Book Review, Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey
This book was great, although it is an antique published in 1912 by Grosset & Dunlap, New York.
I don’t usually rave about yesteryear, because yesteryear generally contained many difficulties we wouldn’t tolerate today. But some yesteryear stuff is great, such as the late Zane Grey’s writings.
Riders of the Purple Sage is a classic, excellent plot, wonderful description, and characters that are believable. It was also his most popular book.
The plot reminds me of those old movies in which a long, long story slowly unwinds, at times wearying to view. But overall good stories.
I found Grey’s life story to be at least as fascinating as his books, more so, because of the difficulties he overcame. Overcoming difficulties is the meat of most stories.
“Pearl Zane Grey was born January 31, 1872, in Zanesville, Ohio. His birth name may have originated from newspaper descriptions of Queen Victoria's mourning clothes as ‘pearl gray’. He was the fourth of five children born to Alice ‘Allie’ Josephine Zane, whose English Quaker immigrant ancestor Robert Zane came to America in 1673, and her husband, Lewis M. Gray, a dentist. His family changed the spelling of their last name to "Grey" after his birth. Later Grey dropped Pearl and used Zane as his first name. He grew up in Zanesville, a city founded by his maternal great-grandfather Ebenezer Zane, an American Revolutionary War patriot; from an early age, the boy was intrigued by history. Grey developed interests in fishing, baseball, and writing, all of which contributed to his writing success. His first three novels recounted the heroism of his ancestors who fought in the American Revolutionary War,” Wikipedia continues.
“As a child, Grey frequently engaged in violent brawls, despite (or because of) his father's punishing him with severe beatings. Though irascible and antisocial like his father, Grey was supported by a loving mother and found a father substitute. Muddy Miser was an old man who approved of Grey's love of fishing and writing, and who talked about the advantages of an unconventional life. Despite warnings by Grey’s father to steer clear of Miser, the boy spent much time during five formative years in the company of the old man.
“Grey was an avid reader of adventure stories Robinson Crusoe and Leatherstocking Tales and dime novels featuring Buffalo Bill and Deadwood Dick. He was enthralled by and crudely copied the great illustrators Howard Pyle and Frederic Remington. He was particularly impressed with Our Western Border, a history of the Ohio frontier that likely inspired his earliest novels. Zane wrote his first story, Jim of the Cave, when he was fifteen. His father tore it to shreds and beat him. Both Zane and his brother Romer were active, athletic boys who were enthusiastic baseball players and fishermen.
“Due to shame from a severe financial setback in 1889 caused by a poor investment, Lewis Grey moved his family from Zanesville and started again in Columbus, Ohio. While the older man struggled to re-establish his dental practice, Zane Grey made rural house calls and performed basic extractions, which his father had taught him. The younger Grey practiced until the state board intervened,” Wikipedia relates.
Grey took two “backcountry trips into the Grand Canyon (that) inspired his first Westerns, and he returned to Arizona annually for many years,” Wikipedia states.
Zane became a dentist, but practiced in New York to be close to publishers. Dentistry bored him, so he wrote at night, according to Wikipedia.
Eventually his writing took over his life, he “went on to become the most successful American author of the 1920s, a significant figure in the early development of the film industry, and central to the early popularity of the Western,” according to Wikipedia.
He died in 1939.
Riders of the Purple Sage has all the western adventure one could want and concludes after a long complicated plot that includes the hero, Lassiter, who at the beginning rides into the tale dressed in black with two large pistols and rescues the heroine, the wealthy ranch-owning Jane Withersteen, from the bad guys. The bad guys, turn out to be Mormons, and much of the tale features them against the good guys.
Dating the mindset of the story, the Mormons, their full name being Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, are depicted as somewhat evil and the worst of whom are eventually done in by the good guys, who are gentiles of which Lassiter is one. History relates that the Mormons were harassed in New York State, where their religion began, and continued to be as they fled west, eventually settling in Utah.
Today I doubt that any publisher would tackle such a fiction story, prejudiced, it appears, against any one religion.
Years ago, I knew some Mormons, who took me to a church conference. These Mormons were good guys, though I didn’t pick up their religion as my own. Here at home, I know a handful of Mormons, who also are good guys and gals.
One really interesting part of this and Grey’s other westerns is his detail of the land in which the drama takes place, colorful detail of the plants, rocks, cliffs, and other features. However, I still am not sure what “sage” is nor “cottonwoods,” although I looked up “cottonwoods” online.
For good old-fashioned western adventure, with some words uncommon in our day of quick language that need a bit of pondering, one cannot beat Riders of the Purple Sage or his other westerns.
I bought eight of his old books from another Maineiac, paying $40 for the group. I don’t know where you can find them, except for Amazon.com and other sites with prices from 99 cents for Kindle versions to $17.99 for paperback being the most expensive I saw.
Wherever you find them, for some great satisfying western adventure, saddle on up and round up this and other titles for your own ranch house study or living room.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013