Sunday, July 27, 2014

The most prolific writer of Westerns you've never heard of?


I read a couple of days ago that J. T. Edson, a very well-known (outside the USA) author of Westerns, has died.  His books were a big part of my younger days, and the news of his death brought back many memories of them.

Most Americans have never heard of J. T. Edson, being more familiar with Westerns by authors such as Louis L'Amour:  yet Edson wrote over 130 of his trademark short novels and sold tens of millions of copies of them.  He lived in Melton Mowbray in England, occasionally visiting the USA but never living here.  He was almost entirely devoid of any personal Western or associated background.  He once famously said, "I’ve never even been on a horse. I’ve seen those things, and they look highly dangerous at both ends and bloody uncomfortable in the middle."

Despite this seeming handicap, he immersed himself in Western movies from the 1950's onwards, and surrounded himself with replica firearms, research materials and the like.  At his peak he was publishing up to half a dozen novels every year.  Whilst they never sold in large quantities in the USA, they were extremely popular in England and several Commonwealth countries, including South Africa where I encountered them.  Along with Louis L'Amour's Westerns, Edson's books were common in military camps and similar settings, and I understand they were popular among British servicemen as well.  I can remember many nights spent reading two or three of his books, consuming them rapidly, many of them already familiar, then turning to another one to while away the hours spent on radio watch.  In due course the copies floating around military camps became so dirty and dog-eared that they probably represented a major health hazard;  yet they were still passed around until they fell apart at last.  I recall that one of his books, 'Apache Rampage', was a source of great frustration to me because several individual pages were missing from the only available copy when I first read it.  It took me several years to locate another, more complete copy and 'fill in the blanks' in my memory of the story.

Edson isn't the only non-American author to be a prolific producer of Westerns.  Fellow Englishman Terry Harknett has written well over a hundred under pseudonyms such as George G. Gilman (the 'Edge' and 'Adam Steele' series) and several others.  Again, I haven't often come across them in the USA, but they're very widely read overseas.  I'm living here now, and I've traveled widely across much of what was once the Old West;  so who knows?  Perhaps I'll try my hand at a Western series one of these days, just for the heck of it.  I must have read many hundreds of them in my time, and I'm not hampered by political correctness, so it might be a fun challenge.

Peter

11 comments:

Rev. Paul said...

If you decide to give it a go, I'm willing to read the output. :)

MrGarabaldi said...

Hey Peter;

Another prolific writer of westerns was "William W. Johnson. He also wrote post apocalyptic stories that did span decades.

Spikessib said...

This sure brings back some memories. As a teen I read everything available by him. Used to find him at used book stores in Long Beach, never saw any of his books on the shelves in the town where I lived. He's now also available on Kindle, you know. And I second the idea of your writing some westerns, I'd definitely buy them.

Woelf2.0 said...

I have completely forgotten about him. I grew up in SA as well and read him and L'Amour, along with Terry Harknett's Edge under the pen name G. Gilman. I probably still have some of Edson's books in boxes in my garage. Damn, talk about memories.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Yes! Perhaps you can make the protagonist an ancestor of Steve Maxwell.

John Cunningham said...

I have never read his books, but there was a German author of Westerns named Karl May in the late 1800s/early 1900s. allegedly Hitler was an avid reader.

Peter said...

@Anonymous at 6:44 PM: That's a great idea! I wonder . . . outlaw Maxwell? Injun-fighter Maxwell? I could have a lot of fun with that!

:-)

annakindt said...

John Cunningham--- I've read Karl May (in the original German) and I believe there was a movie based on his book 'Winnetou'--- an American movie.

J. T. Edson sounds like a familiar name, I'll have to see if I own anything of his. If not, I'll have to go to the used book store.

Anonymous said...

Sanford here. J.T. Edson is a fun read assuming you look at it as a satire of popular American westerns. Dusty the great big little man, Mark the Rangeland Hercules and all the other stereotypes he unintentionally lampooned.
The Edge books were popular, at least with teen boys, in the 70s because of the graphic sexual descriptions and unfettered gore.

John Cunningham said...

the Karl May info in wikipedia is good reading. one quote from it

"Many well-known German-speaking people used May's heroes as models in their childhood.[18] Physicist Albert Einstein was a great fan of Karl May's books and is quoted as having said "My whole adolescence stood under his sign. Indeed, even today, he has been dear to me in many a desperate hour..."[16] Many others have given positive statements about their Karl May reading.[19]

Adolf Hitler was an admirer, who noted that the novels "overwhelmed" him as a boy, going as far as to ensure "a noticeable decline" in his school grades.[20] According to an anonymous friend, Hitler attended the lecture given by May in Vienna in March 1912 and was enthusiastic about the event

Chris Meesters said...

Ever heard of “Conny Coll”? Written by Conrad Kobbe, a German. Almost read like a parody of western people, but that I found out when I moved to the US in 1989. Those books where extremely popular in the Netherlands around the mid-sixties. I recently cleaned out my attic, I think I’ve thrown away fifty of them.

Chris