Things I learned from Louis L’Amour:
1. When attacked by a wooly mammoth, if all you have are two single shot flintlock pistols, aim for its eye.
2. When running from a Siberian hitman, a heavy sweatshirt is better than a polyester parka, and a hollow tree is a good hideout.
3. A real cowboy may fight through just about any circumstance with a pair of trusty six-shooters, a cowboy rifle and bowie knife, but in the climactic fight scene at the end of the book, you settle the dispute with your fists.
4. Quick draws live short lives.
5. John of Seville was a common man’s philosopher and teacher with a remarkable sense of humility and grace amidst a dizzying intellect, Averroes was a philosopher ahead of his time in his defense of Aristotelian philosophy, and Moorish Spain was as beautifully civilized as humankind has ever been.
6. If a woman looks hard at you from under dark lashes, she wants to make out, even if you’ve been riding through the Mojave Desert for the last two weeks without a bath.
7. When you’ve downed the bear that you’ve been tracking for two days with a bow and arrow, you eat it’s fat in order to make it through the winter.
8. Birchbark canoes are faster, but easily sunk. Dugout canoes are slower, but much more stable. When being chased by an entire war party of hostile Indians, it’s important to choose the right one.
9. The Pechenegs were a savage, vicious Asiatic people who lived to make war, respected others who made war well, and who — to this day — are still surviving to this day, though under a different name.
10. An Apache Indian could run for up to 100 miles with just a pebble on his tongue.
11. Don’t mess with a sensible frontier woman. You will pay for it.
12. Honor and hard work are the two most important virtues. If you need either defined, then you don’t possess them.
13. Only a dandy rides a white horse. A white horse sticks out like a sore thumb on the horizon, drawing the attention of potential enemies. A smart cowboy rides a brown or tan horse, and the horse’s care comes first.
14. You don’t name your horse. A horse is a tool, not a friend.
15. The Valley of the Assassins is a dangerous place, exponentially complicated during a thunderstorm.
16. Scalping is generally frowned upon (though understood), but there is one circumstance where it’s ok.
17. When family members are in a pinch and need a hand (for work or for fighting), you go help.
18. Nobody wants to be in a gunfight, sometimes they just happen.
19. When entering a saloon, choose a seat in the corner with no windows or doors behind you and a good view of the door. This way, no one can jump you from behind and you can get a good read of everyone who enters.
20. In order to keep tracks to a minimum and trails small, Indians would walk through the woods placing one foot in front of the other while keeping their hips still. Try it; it’s not easy.
21. Indians used porcupine quills as needles for sewing and decorative work.
22. A man should have an insatiable desire for knowledge. The more he learns, the more humble he should be in view of all that he has yet to learn.
23. When a fight finds you, move toward the oncoming attack.
24. When it seems like the only option is to castrate your father, your quick wit can help you out of the jam.
25. When you’re lost in the desert and you have water, drink it. Many’s the cowboy who’s been found dead from the heat with a full canteen on his saddle.
26. Whiskey. Anything else and you’re a sissy.
27. In the Dark Ages, Europe was an uncivilized, uneducated place ruled by the Church under the heavy hand of fear.
28. Avoid whorehouses; nothing but trouble there. On the other hand, to rescue an innocent girl from the sex trafficking of the Old West is quite heroic and might require you to storm a whorehouse, which makes for a pretty crazy evening.
29. Point of conjecture: Kerbouchard is the ancient ancestor of the Sacketts.
30. After avenging the murder of your mother, take the body of the murderer to a secret druidic bog and throw it in the mucky quicksand. Perfect ending.
Christians don’t read enough fiction. Christian fiction doesn’t count. It’s generally just religious propaganda wrapped inside a candy coating. The story is sacrificed for “the message” when in reality, the story is supposed to be the message. But because Christians have forgotten that we are not the story, only players in the bigger Story, then it becomes all about us and we lose the beauty of the simple story of the good and right conquering evil.
What’s worse is we lose our ability to imagine anything other than the dogmatized theologies we find safe and convenient. Redemptive imagining and storytelling is a casualty of the commodification of the Gospel and overall consumeristic mindset of the American Church. And it’s killing our faith.
We need to return to simple imagining and bold storytelling. That is why I encourage you to read Louis L’Amour.
Louis L’Amour wrote some great, simple, no frills fiction. L’Amour was not only a prolific writer, he was a master storyteller. It’s true that many of his Old West cowboy stories are somewhat repetitive and his masculine idealism is a bit heady and arrogant. But that’s the only thing I can think of to critique. Some say he’s cliche in the way he writes about history, particularly the Old West. Thing is, this is Louis L’Amour. He and Zane Grey practically invented that which they are claiming to become cliche. No dice.
Louis L’Amour’s historical fiction writing spans a century, from the 1100’s of Europe and the Middle East to Cold War Siberia. The character development is just great. His stories are filled with shadowy, dark individuals running from God-knows-what and toward God-knows-who, all the while sharing L’Amour’s own experiences and learnings of life through their lives. Each man you meet is a different aspect of the author. Each woman romanced is a separate story line from his past. Each antagonist is a point of L’Amour that is real…you can feel it when you read it. Encountering his humanity and ideals through his characters, and seeing the struggles and triumphs therein, is a pleasure to engage.
If you’ve never read Louis L’Amour, you really should, just to be told a good story. To quote the man himself:
“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.”
Top Five L’Amour General Historical Fiction
1. The Walking Drum
2. Last of the Breed
3. Jubal Sackett
4. The Lonesome Gods
5. Sackett’s Land
Top Five Old West Fiction
1. Comstock Lode
3. To The Far Blue Mountains
4. The Mountain Valley War
5. Mojave Crossing