November 06, 2010

What's Up with Louis L'Amour?

Creative writing classes study writers, discuss them, pick them apart to see what makes them tick. But I've never heard them give such attention to Louie. Dismissed as a paperback writer, not worthy of such discussion, I think they miss the point. The man died in 1988, and twenty years after his death continues to dominate the western fiction bookrack.


A lot of the writers of the classics that continue to be discussed and dissected ad infinitum, wrote books that today would probably not be picked up by an editor. They were beautifully written, I'm not saying they weren't, but in today's fast paced world and short attention spans they open far too slowly and often have much more detail than modern readers want to wade through. But Louie remains popular.

What's the deal?

I have a full set of his books, leather-bound, and I've read them all multiple times. I've heard a number of theories on why he is successful, but to me the answer is simple. Number one, he connects with the common man, and I mean that generically as I know a lot of women who love his books. He writes on our level. The other major secret is the fact that within a scant few pages into the book we have already identified with one or more characters and care about them.

The books open fast, get us invested in the characters, and they never whirlpool into a section where the story ceases to advance for the sake of explanation or description or setting or anything else that stops the forward motion of the tale. I won't go into a debate on how good of a writer he was, but he was one of the best storytellers America has ever produced. There's a difference, you know, a writer is concerned with the plot and structure and formatting etc. but a story teller is concerned with the story and keeping the reader entranced.

I think the people who do critical analysis of literature sell old Louie short . . . but it looks like the readers aren't fooled at all.


Caroline said...

Terry, you're exactly right. He was a great story teller. I love his books & they remain some of my favs. He was knowledgeable about what he wrote about. He knew the west, knew the people, knew the country. I consider him a great source for anyone who wants to study western years in the past.

Vickie McDonough said...

You know, I don't believe I've ever read a Louie L'Amour. I heard that gasp. I'm going to have get me a copy.

Stephen Bly said...

Terry: Like you, I have read his books over and again. You hit it right: he is a storyteller first and foremost. Thanks for the excellent article.

On the trail,


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