March 16, 2004

Shane, by Francis Schaefer

Don't laugh. It's actually a pretty good book and I'm not a big Western fan. When I was in high school, I stumbled across Owen Wister's The Virginian and fell in love with it. That was followed by Vardis Fisher's book Mountain Man after Redford made the movie "Jeremiah Johnson" out of it. And a few years back I read a few of Ivan Doig's stories about Montana, particularly "Dancing at the Rascal Fair." But the Louis L'Amour type westerns have never interested me much. However, at my book group we were talking about Westerns as a movie genre—we tend to digress from topic occasionally—and one of the guys recommended this book. He's got pretty high end taste in books too, so I was surprised.

It is good. In some ways, it's better than the classic movie they made of it. After reading it, I don’t see Gary Cooper as Shane though. He's not dangerous looking enough to be true to the character in the book.

I read it as an allegory. Shane is the old west of gunslingers and outlaws trying to adjust to the new settled west of the homesteaders. He's the classic hero—-tall, dark, handsome, straight, soft-spoken, dangerous and conflicted. Joe Starrett, the little boy's father, is the new west—-hardworking, independent, proud, earthy, honest and striving. The conflict is between the old way of working the land in the west with open range and long cattle drives and the newer, more settled way of breeding and feeding fewer cattle but doing it more land intensively.

Of course, it also a pretty well-told adventure story. Shane is the perfect good/bad guy. You want him to win his fight to give up gunslinging and yet you know that for him to remain true to who he is, he can't. Telling the story thru a young boy's eyes only makes it more dramatic. It also gives you the great line he keeps repeating "and he was Shane." Only a kid could accept someone at face value and then, growing up, imply the deeper meaning in the story.

It isn't great literature but it is a good story well told and certainly worth the reading.

Posted by Deb English at March 16, 2004 06:38 PM

Ian said:

Uh, it's Jack Shaefer, though Francis might be a middle name, and Coop never played Shane. That was Alan Ladd.

I would actually argue that Shane is not only great literature, but that it is one of the best American novels there is. Of course, opinions differ, but what novel better depicts the American spirit?

There is a rarely updated Schaefer page here.

As to the movie, I am one of the few that hates it. Hated the kid. Hated Ladd (whom I usually like to some extent). Hated Jean Arthur as the kid's mom (but then, I always hate her performances). Disliked Van Heflin's portrayal of the kid's father (and I nearly always like him).

In fact the only thing I liked was Jack Palance. He was great. Everything else I simply could not stand.

One of the dangers of reading the book first.

Ian said:

Uh, it's Jack Shaefer, though Francis might be a middle name, and Coop never played Shane. That was Alan Ladd.

I would actually argue that Shane is not only great literature, but that it is one of the best American novels there is. Of course, opinions differ, but what novel better depicts the American spirit?

There is a rarely updated Schaefer page here.

As to the movie, I am one of the few that hates it. Hated the kid. Hated Ladd (whom I usually like to some extent). Hated Jean Arthur as the kid's mom (but then, I always hate her performances). Disliked Van Heflin's portrayal of the kid's father (and I nearly always like him).

In fact the only thing I liked was Jack Palance. He was great. Everything else I simply could not stand.

One of the dangers of reading the book first.

Ian said:

Whoopsie, double post!

Deb said:

Doh! I had the book in front of me when I wrote the review too!! Francis Schaefer is a theologian/writer I have been browsing lately. And it was Alan Ladd though somehow in my memory, dusty I must admit, I keep seeing Gary Cooper. Maybe I should have you vet my reviews when I refer to movies! ;o)

Either way, the Shane of the movie wasnt nearly as interesting as the Shane of the book. And Eastwoods ripoff in "Pale Rider" was a shambles.

I dont know if it's THE great American novel (far be it from me to open that particular can of stale worms) but it's certainly a book that's sadly neglected. Owen Wister defined the American Cowboy as an archetype. Shane gave us the conflicted hero in another form.

Thanks for the corrections, Ian.

Will Duquette said:

Ya know, when I posted this for Deb I said to myself, "Francis Schaefer? Really? Can't possibly be the same guy as the theologian...."