ability of the Western form. From thenbeginning, Westerns have adaptednthemselves to contemporary belief.nEarly stories had a great deal to do withncharacter and the fate imposed byncharacter. Later stories dealt with thenlone individual preserving his integritynand life against the forces of socialnconformity. In recent decades, theynhave reflected modern racial concerns:nthe protagonists are likely to be Indiansnor Hispanics or their white sympathizers,nwhile the antagonists are invariablynrapacious whites. The perfect examplenis Dances With Wolves, MichaelnBlake’s eminently successful book andnscreenplay in which the Indians and anwhite ally are the protagonists and thenarmy is the antagonist. To anathematizenall Westerns as racist, sexist, andnimperialist, as Professor Kittredge does,nis to miss the radical differences innWesterns from decade to_ decade andnthe flexibility of the genre. Westernsnhave frequently reflected the socialnconcerns of modern times, evennthough they are nominally about thenfrontier and the setflement of the con-nHnent. And even in the bad old daysnwhen many stories treated Indians asnantagonists, there was a powerfulncountervailing sympathy for Indiansnwhose lands and living were rippednaway from them. I do not know of anynperiod in which Westerns lacked sympathynfor Indians, although many earlynstories revealed a white cultural chauvinismnthat held that the red man’snsalvation was to become like whites, ornelse die off as a result of their atavisticnways.nAnother, and perhaps the boldest, ofnmy propositions is that some Westernsnare excellenfly written. BeleaguerednWestern novelists, operating in an aridnand hostile milieu, have been forced tontell good stories and tell them well, ornface extinction. Some Westerns arenamazingly powerful. Western novelistsnhave also escaped the literary fads ofnminimalism and nihilism that haventurned serious literary fiction into a seanof decadence and triviality. The Westernnnovelist can and does treat largenthemes — justice, death, love, loyalty,nmercy, personal integrity — themesnthat mainstream novelists considernhopelessly cliched and passe. Readersnof Westerns therefore find the veryngrandeur and depth of understandingnthat one has always associated with then50/CHRONICLESnbest mainstream authors.nFor several years now, one of NewnYork’s most important agents, NatnSobel, has attended the conventions ofnWestern Writers of America, just to seenwhat the Western genre is all about.nHis clients are largely important mainstreamnnovelists. A year or so ago henshared his observations about Westernsnwith the assembled authors and editors:nhe had discovered, he said, that Westernnauthors are doing some of the bestnwriting in the whole of American literature,nand that they are being treatednshabbily by publishers — far worse thannthe authors in any other category, ornthose writing mainstream fiction. Mr.nSobel was correct. Some remarkablennovels are being written in the Westernnfield by novelists who would be celebratednfor their abilities if they werenwriting in any other genre.nThere are two basic types of Westerns:nthe romantic (or mythic) and thenrealistic. Neither is in any danger ofnextinction, although the mythic Westernnis currenfly in decline. The mythicnstory is not really about the West, butnabout character. It is rarely set in angeography of actual places. The frontiernand its lawlessness and hardshipsnserve merely to focus the story on thenprotagonist’s strengths and weaknesses.nThe mythic story is largely an affirmation:nin the end, justice is done andngood triumphs and the manliness,ncourage, and integrity of the heronprevail. These stories are lighfly researchednand could be set most anyplace—nnot just the American West.nMax Brand, Luke Short, and LouisnL’Amour wrote mythic stories, alongnwith the majority of Western novelists.nThe other type is about the frontiernWest itself It is intensively researchednand essentially a historical novel. Itsnprotagonists do not necessarily triumph,nand are likely to be flawed.nThey certainly don’t serve the mythicnpurpose of affirming our national character.nThese stories tend to be morencomplex, reflecting the human conditionnin all its tragedy and triumph.nThese realistic Western novels are onnthe ascendant and may dominate thengenre in the future. Many Westernnnovelists have written both types. JacknSchaefer, for instance, wrote the classicnmythic story Shane, and a powerfulnrealistic novel of the West, MontenWalsh.nnnIt is worth noting that the mythicnWestern is the, variety that has comenunder attack. The mythic Western offersna vision of American manhoodnthat many find intolerable. Even morenintolerable to them is the underlyingnmessage: that it is possible for strongnpeople to work out their own salvation,nlargely by adhering to traditional normsnof conduct and belief If the minions ofnthe Modern Language Association attacknsuch stories with amazing vehemence,nit is because they fully understandnthe grip that these Homericnstories have upon the soul of the nation.nSome of the criticism is certainlynjustified.nThe women typically found in thenmythic Western are sketchy and subservient,nand the mythic story is oftenndismissive of the Indians who werendisplaced by the onslaught of whitencivilization. But I suspect that the mostnimportant reason why the critics despisenthe mythic Western is simply thatnit celebrates a glorious, bold, and enterprisingnAmerica. It celebrates the grandeurnand uniqueness of the Republic.nThe future of the Western is not inndoubt, unless its detractors take thenfinal step by resorting to censorship.nMany of those who wish to abolish thenWestern have brushed close to advocatingnthat ultimate weapon, and ProfessornKittredge fervently wishes Westernsnwould go away. Perhaps some daynWesterns will be sold under the counter,nthe way Henry Miller was fifty ornsixty years ago. But I think it is morenlikely that the day of the fanatics willnpass, and Westerns will return to eminence,ncherished by Americans in allnwalks of life. Once, not so long ago.nWesterns were a source of national joy;nthey were our unique contribution tonworld literature (some would arguenthat the hardboiled private eye story isnalso an original American contribution).nWesterns were once publishednby the most prestigious houses, includingnAlfred Knopf, and serialized weeklynin the Saturday Evening Post andnother magazines. That sort of popularitynand acceptance may not return, butnwhenever Americans feel good aboutntheir country, you’ll see a reemergencenof the Western.nRichard S. Wheeler is the author ofnover twenty Westerns. He lives in BignTimber, Montana.n