Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Warlock (1958, Oakley Hall)

[EDIT: This post was pretty boring so I added a lot of images to pep it up. If it was me, I'd just look at the pictures and skip to the next post. LF]

Tombstone, Arizona Territory, 1881
 
Oakley Hall borrowed a few legends of the Old West and assembled them into a riff about honor. Men live and die, but they achieve nothing. It is only in the attempt to achieve something that man is ennobled. 

Big Nose KateThe town of Warlock is a thinly disguised Tombstone circa 1881. The outlaws are the Cow-boys. Ike Clanton, Old Man Clanton, Curley Bill Brocius, Johnny Ringo, Pony Diehl, the McClowry's, all have counterparts in Warlock. Kate Dollar is Big Nose Kate, the gambler and gunman Tom Morgan is a version of Doc Holliday and the town taming gunman, Clay Baisedell, is Hall's version of Wyatt Earp. Deputy Sheriff Johnny Gannon, Jessie Marlow - the miners angel, and Dr. Wagner have no real parallels.

Warlock is  about character. The back shooter, Jack Cade, and a few others apart, Hall's characters endeavor to act nobly within the constraints of their circumstances and personal value systems. They often fail, but it is the attempt to act nobly that ennobles them. Hall allows us to understand the motivations of his many characters and this is the great strength of the novel (it was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1958).

Western novels are usually action and adventure with feats of daring-do where character is synonymous with grit. Warlock has it's fair share of gunfights (including the gunfight at the Acme Corral), stage coach robberies, cold-blooded killings, a knife fight and even a miner's strike. And many of the characters show a good deal of personal courage. But in Warlock, the hero does not ride into the sunset with his sweetheart; Hall's characters die violent and futile deaths. It is a dark vision of the Old West.

Kind of slow. Not sure I liked it.

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