My Work

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Magical, Mythical, and Historically Accurate

The Mid 19th century into the first decade of the 20th is welded into our minds as the time of the cowboy, the local sheriff, the town marshal, the outlaw, the murderous Indian, and the frontiersman. It’s a time of myth in which the myth may well be reality, the legend is history.

Bank robbers and saloon girls, cattle rustlers and train robbers, card sharks and gunfighters are as real in our minds as are mountain men and horse soldiers, Deputy U.S. Marshals and frontier doctors, preachers and saloon keepers.

There are people performing basically the same work today, but what’s missing is the romance, the immediacy, and the flavor that was written into the history during its own time. The writers and poets of the time flavored the history for us, gave it a cream topping that won’t be felt until … well, maybe when we really do end up with classic space jockeys, and real Captain Kirks exist.

What is it about the “cowboy” that so enthralls today’s public? The cowboy is almost always portrayed as having loads of common sense, impeccable manners, a sense of wrong and right, and personal responsibility dominates. There is a duty to defend the underdog, to respond instantly to danger, and to defend a lady’s virtue at all cost.

The frontiersman of myth dominated fiction and life during the latter 18th century and then it was time for the cowboy. Is it because the heroes are singular? We have heroes and myth surrounding war, but those myths rarely involve individuals. But the frontier hero and the cowboy hero are individuals. Even the anti-heroes, the outlaws such as bank robbers, gunslingers, and rustlers are often singular.

What will writers of fiction use for heroes a hundred years from now? Crime and mystery fiction also often features individuals, and sometimes is based on fact, but not to the extent that western fiction is. My prediction is that space cowboys are going to exist, because it’s what our mythical cowboys are made of that made them heroes in the first place, and the goodness of the human, when it is threatened makes for fine stories.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
Member, Western Fictioneers
Member, International Thriller Writers
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