Jubal Sackett, by Louis L’Amour
It is striking, but in this particular book I found a great deal of understanding of views of history that have not been particularly well understood that show a lengthy and early European presence in the New World . I must admit I did not expect to see Louis L’Amour being such a student of history, but on a certain level it makes a lot of sense. The author, after all, spent a career writing an impossibly prolific cycle of novels, most of which related to issues of settling the West by European peoples and exploring the interactions between those peoples and with the previous inhabitants and with the land itself. With that sort of task set out before him, that sort of quest, it is little to be wondered if he read widely and deeply in history and had a view of history that was a bit out of the mainstream. It is all the more remarkable that he was able to make his novels well informed without making them pedantic, and that shows a sort of skill that is to be greatly appreciated, even if his writing is far more accessible than my own. Accessibility is by no means a bad thing, after all.
At nearly 400 pages, about twice as long as the previous book by the author I had read , but that did not make for a read that was boring or unpleasant at all. On the contrary, although the novel was somewhat complex, it was a deeply interesting story with a worthwhile hero, namely one Jubal Sackett, a thoughtful backcountry man known for his bravery and his wilderness skill, called upon to bring back a wayward Natchee princess who serves as the novel’s McGuffin, sought after by everyone, and a woman of considerable intellect as well as passion and beauty and bravery. Again, as is likely to be fairly common in the author’s novels, the characters are somewhat round and there are plenty of mishaps but a well-earned happy ending, and the novels themselves show the importance of knowing how to serve and how to appreciate and respect other people. It is, in short, the sort of novel that many would appreciate, whether they regard it as possible that an early American like Jubal would have been able to travel from the Appalachians to the Rockies, from the rivers of the east to the arid deserts of the Southwest, all during the course of the late 17th century.
What we see in this particular novel is something worth pondering. L’Amour is no simpleton when it comes to complex characterization and a complex portrayal of the political and social context of his time. Jubal Sackett is a hero not because of his strength alone, but because of his respect and his compassion and his willingness to learn from and teach others. This is not a world where Europeans or Native Americans are viewed as one side being good and the other being evil, both both sides are viewed as being complex and riven with divisions, and fully human, full of their own worth but also their own shortcomings. This richness in diversity as well as the author’s skill in portraying vivid scenes full of tension, and even a surprisingly touching portrayal of the princess’ own interest in Jubal, showing a bit of multiple pov to vary the perspective, which in general is seen from the third person limited perspective surrounding the main protagonist make for a great novel. In addition, the author’s nuanced way of looking at Jubal and his Kickapoo associate and the Natchee princess as outsiders in their own way in a hostile world full of greedy and exploitative people marks the author as someone whose moral compass is considerably more complicated than people assume Westerns to be, and something well worth reading and appreciating even now.
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