Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wednesday's Western: Elmore Leonard's HOMBRE

Hombre by Elmore Leonard.  My copy, scanned above, is the first printing of the hardcover Armchair Detective Library edition, published in December, 1989.

Dustjacket:  A snakeskin appears wrapped fore and aft against the black of both front and rear covers.  Against the skin, the author's name is high on the front cover in black.  The title is in a eclectic mixed western font on the bottom half, the capital "H" protruding into the blackness in a blocked blood red.  The standard western accoutrements are overlaid on a board in the middle: two guns in holsters, silver spurs, saddle and saddle blanket, but sideways rather than at a normal angle.

A great dustjacket resonating with the text, suggesting a nonconformist naturalism and the blood of darkness.  Below the title in small print: "Selected by the Western Writers of America as one of the 25 best westerns of all time."

Indeed it was, and still is, though it is quick read, a rather short novel with lots of dialogue.  It would make a fine play.  The print in this edition is large and easy to read, yet it only runs to 190 pages.  In the introduction, written thirty years later, Leonard says that he finished it in 1959, that it was then rejected by publishers for two years before Ballantine bought it for 1250 pounds and brought the book out in 1961.

"Five years later 20th Century Fox acquired screen rights and in 1967 Paul Neuman appeared as the taciturn hero no one understands.  It was Richard Boone who came up to the assay shack with the white flag tied to his Winchester, and Neuman who asked him, "How are you going to get down that hill?"

After decades of institutionalized racism, Hombre seemed a very relevant novel in the sixties.  The novel was not only a reaction to the conformist and cliched television westerns of the fifties, it plays today as a constant argument weighing the relative values of altruism and individualism, civics and existentialism.

The movie follows the book, though the book is told in the first person by an everyman who observes for us all.  Leonard doesn't stop short of showing the hypocrisy and corruption in the human condition, yet the ending has an abiding faith in the law as a vehicle that can make things right--or at least better.

He might change a word here or a word there if he were writing it anew today.  Still, even after fifty-two years, the book stands as a small masterpiece.


  1. I have not read this one. I very much liked your touch of posting a photo with other books here. Very very nice. I felt drawn into your world and to see some of your actual book shelves warmed my heart. I'm on a mystery kick right now and perhaps this might round out my reading phase nicely.

  2. Fancy meeting you here too, Candy, and I echo your sentiment. Richard, thanks for sharing your intimate world of books: collecting them, dealing in them, and of course reading them. I am drawn as well to your other books, like Shane right next to Hombre, and the books in upright position, including True Grit, No Country For Old Men (I recognize it even without the title showing!), and Blood Meridian.