Beard: New book writes epitath for WesternWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Rollercoasters may not be associated with Westerns but that’s what you’ll ride in noted novelist and pulp fiction historian Will Murray’s book, “Wordslingers: An Epitaph for the Western,” new from Altus Press. In it, the author details the repeated rise and fall of what he calls a “cast of victors versus villains, salted with virgins, vipers and varmints.”
To be accurate, this is a history of the Western in pulp magazines, a story that stretches from the early 20th century penny dreadfuls up through the death of the medium in the 1950s. The book offers a liberal amount of quotes and it’s through these that the rich tale of the Western’s struggles comes alive, as Murray himself allows his cast of writers and editors to illustrate their travails. One stand-out aspect of “Wordslingers” is the exposure of pulp editors’ fiefdoms, wherein they count the shots from characters’ six-shooters, periodically ban the use of Indians, and often fail to accurately describe the kind of stories they wanted from writers. The book’s unique offerings of editor slang are also tasty to chew on, with phrases like “gun dummy” and “bang-bang” enriching the torrid tale.
At it’s core, “Wordslingers” also sets up and debates the argument of what constitutes the “real West,” as opposed to the never-never land of the pulp fiction West. There is where that glorified dreamscape of endless buttes, deserts, saloons and rustlers’ hideouts emerged, setting the scene for the popular TV Westerns that came later. The book reveals the back-and-forth desire of the pulp industry to either portray the true West or simply give the people what they wanted: shoot-em-ups, sidewinders, and sagebrush.
If “Wordslingers” suffers in any way, it’s from Murray’s panoply of characters; writers and editors march on stage at and ever-increasing rate, a plethora of names that may make a reader’s head swim. Still, the author’s drive for a complete history of the subject – which has never been attempted before – is admirable and the book can easily be recommended to anyone, whether or not they’re interested in the Western genre. This is the story of popular writing as a whole, just dressed up in chaps and Stetsons. You don’t have to have ever bucked a bronco to enjoy this tome.