Western fiction

Western fiction is a genre of literature set in the American Old West frontier and typically set from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. Well-known writers of Western fiction include Zane Grey from the early 20th century and Louis L'Amour from the mid 20th century. The genre peaked around the early 1960s, largely due to the popularity of televised Westerns such as Bonanza. Readership began to drop off in the mid- to late 1970s and has reached a new low in the 2000s. Most bookstores, outside a few west American states, only carry a small number of Western fiction books.

Wild West 1908
"As Wild felled one of the redskins by a blow from the butt of his revolver, and sprang for the one with the tomahawk, the chief's daughter suddenly appeared. Raising her hands, she exclaimed, 'Go back, Young Wild West. I will save her!'" (1908)



The predecessor of the western in American literature emerged early with tales of the frontier. The most famous of the early 19th century frontier novels were James Fenimore Cooper's five novels comprising the Leatherstocking Tales. Cooper's novels were largely set in what was at the time the American frontier: the Appalachian Mountains and areas west of there. As did his novel The Prairie (1824), most later westerns would typically take place west of the Mississippi River.


The Western as a specialized genre got its start in the "penny dreadfuls" and later the "dime novels". Published in June 1860, Malaeska; the Indian Wife of the White Hunter is considered the first dime novel.[1] These cheaply made books were hugely successful and capitalized on the many stories that were being told about the mountain men, outlaws, settlers, and lawmen who were taming the western frontier. Many of these novels were fictionalized stories based on actual people, such as Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp (who was still alive at the time), Wild Bill Hickok, and Jesse James.


By 1900, the new medium of pulp magazines helped to relate these adventures to easterners. Meanwhile, non-American authors, like the German Karl May, picked up the genre, went to full novel length, and made it hugely popular and successful in continental Europe from about 1880 on, though they were generally dismissed as trivial by the literary critics of the day.[2]

Popularity grew with the publication of Owen Wister's novel The Virginian (1902) and especially Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage (1912). The first Hopalong Cassidy stories by Clarence Mulford appeared in 1904, both as dime novels and in pulp magazines. When pulp magazines exploded in popularity in the 1920s, Western fiction greatly benefited (as did the author Max Brand, who excelled at the western short story). Pulp magazines that specialised in Westerns include Cowboy Stories, Ranch Romances, Star Western, West, and Western Story Magazine.[3] The simultaneous popularity of Western movies in the 1920s also helped the genre.


In the 1940s several seminal Westerns were published, including The Ox-Bow Incident (1940) by Walter van Tilburg Clark, The Big Sky (1947) and The Way West (1949) by A.B. Guthrie, Jr., and Shane (1949) by Jack Schaefer. Many other Western authors gained readership in the 1950s, such as Ray Hogan, Louis L'Amour, and Luke Short.

The genre peaked around the early 1960s, largely due to the tremendous number of Westerns on television. The burnout of the American public on television Westerns in the late 1960s seemed to have an effect on the literature as well, and interest in Western literature began to wane.

Western comics

Western novels, films and pulps gave birth to Western comics, which were very popular, particularly from the late 1940s until circa 1967, when the comics began to turn to reprints. This can particularly be seen at Marvel Comics, where Westerns began circa 1948 and thrived until 1967, when one of their flagship titles, Kid Colt Outlaw (1949–1979), ceased to have new stories and entered the reprint phase. Other notable long-running Marvel Western comics included Rawhide Kid (1955–1957, 1960–1979) Two-Gun Kid (1948–1962), and Marvel Wild Western (1948–1957).

DC Comics published the long-running series All-Star Western (1951–1961) and Western Comics (1948–1961), and Charlton Comics published Billy the Kid (1957–1983) and Cheyenne Kid (1957–1973). Magazine Enterprises' Straight Arrow ran from 1950 to 1956, and Prize Comics' Prize Comics Western ran from 1948 to 1956.

Fawcett Comics published a number of Western titles, including Hopalong Cassidy from 1948 to 1953. They also published comics starring actors known for their Western roles, including Tom Mix Western (1948–1953) and Gabby Hayes Western (1948–1953). Similarly, Dell Comics published Roy Rogers comics from 1948 to 1961, and Magazine Enterprises published Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid from 1949 to 1955.

The popular Western comic strip Red Ryder was syndicated in hundreds of American newspapers from 1938 to 1964.

1970s and 1980s

In the 1970s, the work of Louis L'Amour began to catch hold of most western readers and he has tended to dominate the western reader lists ever since. George G. Gilman also maintained a cult following for several years in the 1970s and 1980s. Larry McMurtry's and Cormac McCarthy's works remain notable. Specifically, McMurtry's Lonesome Dove and McCarthy's Blood Meridian (both published in 1985) are recognized as major masterpieces both within and beyond the genre. Elmer Kelton, mostly noted for his novels The Good Old Boys and The Time it Never Rained, was voted by the Western Writers of America as the "Best Western Writer of All Time". Early in the 1970s Indiana novelist Marilyn Durham wrote two popular Western novels, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing and Dutch Uncle. Western readership as a whole began to drop off in the mid- to late 1970s.

1990s and 2000s

Readership of western fiction reached a new low in the first decade of the twenty-first century, and most bookstores, outside a few western states, only carry a small number of Western fiction books. Nevertheless, several Western fiction series are published monthly, such as The Trailsman, Slocum, Longarm and The Gunsmith. The genre has seen the rumblings of a revival, and 2008 saw the publication of an all-Western short story magazine Great Western Fiction which was published by Dry River Publishing in Colorado. Nevertheless, the magazine was short-lived and folded after only two issues.[4]


Western authors are represented by the Western Writers of America, who present the annual Spur Awards and Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement. The organization was founded in 1953 to promote the literature of the American West. While the founding members were mostly western fiction writers, the organization began getting a number of other members from other backgrounds such as historians, regional history buffs, and writers from other genres.

Western Fictioneers, founded in 2010, is a professional writers' group that encourages and promotes the traditional Westerns. It is the only professional writers' organization composed entirely of authors who have written Western fiction. Fans of the genre may join as patron members. The Western Fictioneers' annual Peacemakers competition awards prizes in many categories of Western writing.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Roberts, Garyn G. (1990). Old Sleuth's Freaky Female Detectives: (from the Dime Novels). Bowling Green, OH: Popular Press. p. 2. ISBN 0879724757. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  2. ^ Novak, Ben (2014). Hitler and Abductive Logic: The Strategy of a Tyrant. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. pp. 104–05. ISBN 0739192248. Retrieved September 13, 2015.
  3. ^ Dinan, John A. (1983). The Pulp Western: A Popular History of the Western Fiction Magazine in America. Borgo Pres. ISBN 0-89370-161-0.
  4. ^ "Great Western Fiction Has Folded," The Tainted Archive (August 31, 2008).
  5. ^ Westernfictioneers.com


  • Boatright, Mody C. "The Formula in Cowboy Fiction and Drama." Western Folklore (1969): 136–145. in JSTOR
  • Davis, David B. "Ten-Gallon Hero." American Quarterly (1954) 6#2 pp: 111–125. in JSTOR
  • Durham, Philip. "The Cowboy and the Myth Makers." The Journal of Popular Culture (1967) 1#1 pp: 58–62.
  • Estleman, Loren D. The Wister trace: classic novels of the American frontier (Jameson Books, 1987)

Fleming, Robert E (October 1979). The Dime Novel Western. Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association.

  • Hamilton, Cynthia S. Western and hard-boiled detective fiction in America: from high noon to midnight (Macmillan, 1987)

Jones, Daryl (c. 1978). The dime novel western. Bowling Green, Ohio: Popular Press, Bowling Green State University. ISBN 0879720980.

Jones, Daryl Emrys (January 1974). The Dime Novel Western: The Evolution of a Popular Formula. Michigan State University: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing.

  • McVeigh, Stephen. The American Western (Edinburgh University Press, 2007.)
  • Marsden, Michael T. "The Popular Western Novel as a Cultural Artifact." Arizona and the West (1978): 203–214. in JSTOR
  • Stauffer, Helen Winter, and Susan J. Rosowski, eds. Women and western American literature (Whitston Publishing Company, 1982)

External links

All-Star Western

All-Star Western was the name of three American comic book series published by DC Comics, each a Western fiction omnibus featuring both continuing characters and anthological stories. The first ran from 1951 to 1961, the second from 1970 to 1972 and the third was part of The New 52 and ran from September 2011 to August 2014.

Arthur Henry Gooden

Arthur Henry Gooden (23 October 1879 – 22 July 1971) was an English screenwriter of the silent era. He wrote for 53 films between 1916 and 1937. He also wrote several western fiction novels about the American Old West.

He was born in England and died in Los Angeles, California.

Charles Portis

Charles McColl Portis (born December 28, 1933) is an American author best known for his novels Norwood (1966) and the classic Western True Grit (1968), both adapted as films. The latter also inspired a film sequel and a made-for-TV movie sequel. A newer film adaptation of True Grit was released in 2010.

Portis has been described as "one of the most inventively comic writers of western fiction".

Dynamic Science Stories

Dynamic Science Stories was an American pulp magazine which published two issues, dated February and April 1939. A companion to Marvel Science Stories, it was edited by Robert O. Erisman and published by Western Fiction Publishing. Among the better known authors who appeared in its pages were L. Sprague de Camp and Manly Wade Wellman.


Hendryx is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

James Hendryx (1880-1963), American author of western fiction

John Hendryx (born 19?), American theologian (adherent of monergism)

Nona Hendryx (born 1944), American singer and actress, cousin of Jimi Hendrix

Tim Hendryx (1891–1957), American baseball player

High Lonesome (Charlie Daniels album)

High Lonesome is the eighth studio album by The Charlie Daniels Band, released on November 5, 1976.

Many of the tracks pay homage to pulp Western fiction. The album’s title probably refers to the 1962 Western novel by Louis L’Amour. The album is dedicated to L’Amour and James Bama. Daniels concludes his dedication poem, “My sincere appreciation for the hours of honest pleasure you’ve both given me.”

James Reasoner

James Reasoner (5 June 1953) is an American writer. He is the author of more than 350 novels and many short stories in a career spanning more than thirty years. Reasoner has used at least nineteen pseudonyms, in addition to his own name: Jim Austin; Peter Danielson; Terrance Duncan; Tom Early; Wesley Ellis; Tabor Evans; Jake Foster; William Grant; Matthew Hart; Livia James; Mike Jameson; Justin Ladd; Jake Logan; Hank Mitchum; Lee Morgan; J.L. Reasoner (with his wife); Dana Fuller Ross; Adam Rutledge; and Jon Sharpe. Since most of Reasoner's books were written as part of various existing Western fiction series, many of his pseudonyms were publishing "house" names that may have been used by other authors who contributed to those series.

Jiangshi fiction

Jiangshi fiction, or goeng-si fiction in Cantonese, is a literary and cinematic genre of horror based on the jiangshi of Chinese folklore, a reanimated corpse controlled by Taoist priests that resembles the zombies and vampires of Western fiction. The genre first appeared in the literature of the Qing Dynasty and the jiangshi film (simplified Chinese: 僵尸片; traditional Chinese: 殭屍片; pinyin: Jiāngshīpiàn) is a staple of the modern Hong Kong film industry. Hong Kong jiangshi films like Mr. Vampire and Encounters of the Spooky Kind follow a formula of mixing horror with comedy and kung fu.

List of Western fiction authors

This is a list of some notable authors in the western fiction genre.

Note that some writers listed below have also written in other genres.

List of films based on western fiction

A list of films that are based on western fiction.

Geographically, this page encompasses the frontiers of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, as well as Australia and South America.At present, South Africa and Siberia are not included.

Love at first sight

Love at first sight is a personal experience and a common trope in literature: a person, character, or speaker feels an instant, extreme, and ultimately long-lasting romantic attraction for a stranger upon the first sight of that stranger. Described by poets

and critics since the emergence of ancient Greece, falling in love at first sight has become one of the most common tropes in Western fiction.

Martin Goodman (publisher)

Martin Goodman (born Moe Goodman; January 18, 1908 – June 6, 1992) was an American publisher of pulp magazines, paperback books, men's adventure magazines, and comic books, launching the company that would become Marvel Comics.

Ninjas in popular culture

Ninjas are historically known as Japanese spies, assassins, or thieves who formed their own caste outside the usual feudal divisions of lords, and samurai surfs. They are often used as stock characters in Japanese and world popular culture.

Salvage for the Saint

Salvage for the Saint is the title of a 1983 mystery novel featuring the character of Simon Templar, alias "The Saint". The novel was written by Peter Bloxsom based on the two-part Return of the Saint episode, "Collision Course" by John Kruse, but per the custom at this time, the author credit on the cover went to Leslie Charteris, who created the Saint in 1928, and who served in an editorial capacity.

The two "Collision Course" episodes have also been syndicated as the made-for-TV film, The Saint and the Brave Goose.

This was the 50th book of Simon Templar adventures. It was also the last to be published during the original 1928-83 run of the series. Although Charteris had served more in an editorial or co-writer capacity on the Saint books since the early 1960s, he remained directly involved with them up to this point, making his 55-year tenure as official "chronicler" of the Saint one of the longest in western fiction.

The book was first published in the United States by The Crime Club, and was followed thereafter by a United Kingdom edition from Hodder and Stoughton. This was also the last Saint book to be published by these two companies. The book is notable for including a rare reference to Patricia Holm, who was the Saint's girlfriend and adventuring partner in the early Saint novels and short stories, having last appeared within the short story collection Saint Errant, published in 1948.

Following publication of Salvage for the Saint, the decision was made to retire the character. Charteris died in 1993 and the next Saint books would not appear until 1997.

The Bandit of Hell's Bend

The Bandit of Hell's Bend is an Edgar Rice Burroughs Western fiction novel. The Bandit of Hell's Bend was published by "Argosy All-Story Weekly" in September and October 1924. The book version was first published by A. C. McClurg on 1925-06-04.This is one of four Westerns that Burroughs wrote. He had two working titles for it: "The Black Coyote" and "Diana of the Bar Y."

Union Pacific (film)

Union Pacific is a 1939 American dramatic western film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Joel McCrea. Based on the novel Trouble Shooter by Western fiction author Ernest Haycox, the film is about the building of the railroad across the American West.

Western Story Magazine

Western Story Magazine was a pulp magazine published by Street & Smith, which ran from 1919 to 1949. It was the first of numerous pulp magazines devoted to Western fiction. In its heyday, Western Story Magazine was one of the most successful pulp magazines; in 1921 the magazine was selling over half a million copies each issue. The headquarters was in New York City.

Western Writers of America

Western Writers of America, founded 1953, promotes literature, both fiction and non-fiction, pertaining to the American West. Although its founders wrote traditional western fiction, the more than six hundred current members also include historians and other non-fiction writers as well as authors from other genres.

WWA was founded by six authors, including D. B. Newton.

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