Where to Find a Real Man

by cowboylands

The first Western novel I read was The Virginian, by Owen Wister. I was in pursuit of an original experience, because being a child of the seventies–a decade of pop image, synthetics, and appropriation–what I believed about life was usually a mishmash of half-remembered and vicarious experiences through books, movies, and blacklight posters. I began to hunt for whatever had informed my understanding of my experience of the world, a search without end as any philosophy student will say. Until the laconic Virginian. Why does a discussion about work shifts turn into a showdown? Why would a woman walk behind her man, or adamantly feel she must walk several steps ahead? All was revealed in those pages—actually just hinted at through the actions of humble/noble cowpokes. I knew these roles had some birth in a knightly consciousness, which in turn was an appropriation from an earlier Court of Love, which in turn was a created construct. It was a dusty trail heading into the mountains, with every summit promising to be the last, until I got to its top and saw the trail continuing to another promising vista. Was I, a budding Western scholar, doomed to chase down a phantom and become a Ghost Rider in the Sky? Um, no. I had a full-time job. (whoops—that’s right, had.) This stuff was just plain great to read. And lovely to look at.

Robert Stanley, illus., Raw Land by Luke Short. Dell Publishing Co., 1950s.

Take a paperback from a favorite author, Luke Short. More on him later. Check out the scene on the cover.

Robert Stanley is the artist. He worked for Dell after their “mapback” and keyhole colophon years, and between 1950 and 1959 he was a major contributor to the Dell look. Explosive, sometimes grim and violent, his illustrations manhandle the viewer. Stanley often used his family for models; while his wife, daughter, or father are not portrayed, the figure on the left, the one giving the hairy eyeball to whoever is standing in his way, is almost certainly the famed illustrator himself. Stanley knew where to find a real man: in the mirror. Give this artist a tin star!

If you want to be a real man, you now have your example. Break out of your cage. Come out shooting (metaphorically please; no need to get Rambo on us). Do what you have to do. Hairy eyeball and all.

Happy trails,



4 Comments to “Where to Find a Real Man”

  1. I read a lot of Westerns. I reckon I read by author, and not by the individual tale.
    I reach for Louis L’Amour first,
    Zane Grey second, Max Brand third, and Elmer Kelton fifth. Anytime I see a cover as interesting as the one shown on the Luke Short cover, I read it. I prefer humorous realism, and romance in with the violence.
    I always seek a happy ending.

  2. Definitely it pays to reach for the author first. Luke Short turns my head every time. Zane Grey is a great author, but for me his style is more lacy and ornate than my blunt two-fisted taste. However, when I first saw a massive flame-colored cliff in Big Bend, Texas, Zane Grey’s purple prose sprang to mind.

  3. I also reach for Louis L’Amour first. Luke Short is also great. All the stories of the west fascinate me.

  4. Louis L’Amour gives great western description. His sense of place is astounding. While his stories don’t lasso me right off they obviously work wonders, given the following he has.

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