The Lonesome Gods (Louis L’Amour)

1983thelonesomegodspb1984Quintessential “guy-lit” (or whatever is the opposite of “chick-lit”). This is a long book for L’Amour. He spends some time getting philosophical – a boy on his own living in the desert, communing with nature, learning and such.  This is a book about being a man. And becoming a man. All those things a man gotta do. The main theme is Self Reliance. There are also some great descriptions of the California/Arizona desert around the time of the Gold Rush.

The coming-to-manhood of Johannes Verne is reflected in the story’s setting: the mid 1840s, as Los Angeles grows from a sleepy Mexican town to a major West Coast trading center. Young Verne crosses the dangerous western desert with his dying father and others in a wagon headed to California, where he will be put in the care of his grandfather. The grandfather, is also seeking the boy and his father with the intent to kill them both. He succeeds in killing the father, then leaves young Johannes in the desert to die. With the help of Indians, trappers, and renegades, Johannes survives and learns that the desert is a beautiful place for those who have the patience and strength to learn its secrets.

He is self-educated, pouring over the small library of classic books his father left him. I believe this is why the book was so highly recommended by the Thomas Jefferson Education folks. He continues his education in Los Angeles under the protection of the savvy Miss Nesselrode, who had come across the desert in that first wagon with him. Fights at school and evading his grandfather mean that he must always be proving his courage and his resourcefulness. His mantra is “I am Jules Verne. I am not afraid.”

And he always does the necessary thing.

I was expecting a rugged, boy-becomes-man story from Louis L’Amour, and in that I was not disappointed. Courage, quick thinking, determination, overcoming fear, developing strength of body and mind, honor, saving the day and the girl – developing true grit – this was all there, well developed, and worth exploring. I was expecting to discover these things on my own, and in that I was disappointed. L’Amour wanted to make sure I understood his agenda, and so he repeated it. Often. Almost ad nauseum. Strike one for “classic” status.

Symbolism is not absent, especially in names; the most obvious example is Johannes, son of Zachary, (what other John, son of Zacharias, lived in the desert on locusts and honey?) and Verne (tough, gritty, adventuresome, honorable, like the French author). But the symbolism is surface level, not woven skillfully into the fabric of the work; strike two. I expected to be changed by the book, to learn something about myself as I learned about the characters, to identify with someone, to want to become something more.

These expectations were met more on the level of young adult literature, not strong adult literature, and certainly not classic literature. A “classic” can be classified thus because it breaks new ground, even if it isn’t especially well-written – like Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. I didn’t see how this book tried something new and daring. It was a good historical fiction that started well, slowed in the middle, and had a gripping many-faceted climax. It was definitely a clean book. It’s a good, solid western with static stock characters (you always know who the bad guys are – nobody changes sides) and a classic, shoot-em-up showdown between the good guys and the bad guys. But not a classic – and not for everyone.

wagontrain

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Comments

  1. Excellent review, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to more “guy-lit” reviews in future! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much. 🙂

    Like

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