Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guns of the Timberlands by Louis L'Amour

Guns of the Timberlands by Louis L'Amour
Bantam 1390, Copyright 1955

Continuing with some recent discussions on Louis L'Amour, (Steve Lewis has an excellent post on Mystery*File) I recently finished this early work by the author. "Guns of the Timberland" has your good guy vs. bad guy theme, with a subtle view on the impact of over foresting thrown in.

The novel is a battle between "good guy" Clay Bell, rancher who enjoys his land and free life; and wealthy Jud Devitt, who is a man who gets what he wants. Devitt is after the timber on Bell's land, he plans to make a large profit selling needed lumber to the railroads and no one is going to stop him. Devitt brings in gun-hands and lumberjacks to insure the stripping of the forest. Bell has his ranch hands
, who are fairly seasoned and tough.

Louis L'Amour was a good writer and could tell a story, but you always knew the outcome. I usually don't mind that; but after reading many of the novels, I found I was just reading to finish them. "Guns of the Timberlands" is one of his finest westerns and he paints an excellent picture of the western landscape. In this one he has some good ol' barroom fights and good ol' cowboy killin' -one fight is pretty brutal involving a lumberjack smashing the face of one of Bell's men with his calks. But we know there will be a final one-on-one battle between Bell and Devitt, and we will know who will win, and we will know who gets the girl......

Note: I will always have a strong heart for Hondo, which is my personal favorite by Louis L'Amour. (and a damn good John Wayne movie)


Anonymous said...

L'Amour is a fine storyteller, but I find I prefer his short stories, which zip by so quickly that their inherent predictability isn't a problem.
I'm always pleased with his descriptive power when writing about the western landscape. You can taste the dust, feel the sun and sense the age of the canyon walls. You really know you're reading a Western.

John Hocking

Anonymous said...

August, I'm not disagreeing with you, you understand, I'm just asking.

You say, "But we know there will be a final one-on-one battle between Bell and Devitt, and we will know who will win, and we will know who gets the girl..."

What this makes me wonder is this.

Isn't this true of most westerns?

I haven't thought about it enough to answer the question myself. I just thought I'd ask anyway.

--- Steve

August West said...

Steve: Your 100% right(I probably wasn't clear), most westerns fit this bill. That is one of my issues I have with L'Amour. He was content to keep that as a foundation for his stories. As a youth, I loved it. As I got older, I understood what guys like Elmore Leonard, Robert Macleod, and even some works by Lewis Patten were creating through westerns during the 50s/60s. To me there was a shift at this time and some authors were changing from the "stamped" western plot. L'Amour had that opportunity, but I guess his passion was too strong for the traditional western story. It's hard for me now to pickup a L'Amour western to read.

What a wonderful discussion you started on this topic. The comments on your blog are inspiring...

Anonymous said...

Right. I should have asked, "Isn't this true of most traditional westerns?" And it would have been so.

I believe I remember Richard Wheeler saying that he no longer can read traditional westerns.

If I'm wrong about it being Mr. Wheeler, whose opinions I value highly, I'd appreciate being corrected!

--- Steve

Juri said...

Yeah, Steve, you might want to try some of Dean Owen's more noirish westerns. I couldn't tell what was going to happen.

Randy Johnson said...

I may be wrong, but I'd always heard Hondo was a work for hire adaptation of a script. I enjoyed it too though.

Unknown said...

Steve, It was Richard Wheeler. At Ed Gorman's blog, then picked up in the December Black Horse Extra (in intro and Hoofprints).

Juri, I second your recommendation of Dudley Dean McGaughey. Exactly the kind of writer I have in mind when I wonder why others have been forgotten while the L'Amour books are revived over and over in thirty-something printings! I believe the latest operation is ressurecting the original magazine versions of stories L'Amour later expanded into novels.

Meanwhile, equally worthy Dudley Dean Gold Medal titles are not currently in print at all, though you might be lucky to pick up 1980s large-print reissues from a lending library selling off old stock. Try The Man from Riondo, Gun in the Valley and Gun the Man Down.

As for not telling what is going to happen in a western, some interesting slants on this topic were incorporated in the March 2007 article "Detectives in Cowboy Boots". You can still dig it out from the Backtrails (archives link) at

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks, August, for giving me a reason to pick up another L'Amour. After being the only Western writer I would be for years, L'Amour's predictability really tired me out, and I haven't picked up one of his books in over a year.

Luckily, in the meantime, I discovered Max Brand, whose work is complex and yet really easy for a modern reader to get into -- as well as getting into some great living writers, such as Johnny D. Boggs and Ed Gorman.

(I'll also keep a look out for that Day Keene Western.)

Chris said...

A little late to the game here, but Guns of the Timberlands is the first Louis L'Amour full-length novel I plan on reading over at The Louis L'Amour Project. It will be some time before I actually get to the novels (currently wading through all of the short stories), but I hope to get there.