Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Essential Native Wisdom Edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi


No offered quote.

I have dozens upon dozens of anthologies, omnibuses, and collections of Indigenous quotations, speeches, and observations.

The best of them are historically accurate and take the time to confirm and verify the utterances.

The worst of them repeat unsourced commonplaces.

The best of them also share a quality of providing a bit of insight into an alternate mindset. Be that an alternate way to view war, peace, forgiveness, possessions or even our own assumptions of history.

What the best of them all have in common is a running theme that portrays a surviving nobility despite abuses and hardships.

Well, that is not what we have here. I suppose it was bound to happen—the quote book goes woke.

Don’t presume my use of the word “woke” to mean that I am “anti-woke” or I am myself “woke.”

Read my use of the word to mean I am fatigued with a dogmatic view that chooses to cull, sift, parse all utterances and wisdom for a preferred point of view.

I prefer my historical information undiluted—give me the good, the bad, the warts, the smiles.

What we have here is a vast collection of utterances that, for the most part, lean heavily on grievance, mistreatment, loss.

Yes, of course, this is a large part of many an indigenous people’s story, but it is not the whole story.

This volume behaves as if grievance were the mainstay of the native experience.

I am in no way asking for a whitewash of history, or to ignore the injustice. On the contrary, I want it all. The atrocities and malfeasance on both sides are shocking.

But…what we have here, primarily with 20th century quotes is so “What we used to be…” uttered with trembling lip it robs these astonishing cultures of nobility. Denies a sense of agency.

I have no doubt the editor intended a good thing, to rectify and open eyes, but in this form of rectification we are left with little to admire.

Instead, we are asked to pity.

First Peoples deserve better treatment than they have received historically, but they also deserve better than this unmeaning patronizing look at their story.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

A Christmas Offering: Trail of Robin Hood


In Jeremy Arnold’s book Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season (Turner Classic Movies) the classic cinema historian selected this Republic Western in the must-see roster.

It is a tale of white hats and black hats and Christmas tree wranglers.

We have Roy Rogers and Trigger starring as well as additional cowboy stars [all playing themselves] Rex Allen, Allan Lane, Monte Hale, William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Ray Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, Tom Keene and Jack Holt.

The story is slight, the plot and staging are aimed towards the youth market, but I wager if one grew up with this fare that this is a pleasant blast of nostalgia.

Not having grown up with Rogers and his ilk, it all comes across a little square to me but I did enjoy the pacing.

Director William Whitney, one of Tarantino’s favorites, keeps all moving briskly.

So, as a Western fan who had to pause often to ask, “Now who is that guy?” I still enjoyed myself.

One familiar with all the names mentioned, well, you likely are in for a treat.

Merry Christmas All!

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Cowboy Havamal by Jackson Crawford


 Use yer eyes,

and never walk blind.

There ain't no tellin’

where there's someone waitin’

to put one over on you.

The original Havamal, also called Gestathattr, or The Counsel of Odin the One-Eyed was an Old Norse prose poem found in the Poetic Edda, a collection of Viking tales and legends.

The Havamal is conspicuous for its brevity and down-to-earth warrior wisdom.

Noted Norse scholar, Jackson Crawford of Boulder, Colorado was always struck by its pragmatic bent. He felt that it dovetailed nicely with the cowboy wisdom of his rancher grandfather.

In The Cowboy Havamal he offers a rendering in the voice of a wise, pragmatic but sometimes cynical rancher.

It captures the Viking spirit beautifully, just as it captures the can-do of the Old West.

Both versions can be read in half an hour.

Both are chockful of stick-to-your-ribs wisdom.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

The Old Colts by Glendon Swarthout


They crossed the concrete platform. They slowed, stopped, put down their bags. Where in the name of God was Dodge City? Where was dear old Front Street with its flies and chuck-holes and dead cats and plank sidewalks, and hitching rails cribbed half through by the teeth of impoverished ponies, and jingling spurs and popping pistols and drunks laid out to dry? Where the loafers and landsharks lounging in the shade of the overhangs? Where the whiskey barrels filled with water in case of fire? Where the town well with its sign “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited”?

The author of the tremendous The Shootist gives us another tale of aging and fading lawmen, but here we get the fiction in the guise of faction.

Swarthout re-imagines one last trip on the owl hoot trail with geriatric versions of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

We have some fine writing here and Mr. Swarthout knows his history, he knows these men but...it has none of the elegiac tone of The Shootist, rather it goes for a sort of tongue-in-cheek humor that is of a particular kind.

Case in point…

Halfway up, Bat first, Wyatt a close second for support, the one, the only Bat Masterson rips off a tremendous fart of fear in his friend’s face. “Damn you,” growls Wyatt. “I can’t help it! I’m scared!” “Keep going.”

The tale is filled with such low-bar high-jinks, that may have perhaps played well in a film adaptation with aging charmers such as James Garner or Paul Newman in the leads, but on the page, the charm is lacking, it simply is a bit jarring to see these Legends handled and treated as if they were grammar school delinquents.

It is well written but…I am judging Mr. Swarthout against his own best work, and that bar is mighty high.

Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee by David Crockett

  This 1834 volume is a fine glimpse into the mindset of a legend.   What particularly strikes, this reader at least, is the well he goe...