I thought I’d read all of Zane Grey’s novels when I was a kid until I stumbled across this title in an antique store in Edmonds, Washington, a while back. His plots are much of a muchness, cowboy heroes riding to the rescue of virtuous heiresses in peril from greedy, amoral bad guys, and a lot of really clunky dialect (“Wall, I should smile”), but no one ever wrote the scenery of the American West better than Grey did. When I got to Arizona and New Mexico I recognized them from his writing, like here:
Beyond and above the foothills yawned the western end of the Pass–the grand gap that split the mountain’s range and gave the felicitous name to this beautiful rent in the crust of the earth…The sun was setting in the notch, with broken clouds above, pearl and mauve and opal, with hearts of rose and edges of saffron. How intense the blue far above! How like yellow lightning low down near the sinking orb, that now slipped its blazing under side below the clouds! A colossal reflector of nature–the great stone slopes of the mountain, magnified the brilliance, the color, the glory. And what had been beautiful before now seemed transformed to enchanted to realms beyond the earth. What pure gold burned on the winding high walls of rock! The royal purple hue of Pharaoh’s raiment slanted down from the peaks, its source invisible, to vanish in the white fire-streaked gorges…
And that’s just one sunset. You get the feeling that Grey galloped through the two-dimensional characters and bad dialogue tags and improbable plot lines just so he could get back to the scenery he so loved. Okay by me. If you’ve never read Grey I recommend Light of the Western Stars, where Eastern heiress Madeleine comes west to visit her brother Alfred, which ne’er-do-well the West has redeemed, and cowboy Gene Stewart literally sweeps her off her feet. That scene where they’re on the run from Don Carlos (the taken-for-granted racism is awful, so be warned) to a heart stoppingly beautiful campground high in the mountains will stick with you.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.