Answers To Go: If you love film classic ‘The Searchers,’ time to explore the book it was based on
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Q. I just found out that John Wayne’s film “The Searchers” was based on a book by the same name. Does the library have the book?
A. Yes. Our collection of 1,100 Western novels does include Alan Le May’s “The Searchers.”
You’ll find the movie in our popular DVD collection. In 2007, the film was number 12 on The American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Films list.
I also want to note that we’ve ordered a new book, “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend.” According to reviews, much of that book is devoted to Cynthia Ann Parker and Le May’s use of her story as inspiration for his book.
Let’s return to the novel. Our copy (dated 1978) begins with an introduction by Richard Etulain. The following information comes from that source.
Le May was born in Indianapolis in 1899. In the 1920s and 30s, he wrote short stories and novels, mostly Western. In the 1940s, he worked as a screenwriter for Cecil B. DeMille. “The Searchers” was published in 1954. The film was released in 1956.
Etulain writes, “It is “The Searchers” for which Le May deserves to be remembered as a writer of superior fiction about the West.
“The novel is set on the Texas frontier of the late 1860s. The Civil War has ended, but Texas ranchers face Kiowa and Comanche raiding parties.
“When Comanches attack the Edwards ranch, they kill everyone except two young girls whom they kidnap. The Edwards’ neighbors and relatives pursue.
“Amos Edwards, brother of the dead rancher, and Martin Pauley, 18-year-old adopted son of the Edwards family, join the rescue party.
“Le May offers a persuasive and penetrating view of the Indians in his novel. Most Westerns written before the 1960s portray Indians as not only opponents of white society but also as inferior persons.
“In “The Searchers,” the Indians are cast as villains; they scalp, rape and murder — but they are also pictured as defenders of their territory. They are no more savage than Amos Edwards.
“The novel first appeared as the serial ‘Avenging Texans’ in “Saturday Evening Post.”
“Lively openings and a series of well-placed climaxes snare the reader. Just as the journey seems destined to fail, the discovery of a new clue keeps the pursuers in the saddle — and the reader immersed in the serial.
“In ‘The Searchers,’ Alan Le May shows that Western novels need not be lifeless formula fiction. His carefully structured narrative is replete with perceptive characterization, coherent plot, and well-motivated actions.”
Etulain concludes, “These strengths merit placing the novel alongside the best writings of Ernest Haycox, A.B. Guthrie, Conrad Richter, and Vardis Fisher on the top shelf of historical fiction about the American West.”