Is the Mythology of the Old West Dead?


“The fascination that the Old West has will by no means die.” -John Wayne

The mythology of the Old West has been denigrated by the men and women who set literary fashion. They say it is idealized, simplistic, tired, and, above all, untrue. The excellent guys had been never that good. Frontiersmen and settlers displaced noble people currently occupying the land. Coarse immigrants came in droves to desecrate a pristine wilderness. Eulogized heroics normally involved vigilantism, which offends these who honor the rule of law.

The very same mythology escapes criticism in fantasy and science fiction, so why is it disparaged in Westerns? They’re all produced-up stories, but morality plays in these other genres locate acceptance. The battle between great and evil, selfless sacrifice, idealized heroics, and venturing away from property are common themes in incredibly common genres. Handful of doubt that the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, or the function of Arthur C. Clarke and H. G. Wells are respectable literature. An argument could be created that similar themes are even reflected in nursery rhymes. Could the distinction be that the Old West truly happened?

Prior to we answer this query, we must take an additional appear at the mythology of the Old West. It is about far more than gun slinging paladins. There are 3 main elements, with a lot of tributaries. The initial is the romance of a new beginning. The second is the battle of very good versus evil. The final element is the lone warrior who sets factors appropriate.

The West, outer space, the future, or a make-think land represents a new beginning in a fresh place away from home-the shrugging off of disappointments and a opportunity to start off all more than again. The romance and adventure of frontiers draws individuals desperate to escape the travail of their present existence. We’ve noticed this in real life with the migrations to the New Planet and the Old West, but nowadays several folks satisfy this longing vicariously with fiction. If you’re poor, your family tends to make you miserable, you have committed an act that offends society, or wanderlust has gripped you, then the adventure and limitless opportunity of a frontier beckons like a siren’s contact. Emigrating to a frontier means you get a do-more than in a land with no rules, no fences, no referees.

Genuine life is a gray scale, somewhat skewed to the darker side of the spectrum. A new life wouldn’t entice us if we had to bring our old baggage, so we see our new globe as black and white. There’s strength in righteousness, perseverance and danger are rewarded, good folks do proper, and negative people get their just deserts. This is a world of hope. Hope for riches, hope for justice, hope for a various path in life. Excellent fights evil and excellent usually triumphs. This is a theme that has been portion of storytelling in each society considering that the first cave drawings.

We know we’re weak, so good demands assist. A raw frontier is hazardous. The components and carnivorous animals threaten at every turn. People fight ruthlessly to claim a piece of the terrain for themselves. No civilization indicates no restraint on bad men and women performing negative things. Help comes in the form of an idealized hero, possibly an antihero who overcomes his moral deficiencies to assist the innocent. This person is typically visualized as a lone warrior, like the one particular eulogized by Tom Wolfe in The Proper Stuff. The hero is capable of violent action, but he is fundamentally excellent. The gunman in Westerns carries a simple remedy on his hip. Frodo has the ring and Potter his wand. In these mythical realms, the hero dangers his life to save the day and demands nothing at all in return.

Western mythology beguiles us due to the fact it promises a world diverse from our own. Difficult work gets rewarded. We have freedom of movement with horses and trains. We get vicarious revenge against the unpleasant individuals in our lives. And riches. Wealth comes from the land and the land is cost-free. The whole package is wrapped in idealized virtues that make us feel secure and hopeful. And we can encounter it all by reading in our preferred easy chair.

Which brings us back to our question. Are these themes significantly less acceptable in Westerns since the Old West in fact existed?


History shows that the idealized frontier was a myth. No matter how desirable the theme, this offers a enormous advantage to fantasy and sci-fi, which aren’t bound by reality. In the true Old West, bad guys frequently won. More accurately, the sturdy and willful won, numerous occasions using bullying techniques. In the gritty actual globe, Native Americans were vanquished by hordes of pioneers. Miners raked the surface of lovely countryside and then ran off when there was no more easy cash. Historical records make it straightforward for a person to say, “But it wasn’t like that.” Does this mean that Western mythology is inappropriate for fiction?


Authors, even so, need to method Westerns as historical fiction. Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy already do. They tell stories that incorporate elements of Western mythology, but they use gradation in their storylines and nuance the stereotypical plots. Their books are populated with realistic characters and they get the details appropriate. Fantasy and science fiction can get away with an idealized, binary planet, but Westerns must move through the nineteenth-century frontier with realism and respect for the genuine experience of pioneers and Native Americans.