John Jakes, #1 New York Times bestselling author of such acclaimed historical novels as North and South and The Kent Family Chronicles compiled in one volume a century's worth of his favorite American Western fiction.
To illustrate the evolution of the genre, Jakes has included such legendary authors as Owen Wister, Louis L'Amour, and Zane Grey along side their more contemporary peers such as Loren Estleman and Elmer Kelton. While the stories have changed over the years, certain timeless themes of Western fiction remain constant. At the heart of the stories are ideas that have become synonymous with the American dream--the frontier spirit, individual freedoms, and man's relationship with the land.
A Century of Great Western Stories is essentially a retrospective of western writing over the past century, but Jakes also sets out to give readers a glimpse of what the future might hold for western fiction. While trends in publishing might not always be promising, the current crop of contemporary Western authors show that the old west will always have a place in the world of fiction. Like the American dream which it celebrates, Western fiction will persevere.
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Although most outlets for the western short story vanished with pulp magazines, where the westerns were "10% myth and 90% horse apple," there remains great nostalgic interest in this literary Americana. Jakes, the prolific bestselling author of historical sagas like North and South and the Kent Family Chronicles series, and an avid fan of the true western, has put together a superb anthology of 30 western short fictions written in the last 100 years, including pieces by such earlier well-known writers as Owen Wister, Zane Grey, Max Brand and Luke Short, as well as contributions from modern-day authors like Bill Pronzini, Brian Garfield and Elmer Kelton. Though each story is unique in style and delivery, all reflect the color and adventure of the Old West. John M. Cunningham's "The Tin Star" (1947) became the classic western film High Noon, but this short narrative has a different message and ending. Ernest Haycox's "Stage to Lordsburg" (1937) served as the basis for director John Ford's legendary movie Stagecoach; the story's cowboy hero collects a debt with drama that rivals any John Wayne could muster. Also among the best are Jack Schaefer's "Sergeant Houck" (1951), a touching and romantic tale of a cavalryman's compassion in the face of hate and prejudice, and Marcia Muller's "Sweet Cactus Wine" (1982), in which a woman's revenge is the sweetest draft of all. Romance, murder, action, mystery and suspense are mixed with hefty doses of moral dilemma, guilt and redemption in these carefully plotted tales--and the good guys do not always win. Many of the stories are appearing here for the first time since they were published in the pulps of the '30s, '40s and '50s, but their appeal is as fresh as ever.