in falsetto!). Despite requests, that won’t be inflicted on my readers. But it reminded me that three or four years later in his first (and only) headmastership, Dad got his teachers to perform the Death of Julius Caesar – you know: “He was stabbed in the rotunda.” “Oh! That must have been painfull!”. He played Calpurnia and his “I told him Julie , don’t go, don’t go” in falsetto is still with me. (It’s actually Rinse the Blood off my Toga).


Recent audiobooks 

Mudrooroo (M, Aust/WA), Wild Cat Falling (1965) – DNF. Read by the author whose older ‘university’ voice was just wrong for the story
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
Tom Franklin (M, USA), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010) – Crime
Joy Fielding (F, USA), Someone is Watching (2015) – DNF. Shoot me if I pick up another Joy Fielding. She gets off on gratuitous violence.
Tess Gerritsen (F, USA), The Bone Garden (2007) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Zane Grey (M, USA), Captives of the Desert (1926) – Western
Lisa Kleypas (F, USA), Sugar Daddy (2006) – Crime

Currently reading

Ivan Čapovski (M, Macedonia), The Sorrow of Miles Franklin…
Jessica White (F, Aust/Qld), A Curious Intimacy
JD Salinger (M, USA), The Catcher in the Rye
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Talisman Ring
Milan Kundera (M, Czech), The Farewell Party

54 thoughts on “Zane Grey

  1. Alright, so I have a confession: I wrote a flash fiction piece about Bingo the Dingo and sent it off to a journal. We’ll see what happens. The theme for their next issue is vagabonds, so I found Bingo fitting.

    Nick and I had a good, cheerful laugh reading about Bingo and your father singing. The only reason I know “My Little Buttercup” is from the movie The Three Amigos, starring Chevy Chase, Martin Short, and Steve Martin. Fittingly The Three Amigos is about three talented actors who think they are headed to a movie set by discover they were called to this rustic village in the desert to save the community from some banditos, led by the nefarious El Guapo.

    Thank you for sharing; I loved this post and am going to see if I can get my hands on this Zane Grey book. Surely, the library must have at least a dozen of his works.


      • What do they say about England and America? Two nations separated by a common language? Apparently it also applies to the US and Aust. Although I’ve watched (and loved) Three Amigos here is the real ‘Little Buttercup’

        Liked by 1 person

    • Happy to keep you amused. Hope you get published. How can I let Bingo know she’s famous? Perhaps I had better start carrying dog food. Though dingos who have been fed are notorious for raiding campsites.


      • Oh, goodness. One of the rare times I respond on my phone instead of my computer, and I end up writing a message that makes me sound like a lunatic. Yes, I meant wouldn’t!

        Also, that Buttercup video was lovely. That’s really cool that you got the video to appear within the comments. One of WordPress’s many oddities: I didn’t see the video embedded in the comment until I looked up your site while on my tablet, which is not logged into WordPress.


      • Having the video embedded like that was entirely unintentional. I was as surprised as you are. Incidentally, I have pulled up a couple of hundred km short of the border to answer outstanding comments. I thought that would be far enough from Bingo, who is 200 km the other side of the border, to be safe while I sleep.


  2. I was in the Red Cross op shop a couple of weeks ago and I picked up a hard cover Zane Grey book simply out of nostalgia. I remember walking past my grandparents big home in Michigan in the small town we lived in. He would be in his rocking chair, reading all the time. He read Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour books. We never had trouble finding those books for his birthday. You’ve brought back a nice memory for me. Another thing he did, as an aside, he didn’t sing but when he vacuumed the house for my grandmother he would yodel at the top of his voice. He was a very good yodeler.


    • I always wish I was born with a better singing voice, torn mostly between wishing to be Roy Orbinson and wishing to be (famous Australian yodeller) Frank Ifield. So I am envious of your grandpa.
      I’d forgotten Louis L’Amour. Paper cover westerns were everywhere when I was a kid – though not in our house (nor comics, sadly) and as I would read anything that fell in front of me, I’ve read quite a few.
      Yodeling is probably the only sensible reaction to the noise a vacuum cleaner makes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t say anything about your mother, but my feeling is that cowboy movies (and war movies) skewed heavily right during the McCarthyist 50s and that that was largely unseen. So for instance, we expected all problems to be solved by guns, and for ‘Indians’ (and Mexicans) to be evil, stupid, subservient etc. (not to forget the whole whores/god’s police dichotomy for women). Hence my surprise on seeing very little of that in this Zane Grey.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought your opening line was a joke at first. What an interesting bit of info. My grandfather was a Zane Grey fan and I remember many of the covers well. I did read one of them but can’t recall the name of it – perhaps ‘The Thundering Herd’.


    • I’ve listened to a couple in the past few years, cowboy stories are often old fashioned and relaxing, but I rarely remember titles. If a book has an interesting title I quite often borrow it more than once because, like a goldfish, I find it interesting each time I come across it. Which isn’t relevant to your comment I know. Lots of grandfathers here, which I suppose is about right, Gray is about a generation older than my grandfathers.


      • I’m having a great chuckle here as I have the same goldfish issue. Titles and arresting covers have always seen me holding the same book in my hands over and over again. Luckily, when I was still home and using libraries, the system would alert me when I’d borrowed a book before. Even so, I’d sometimes stand there scratching my head and opt to take it out again anyway . . . just to be sure. For similar reasons, you would be likely to find 3 packets of oregano in my herb and spice drawer but no coriander which would be the one I’ve been out of for two months. See what happens when you go off track . . . before you know it, I’m hiking in a jungle.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh there’s too much here for me to respond to Bill. You do pack these Journal posts!

    First Zane Grey. I have a hankering to read him one day – just one – and my choice would be Riders of the Purple Sage, because I love the title and love the look of purple sage in the southwestern desert. But, you have intrigued me with this one now as perhaps THE Zane Grey I should read. Not being a genre reader, I have only ever read one western, and that was Shane (by Jack Schaefer). My recollection is that it was a really spare novel, and I liked that. I loved Westerns – TV and movies – when I was a youngster but as I am with most genre fiction it seems that I’m happy to watch them but not to read them.

    Interesting that Grey is spelt “grEy” when Americans, I think, mostly spell the colour “grAy”.

    I love that you are getting stuck into the new block editor. Are you finding it not so bad as you thought?

    I love too that I get a couple of references! Woo hoo!

    Oh, and your father sounds like a bit of a hoot.


    • According to Wikipedia you have to be careful about whether you like the look of purple sage in Utah which Grey was referring to, or purple sage in Texas which is different (and the state floral emblem (where does that leave the yellow rose?)).
      Shane is certainly the best western I’ve ever read and as I remember, almost pacifist in its aversion to guns.
      The family changed from Gray to Grey. Why? Because of Queen Victoria’s dress? – who knows.
      The block editor and I are getting on. In fact the classic editor got involved her initially anyway because I’d set up a draft some time ago (to record what I’d read).
      Dad had his moments.


      • Utah is where we were when I bought the book for my Dad. However, I’ve just Googled to be sure, and yes, the Utah sage is the southwest salvia family sage that I know. Texas sage is a different family (or genus or whatever altogether). I have driven through Texas, in summer, but I’ve driven through the southwest deserts of California, Arizona and Utah several times.

        And yes, I remember Shane as being a thoughtful novel, though I don’t remember its aversion to guns but that may be part of why it appealed.

        “Dad had his moments.” Love it!


      • Two years ago (June 2018), when I listened to Shane (and before I realised I had it on my boyhood shelves) you agreed with me that it was ‘pacifist’ in a western sort of way. Perhaps I should review it properly.


  5. Hoorah! We may make a block editor convert of you yet 🙂 🙂

    I was “made” to watch westerns when I stayed in my grandparents’ home during school holidays, basically it was either that or nothing since there were very few tv stations. It put me off the genre entirely but your description of this book could get me into reading at least one. It was the reference to the Navajo way of life that sold me – we were on holiday in Utah several years ago and did a tour with a Navajo indian who fascinated me with his explanations of the culture of the tribe.


    • My parents and my grandparents only watched the ABC (which is to the BBC as Tony Abbott is to Queen Elizabeth II), so no cowboys. I’m getting the impression that Grey is a better writer than his reputation for churning out western pulp fiction suggests. Perhaps give the Utah-based Riders of the Purple Sage a go.


  6. I have resisted valiantly writing this comment, but I can resist no longer. Apologies, Bill.

    You mention HMS Pinafore. When I was in high school, in Second Form, my sister sang in Trial by Jury, as the second half of speech night. The year after was a musical derived from G&S, by others. The next year, when I was in Fourth Form, two of the teachers rewrote Pinafore to take place in a high school (Muddylark High). They wanted the students to wear the school uniform, but the headmaster vetoed that idea, so the uniform was quasi-Victorian (era, not state, though this was Geelong).

    The tunes were pinched from Pinafore. Hence:

    “A many years ago, when I was young and leaner,
    I worked a month or so in a maternity ward as cleaner.
    When she was young and leaner,
    Da da, da da, dada da (can’t remember!)
    She worked as a baby cleaner,
    A many years ago.”

    And the patter song:
    “I am the very model of a great inspector general

    I know what seven sixes are and twelve twelves never worry me,
    Such mathematic problems are a cinch if you don’t hurry me.”

    Alas, that’s as much as this aging brain can dredge up.

    I could never work out how the new teacher and the aged headmaster could have been swapped at birth, but such a minor detail shouldn’t get in the way of enjoyment.

    I’m sorry you’re not recording Dear Little Buttercup. I thought perhaps you should record it while driving your truck, so we can get the road and engine noise in the background, reminiscent of the trip with your father. Ah well, I’ll just have to imagine it.


    • If I’d known I might have ducked up from Mudsville, 45 miles down the road, to watch. You’ve reminded me Colac High did a review when I was in 6th form and I was one of 6 policemen performing With Cat-Like Tread from Penzance (which I had completely forgotten).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a soft spot for western stories, books and films, even though their political slant does not fit with my current view of and understanding of the world, so I’ve been really enjoying the literary novels that are taking the tropes and slanting them slightly, to afford the opportunity to re-focus the stories. An early example of this, which made me laugh out loud many times, is indigenous author Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water (don’t look for this as an audiobook unless he’s reading it, I think that would be tricky), but now there are several. (Also, I laughed at the Joy Fielding comment.)


    • I hadn’t thought about modern slants on the western except for a couple of cowboy movies which seem to be much more violent (in the interests of historical accuracy, of course) than their predecessors. My objective is to go backwards and look at C19th ‘frontier’ fiction. I have a few, of my own, my father and my grandfathers. Thinking of The Young Fur Traders, or With Wolfe in Canada whose spines have been looking back at me for more than half a century.


  8. Coming to this on catch-up today as have been so busy with work. I was reminded of my grandpa when seeing the name Zane Grey, as I see two other commenters were. I was very fond of my grandpa – he was a quiet, gentle and kind man, who was married to a terrible battle-axe of a woman (he died in 1987 at 79, Grandma died a couple of years ago at 104!) and used to go on massive bike rides in his retirement, every day, 100s of miles a week. I think it’s where I got my endurance from. Anyway, when he died, somehow I ended up with his full set of red-spined Zane Greys, and they eventually caught up with me on my second stay in Birmingham, this time around. I never got round to reading any and they were so big and bulky en masse, so I ended up Freecycling them to a young guy who seemed genuinely thrilled by them. I might have to read one now, though!


    • It is almost physically impossible for me to give books away, though I sometimes do, to a good home. I hope you read a Zane Grey some time soon and think of your grandfather in the industrial north dreaming of prairies and limitless skies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love giving books away, and it’s a good thing as otherwise our house would have collapsed or burst by now! Grandpa lived in leafy Middlesex when he got these books, he worked for BOAC and lived in an airport village, so not quite the industrial north/midlands I ended up in but still v different from those prairies!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. That dingo is adorable! I won’t lie, as an American I haven’t seen images of dingos before. She does look like someone who means business, however. Lady Bingo. I love it.

    I grew up near Zanesville, Ohio. They are quite proud of Zane Grey! However did you end up picking up any of his stories? They are even a bit obscure for America!

    Also — noted on avoiding Joy Felding. No gratuitous violence for me, please and thank you.


  10. It was really interesting learning about Zane Grey. We have SO many of his books at the library, but I’ve never thought of him really because I don’t read the westerns. I would never have thought he died so long ago. I wonder if there are any present-day authors churning out the westerns like he did?


    • I wouldn’t have thought Zane Grey was well enough remembered to have a lot of books anywhere. You make me wonder is he one of those authors whose books are endlessly republished because they’re out of copyright. If the US and Canada are anything like Australia then here are hordes of women churning out rural/western romances and I’m sure, in the US at least, some of the men carry guns, and of course they all look sexy on a horse. Does that make them ‘westerns’? Probably not.

      Liked by 1 person

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