Friday, January 5, 2018

Remembering Jack Schaefer

"There aren’t any more guns in the valley."

I wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge that Jack Schaefer quietly, too quietly, had a good year.

Jack Schaefer is one of the best western writers the genre has ever produced and is one of my favorite writers. His Monte Walsh is a forgotten American classic.

Earlier this year Logan was released to much acclaim. The movie was heavily influenced by, and explicitly referenced, the movie Shane.

Logan's most memorable line, which comes near the end, is a slightly tweaked variation of the line from Shane* that appears as the title of this piece.

Logan's director, James Mangold, is a big fan of the movie Shane. In 2013 he introduced a screening of Shane at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Unfortunately, his comments praise everyone involved with the movie except the man who wrote the book it was based on.

Here's a little bit of what Mangold had to say about Shane:

"Shane is a fever dream of American aspirations, values and character, conflicts with right and wrong, our ongoing struggle with the contradictory goals of freedom and law, self-reliance and big business-- and definitions and explorations of heroism, courage and family responsibility all observed and made even more penetrating when they are brought to life in an environment without cars, phones and the ability to dial 911 whenever you feel nervous."

A.B. Guthrie Jr. wrote a great script, that can't be denied, and won't be here. But the foundation was already there in the novel.

*All credit where it is due. The line in the movie Shane was written by A.G. Guthrie Jr. and does not appear in the novel by Jack Schaefer. Guthrie also is a writer very much worth your time.

Quiet strike 1.

This time last year Jack Schaefer only had one book in print, his perennial classic, Shane.

Spread over a few months in 2017, the University of New Mexico Press began reissuing a number of Jack Schaefer's books. This was done with little to no fanfare and no publicity push.

As I said above, Shane is a classic and Monte Walsh is one of my favorite books. I held a long time, secret hope that Monte Walsh would be reissued by someone like NYRB Classics. I saw the success they had with the noir classic Black Wings Has My Angel and I was, admittedly, projecting some level of success and recognition on a book I love.

The problem with the reissue is that as a college press, these books are not going to make it to readers and they are expensive. The upside is at least now some readers have a slightly increased chance of finding them.

Quiet strike 2.

In November of 2017, Netflix released Godless, a six part western, written by Scott Frank, the screenwriter for Logan. Visually and in the writing, Godless has fun referencing and riffing on a number of westerns including The Searchers, Blood Meridian, Django and Shane.

A few people, including Priscilla Page on Twitter, have pointed out the many visual doorway cues in Godless that reference The Searchers most famous shot. Even more people have commented on Godless being Blood Meridian lite. Perhaps due to his moribund literary reputation, the reworking and influence of Shane on one of the story arcs has gone largely unnoticed.

Quiet Strike 3.

People regularly acknowledge the birthdays of celebrities, actors, writers, etc. who have died. We've all see these posts on social media and have probably shared them. At their goofiest they celebrate a phantom birthday in a comical way that suggests that the person would have lived to a ludicrous age. At their best, they provide an opportunity to assess and acknowledge that person and their work.

On November 19th, 2017 Jack Schaefer would have been 100 years old. No one noticed.

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