7 Days To Die How To Pick Up Dead Animal Is the Mythology of the Old West Dead?

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Is the Mythology of the Old West Dead?

“The fascination of the Old West will never die.” – John Wayne

The mythology of the Old West has been denigrated by the men who set the literary fashion. They say it is idealized, simplified, tired and above all untrue. The good guys have never been so good. Frontiers and settlers displaced noble people who had already occupied the land. Fat immigrants came in droves to desecrate a pristine wilderness. The glorified heroics usually involved vigilantism, which offends those who respect the rule of law.

The same mythology escapes criticism in fantasy and science fiction, so why is it despised in the Western? They are all made up stories, but the morality play in these other genres is accepted. The battle between good and evil, selfless sacrifice, idealized heroics, and leaving home are familiar themes in wildly popular genres. Few would doubt that the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings or the work of Arthur C. Clarke and HG Wells are respected literature. It can be argued that similar themes are also reflected in nursery rhymes. Could it be the difference that the Old West actually happened?

Before answering this question, we need to take another look at the mythology of the Old West. It’s about more than weapon-slinging paladins. There are three main elements, with many branches. The first is the romance of a new beginning. The second is the battle of good against evil. The last element is the one warrior who sets things right.

The West, outer space, the future, or a slandered land represents a fresh start in a fresh place far from home – a shrugging off of disappointments and a chance to start over. The romance and adventure of the frontier attracts people desperate to escape the drudgery of their current existence. We have seen this in real life with the migrations to the New World and the Old West, but today many people satisfy this desire vicariously through fiction. If you are poor, your family makes you miserable, you have committed an act that offends society, or you are consumed by greed, then the adventure and limitless possibility of a frontier calls to you like a siren’s call. Immigrating to a border means making a decision in a place without rules, without fences, without judges.

Real life is a gray scale, somewhat skewed to the darker side of the spectrum. A new life wouldn’t appeal to us if we had to bring our old baggage with us, so we see our new world as black and white. There is strength in justice, perseverance and risk are rewarded, good men do good and bad men get their just deserts. This is a world of hope. Hope for wealth, hope for justice, hope for another path in life. Good fights evil and good always triumphs. This is a theme that has been part of storytelling in every society since the first cave drawings.

We know we are weak, so good needs help. A raw border is dangerous. The elements and carnivorous beasts threaten at every turn. People fight mercilessly to claim a piece of land for themselves. No civilization means no restraint on bad people doing bad things. Help comes in the form of an idealized hero, perhaps an antihero who overcomes his moral shortcomings to help the innocent. This person is usually visualized as a lone warrior, like the one glorified by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff. The hero is capable of violent action, but is essentially good. The gunman in Westerns carries a simple solution on his hip. Frodo has the ring and Potter his wand. In these mythic realms, the hero risks his life to save the day and asks for nothing in return.

Western mythology deceives us because it promises a world different from our own. Hard work pays off. We have freedom of movement with horses and trains. We take vicarious revenge on the unpleasant people in our lives. And wealth. Wealth comes from land and land is free. The whole package is wrapped in idealized virtues that make us feel safe and hopeful. And we can experience it all while reading in our favorite chair.

Which brings us back to our question. Are these themes less acceptable in Westerns because the Old West actually existed?

Yes.

History shows that the idealized border was a myth. As fascinating as the subject matter is, it gives a huge advantage to fantasy and science fiction, which are not limited by reality. In the real Old West, the bad guys often won. More precisely, the strong one won on purpose, using bullying tactics many times. In the harsh real world, Native Americans were defeated by hordes of pioneers. The miners dug the surface of a beautiful village and then left when there was no more easy money. The historical record makes it easy for someone to say, “But it wasn’t like that.” Does this mean that Western mythology is unsuitable for fiction?

No.

However, authors should approach Westerns as historical fiction. Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy already do. They tell stories that incorporate elements of Western mythology, but use scaling in their stories and nuance stereotypical plots. Their books are filled with realistic characters and they get the facts straight. Fantasy and science fiction may depart from an idealized binary world, but Westerners must move into the nineteenth-century frontier with realism and respect for the true experience of pioneers and Native Americans.

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