Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday's Western: Alan LeMay's THE SEARCHERS

It would not be accurate to say that I'm an expert on the John Ford western, The Searchers, but I am very well read in the critical literature that has discussed it as well as the Alan LeMay novel upon which it is based.  Still, books related to both the movie and the book continue to appear and often surprise me.

There is a slight difference in tint between the 1954 first edition dustjacket and that of the Sears Bookclub Edition.  The dustjacket is usually described as mustard yellow or mustard brown.  The words at the bottom of the dustjacket front are from LeMay's epigraph.  The book first appeared abridged and serialized in The Saturday Evening Post under the title, "The Avenging Texans."

My annotated list of peripherals and references for THE SEARCHERS is here.

A good row of pictures of the movie cast is here.

The source of this picture of the mug, given by John Wayne to other members of the cast and crew back in 1956, is at the excellent "50 Westerns of the 50s" blog which is here.

The movie Ethan Edward's doubting "That'll be the day," by the way, inspired Buddy Holly to write the song by that name, and not the other way around.  It was not a commonly used catch phrase until after both the movie and the song appeared.  It has now passed out of vogue, although Carla Jean Moss, the wife of Cormac McCarthy's protagonist, used it in No Country for Old Men, published in 2005 but set in 1980.

Alan LeMay wrote a number of other westerns prior to The Searchers, but none of such high historical and literary quality.  The bookclub insert coupled it with Daphne Du Maurier's Mary Anne: A Novel as its two main selections.  The four-page synopsis gives away a lot of the ending of the book:
"What Mart and Amos couldn't know, however, was that Debbie, when at last they faced her, would prefer death to freedom.  For the girl they found at trail's end was no longer the child of memories, but a matured, defiant beauty, reared by the tribe as one of their own.  She was even, according to tribal custom, soon to be wed to a young brave.  To Debbie, the strangers were blood enemies and she turned on them with bitter fury.  In that climactic moment, Mart and Amos had to make a decision that could mean life or death for the three of them."

Of course, the ending was greatly changed and made more politically correct in the movie, and while I like it both ways, I greatly prefer the more historically accurate version in the book.  It is a documented fact that almost all captives of Native American nations, later given the choice to live red or white, chose to return to the red way of living.  Forcibly taken back, most of them ran off to rejoin their red families again at the first opportunity.

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