Louis L’Amour was, and is still a great favorite of mine. He’s probably not a great favorite of intellectual elite. At least I’ve read almost nothing about him in the NY and Boston Reviews of Books. (I say that wihtout having done a Google search, not the way I usually do things. But for whatever reason the reading public loves his books, having been sold in the hundreds of thousands, millions world wide, (as well as having been Ronald Reagan’s favorite writer).
But in my opinion his stories are more than just Westerns. But they are Westerns, and I take nothing away from the real achievement of this genre, and the real achievement of Louis L’Amour. His stories at best, and there are many ‘at best” stories, they represent a thinking man’s stories of the West and have much to tell us about people as well as how the West was won, tamed and settled. L’Amour himself wanted to be remembered as a writer of good stories. And that he was.
His books also have much to say regarding who we are, from our beginnings (when was that?), with the first crossing of the first Americans from Siberia into Alaska some 10s of thousands of years ago most likely on the Bering Land Bridge, an area long since under water? What color were we to start with? Red, white, yellow, black of various combinations of all four colors, others? In any case we were never and are not now ethnographically one. The word white supremacist certainly doesn’t come from our history. No matter how far back you might go you won’t get there. For we are now and have always been a people of many colors, many cultures. E pluribus unum. That’s us. And that’s the people who people L’Amour’s more than 100 books.
As for Louis himself, there were many sides to him. As a young man he didn’t sit still, as he would later on his life, but worked at many different jobs. Before settling down in his own home and library, to write, surrounded by the tens of thousands of books he owned and had read, he was a school dropout at 15, and only a bit older a hobo on the Southern Pacific Railroad, a cattle skinner in Texas, a merchant seaman in Singapore and the West Indies, an itinerant bare-knuckled prize prize fighter fighting across a large part of small-town America.
It’s interesting to me, at least, that his books sold well without there being therein a lot of sex and violence. Whereas what sells well today contains huge amounts of sex and violence, as if that’s what it takes to sell. But sex is almost totally absent from Louis’s books and when there is violence it’s always controlled, as in a boxing match that might have come from Louis’s own real life experiences. The violence that is in a L’Amour novel is not the rampant, mindless, cruel and ugly stuff of our films and television screens and for that I’m grateful.
But what I wanted to share with you today is the passage below, taken from the book, Education of a Wandering Man, written by Louis himself about his own reading habits, reading being the biggest part of his education. These are the thoughts of a thinking man, and should be up there with the best of all that has been written, thought, and said about education.
As can be guessed from the title, this book is about education, but not education in the accepted sense. No man or woman has a greater appreciation for schools than I, although few have spent less time in them. No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself. If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness. No one can “get” an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process. If it does nothing else, it should provide students with the tools for learning, acquaint them with methods of study and research, methods of pursuing an idea. We can only hope they come upon an idea they wish to pursue.