Book: Riders of the Purple Sage – Author: Zane Grey
Genre: Fiction, Western
Description from Goodreads:
Told by a master storyteller, Riders of the Purple Sage is a classic of the Western genre. It is the story of Lassiter, a gunslinging avenger in black, who shows up in a remote Utah town just in time to save the young and beautiful rancher Jane Withersteen from having to marry a Mormon elder against her will. Lassiter is on his own quest, one that ends when he discovers a secret grave on Jane’s grounds.
**This one might have some slight spoilers, sorry. Also, it’s a long one and I complain a lot, so just a head’s up. 😉 **
Full disclaimer, I have NEVER been fond of Westerns. Now I’m not talking about fun Westerns, like Steampunk (the Weird West Tales series by Mike Resnick is HILARIOUS; you should all read it) or Time Travel (yes, I’m thinking Back to the Future here, lol) but the pure Westerns. You know, where Character A steals Character B’s horse and Character B decides that the only way to avenge his pride is to slaughter Character A’s entire posse. Those kinds of Westerns.
So when my reading challenge list included “A classic from a genre you don’t normally read”, I decided to go with a Western; mainly because my only other choices were gore or pure romance, both of which I can’t stomach. And not knowing much about the genre, I looked up the only Western author I’d heard of, Zane Grey (thanks, Colonel Potter 😉 ).
“Riders of the Purple Sage” is not only Zane Grey’s most well known book, it’s also considered by most to be the best selling Western of all time and the book that started the genre. It’s spawned a couple movies, inspired many writers and actors, and even has a country rock band named after it. Very, very popular…and very, VERY boring!
The plot itself isn’t too bad, though there’s actually two of them. In the first one, a rancher named Jane Withersteen is being harassed by the dastardly Mormon…authorities?…clergy?…we’ll just go with “dudes in charge” for not being docile enough and marrying the man they want her to. Lassiter, a mysterious dark rider, wanders along and helps her out. The second plot is about a Gentile named Venters, whom Jane is supposedly in love with (and vice versa), who leaves her ranch to try to track down some cattle rustlers so he can make the Mormon’s like him and ends up disappearing into a side canyon with another girl for apparently like a month. Either one would have made a decent book, but smashed together like they were, it was a little strange to follow.
Back to the boring. Look, I know the West is beautiful. The canyons, towers, hills of sage brush…all gorgeous. But it should NOT take 11 pages for one man to ride a handful of miles into a canyon. You do NOT need to describe every single hare running away from his dogs or explain every time his horse decided to switch from running to trotting. And the amount of times someone said the word sage, you’d think it grew on top of everything, the houses, the people, the horses. Someone did a count in their Goodreads review: 237. They mentioned sage 237 times in a 320 page book. For someone who loves the West and/or extremely detailed descriptions of a book’s world this might be great, but for the average reader? ::thumbs down::
And also…WE GET IT, Jane is a Mormon! She doesn’t have to say it every single time she has a conversation! I came to dread the pages where she actually spoke. Everything turned into “How can I love this man if it goes against my faith” “They wouldn’t possibly turn against me, a fellow Mormon” “I know you can’t stand my Mormonism.” Yes, the author used the word “Mormonism”…he used it MULTIPLE times.
And that ending! ::facedesk::
Now, on the plus side: I’ve read some reviews of this book that said it was anti-Mormon and I don’t really think it came across that way. Yes, the author spoke against Mormons several times, but not really against the Mormon faith itself, just against the bad guys (those “dudes in charge”) who were exploiting the Mormon faith to get what they wanted. There was a lot of inner monologue where Jane was coming to terms with the fact that her leaders might not be the pillars of goodness she thought they were, but that it didn’t mean her faith had to be shaken. I think that’s a great message. Sometimes in life, the people who we looked up to the most aren’t who we thought they were, but that doesn’t mean that our beliefs are wrong.
On the whole, I’d say that I obviously didn’t really like this book…but I can see where people who love Westerns would enjoy it. There were a lot of shoot outs, a stampede or two, some nice scenery, and (spoiler!) the men get their gals. Also, it had a nice overall message.
**Recommendations by Goodreads, since I haven’t read ANY of these, lol**
Hondo – Louis L’Amour
The Virginian – Owen Wister
The Unforgiven – Alan LeMay