Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature (Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts)
by Paul Varner
When in 1902 Owen Wister, a member of the Eastern blueblood aristocracy and friend of novelist Henry James, became a best-selling novelist with the publication of The Virginian, few readers would have guessed that a new kind of American literature was being born. While Owen Wister was enjoying his success, Edwin S. Porter in New Jersey was filming the first cinema Western The Great Train Robbery, which would usher in a new era both of movies in general and of Western movies in particular. Both events would lead to a century of cultural fascination with stories of the old West.
The Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature tells the story of the Western through a chronology, a bibliography, an introductory essay, and hundreds of cross-referenced dictionary entries on authors such as Owen Wister, Zane Grey, Max Brand, Clarence Mulford, Ernest Haycox, Luke Short, Dorothy Johnson, Louis L’Amour, and Cormac McCarthy.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature is an installment in Scarecrow’s Historical Dictionaries of Language and the Arts series. Author Varner, professor of English at Abilene Christian University in Texas, has previously edited Westerns: Paperback Novels and Movies from Hollywood (Cambridge Scholars, 2007) and authored the Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema (Scarecrow, 2008). Varner has followed the standard structure of the series and includes a chronology, an introduction, and an extensive bibliography in addition to the alphabetically arranged entries….As with other books in this series, the bibliography is a valuable resource for researchers, including as it does primary sources (the westerns), critical and theoretical approaches to westerns, historical studies of westerns, casebooks of criticism, and biographical and critical studies of individual authors. This work is recommended for academic and large public libraries. (Booklist)
Western novels often are dismissed as serious literature. While many Westerns do indeed consist of predictable plots and cardboard characters from the Old West, this book by Varner (Abilene Christian Univ.) offers a historical and literary context that convincingly broadens readers understanding of, and appreciation for, a surprisingly diverse and sophisticated body of work. Although the first classic Western, Owen Wister’s The Virginian, was published in 1902, a detailed chronology begins much earlier in 1682 with publication of a captivity narrative. These narratives and other precursors to Westerns are referenced in entries such as “Pre-Westerns,” but the focus of this dictionary is on classic Westerns and their contemporary descendants, including “antimyth Westerns” and “alternative Westerns.” Hundreds of entries range from authors, titles, and series to new trends, stock characters, themes, criticism, and historical events. Although far from comprehensive (e.g., no entry appears for Western Story Magazine), this book, as Varner indicates, is not intended as exhaustive. Rather, it is a source that “suggests areas of importance” and “points to significant people, novels, themes and critical issues.” An extensive bibliography provides title lists for major authors and resources for further study….Varner is also the author of The Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema in the same series. Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)
Most of us today are probably more familiar with Westerns on the screen than in print, and this book is a useful corrective in shedding light on the books that often underlie the films. (Reference Reviews)
About the Author
Paul Varner is professor of English at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He is also the author of Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema (Scarecrow Press, 2008).
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More about the author
“The Rule of Cool: Reading Poetry of the Beat Movement”
Oklahoma Humanities Spring 2017.
Paul Varner is a writer from Abilene, Texas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is married to Dr. Jeanine Varner, through the years a former university provost, academic vice president, and academic dean. The Varners’ two children are a professional orchestra director and a philosopher.
Dr. Varner served for years as Scholar-in-Residence in Language and Literature at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas and has developed a significant reputation for his expertise in literary Romanticism, Western American Literature, and the Beat Movement in the United States.
He is the editor of New Wests and Post-Wests: Literature and Film of the American West and Westerns: Paperback Novels and Movies from Hollywood, both published by Cambridge Scholars Press.
Other books include Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema, Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature, Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement, and, most recently, Historical Dictionary of Romanticism in Literature, all published by Rowman & Littlefield,
Besides his books, Varner has published articles on 18th Century British Drama and postmodern U.S. poetry.