I sat down to blog on this question “Why Westerns?”, and realized the answer could fill a volume. The Western’s hero is one reason, but besides the heroes it has something to do with the adage “write what you know”. Westerns are also a heck of a lot of fun. There are so many answers to the question, I will return to it again. So don’t take this to be comprehensive.
I think the Western in its essence is its hero, iconic to be sure but uniquely American. In a sense he is born carrying the DNA of our Constitution. He personifies the purposes set down in that document to establish justice, provide for the defense of others, and secure for himself the blessings of liberty. From the start he sprang forth fully formed. I read Last of the Mohicans and there he is. Fennimore Cooper’s Hawkeye fights, shoots, defends the weak and punishes the unjust the same way McCrae and Call do in McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove , never mind the 160 years that separates their creation.
I find this Hero intertwined with the collective American character. Like the nation he’s born of, he possesses pathological devotion to his cause, be it right or wrong. It’s something I know too well. I admire him even if I can’t understand his motivation, as with Elmore Leonard’s white Apache, John Russell in Hombre. He also resonates in darker characters, like Alan Le May’s Amos Edwards in The Searchers, though I find his purpose objectionable and maybe even frightening. My heroes can be wrong, but they can never lack conviction. To do nothing in the face of evil is always worse than making a mistake in opposing it. Sometimes as in life this leads to tragedy.
So in a real sense, for me, these heroes are like the mythic Greeks, Achilles, Hercules or Jason. The Western brings their flaws as well as their strengths to light and this gives me characters I relate to even if, unlike me, they are larger than life. And like those Greek heroes they are enduring, and their tragedies, as they do in all literature, become life affirming.
Who is your favorite Western Hero?