You will rarely see Western novels ornauthors come under academic or criticalnscrutiny, except to condemn them.nThis is not the case in more respectablencategories. Mystery authors arenmuch acclaimed, even among literarynprofessors and critics. People like RexnStout, Raymond Chandler, DashiellnHammett, or John MacDonald arenregulariy studied, admired, analyzed,nand acknowledged to be serious andngifted novelists. More recently ElmorenLeonard has been accorded that statusn—but not for the several excellentnWesterns he wrote before turning tonmysteries. Nothing illustrates the differencenin attitude better than encyclopedianentries. The New Columbia Encyclopedia,nfor example, has entries onnAgatha Christie, Raymond Chandler,nDashiell Hammett, and Rex Stout, butnnot one for John MacDonald. When itncomes to Western writers, things arendifferent: there is a patronizing entrynon Zane Grey, and one for ConradnRichter, and that’s it. There is no entrynfor Pulitzer Prize-winner A.B. GuthrienJr., Dorothy Johnson, Max Brandn(Frederick Faust), Luke Short (FredericknGlidden), Ernest Haycox, Walternvon Tilberg Clark, William McLeodnRaine, Will Henry (Henry Allen), JacknSchaefer, or Louis L’Amour. Onenmust ask: are all these people unworthynof recognition, or is it simply theirnmisfortune to have written in a fieldnthat has always been patronized byncritics and professors?nIn recent years academic leftistsnhave begun to assail category Westernnfiction. For example, English ProfessornWilliam Kittredge of the University ofnMontana regularly attacks Westerns asnbeing racist, sexist, and imperialist, andnmakes no bones about his hope thatnWesterns will vanish forever. His viewsnare replicated by, roughly, the membershipnof the Modern Language Association.nThey associate Westernsnwith a frontier period when white mennbehaved shamefully: exterminating Indians,nruining the land, wiping outnbuffalo, demolishing the fragile ecologynof the West, all from greed. Moreover,nthey associate Westerns with falsenand romantic views of human nature,nin which self-reliant people achieventheir goals, and such virtues as courage,nloyalty, and integrity really count.nSuch people, many of them in thenpublishing industry itself, regularlynpronounce the death of Westerns, andnone detects malice in the threnody:nWesterns obstruct the proper understandingnof a guilty, racist, voraciousnwhite America and delude people intonsupposing they control their own destinies.nIn addition to all these burdens.nWesterns suffer from an image fixation.nAlmost anyone can tell you what anWestern is: it’s a story that involves a lotnof horseback riding and six-gun fights;na story in which the characters arencardboard, especially the women; anstory full of action and short on theme;na story in which the hero will sayn”Yup,” and “No, Ma’am” to a schoolmarmnheroine and then ride off intonthe sunset; a story in which the authorndoes not deal seriously with the humanncondition, but seeks merely to entertain;na story that presumes the superioritynof white civilization and the inferioritynof Indian or Hispanic culture.nEveryone knows this; it’s a given, andnthat is why intelligent and educatednand sensitive people don’t read Westernsnand why professors condemnnthem.nBut what everyone “knows” reallynisn’t accurate. The majority of modernnWesterns bears little relationship to anynof these cliches and assumptions. Nonother genre is so beset by wrong preconceptions,nheld by people who havenno intention of ever finding out whetherntheir notions are accurate.nThus, the environment in whichnWestern fiction is produced is largelynarid. People on the left dislike Westernsnfor ideological reasons, while peoplenon the right ignore them as trashnliterature fashioned by pulp writers.nPeople in all walks of life think of themnas horse opera or shoot-em-ups. Thennadd to that the universal scorn ornindifference of academics and criticsnand the pop press (you don’t seenWestern authors featured in Peoplenmagazine or the Sunday newspapernsupplements or the checkout counterntabloids).nMiraculously, Westerns refuse tondie, even when the odds are as long asnthey are. Each month, the drugstorenpaperback racks acquire a gaudy collectionnof new titles. Each month severalnhardcover publishers of Westerns offernmore of their wares to librarians. Peoplenare buying them even without thenprompting of publicity, critical acclaim.nnnor social approval. In spite of thenindifference and hostility. Westernsnflourish, and the worse the environment,nthe more it prospers.nHow can that be? The most obviousnreason is that there exists in the UnitednStates a large pool of literate people,nmany of them ardent readers, who arenutterly indifferent to fad and fashion,nhype, media blitzes, academic and ideologicalnvogues, and politics. Thesenpeople are not finding the type ofnstorytelling they enjoy in mainstreamnliterature and turn instead to categorynnovels, especially those in which traditionalnmoral and ethical values informnthe story. They make up their ownnminds about what to read, and arentherefore relatively immune to thenblandishments of ideologues. Fornthem. Westerns speak to what is possiblenand exciting and grand in humannnature; to the heroic. These people arennot necessarily old, not necessarily traditional,nbut simply independent.nThey’ll continue to buy and readnWesterns, no matter how scathing thencondemnations of academics and crit­nics. Another factor is the unusual malle-nLIBERAL ARTSnVIVE LA FRANCEnInterviewer. “In Anglo-Saxon countries,nmost men prefer the company ofnother men.”nMme. Edith Cresson, 57, PrimenMinister of France: “Yes, but the majoritynof these men are homosexual —nperhaps not the majority—but in thenUSA there are already 25 percent ofnthem and in England and Germany itnis much the same. You cannot imaginenit in the history of France. . . .nFrenchmen are much more interestednin women; Anglo-Saxon men are notninterested in women and this is a problemnthat needs analysis. … A mannwho isn’t interested in women is innsome way a little maimed.”n—from the London Observer,nJune 16, 1991nNOVEMBER 1991/49n