A Classic: Riders of the Purple Sage
Publisher: Harper and Brothers, 1912
Genre: Classic American Western
My Rating: C-
I included a classic American Western in my Classics Club List when I joined the challenge. I enjoy a good Western from time to time. Riders of the Purple Sage has long been considered at the top of anybody’s list of Classic Westerns so I thought I should read it.
The Western genre always includes a set of bad guys pitted against the good guy. The good guy is usually an upstanding citizen who doesn’t normally stand up and get involved in conflicts unless there is a situation where the bad guys are picking on up-standing citizens, usually people unable to defend themselves.
In Riders of the Purple Sage there is a whole group of bad guys. They are Mormon polygamists led by Elder Tull. The role of “person unable to defend herself” is filled by Jane Withersteen, also a Mormon. The good guys – two in this story – are Jim Lassiter and Bern Venters, not Mormons.
Jane Withersteen is an interesting character. She is a very rich rancher; the ranch left to her by her father. She is a very kind person who aids people in trouble whether they are Mormon or Gentile. Jane is unmarried and, of course, would make a great wife. Elder Tull who already has several wives, wants Jane to marry him so her ranch can become his. Jane refues him because she doesn’t love him and because he is a cruel man.
When Bern Venters, one of Jane’s cowboys, known as “riders,” is persecuted and nearly killed because he is a Gentile, Jane protects him. Elder Tull and his men come to her ranch in order to get Venters back and kill him. There is a big scene, and that’s when the good guy, Jim Lassiter enters the picture.
Lassiter is the perfect Western hero. He’s smart, fast with his guns, has a heart for the defenseless, and a determination to stop Elder Tull and his men.
Riders of the Purple Sage is a rather long and complicated story. It’s not your averager quick Western read. There are plenty of characters to meet and learn about and lots of plots within the bigger plot. I thought the dialogue was weak, even allowing for the time period. I also lost interest in the descriptions of the landscape that seemed to go on and on.
But, the thing that disturbed me the most was all the anti-Mormon talk. I know this was set in southern Utah in 1871, but still it made me uncomfortable.
I can’t in good conscience recommend this book to you. If you really want to read a good book in the Western genre, I’d recommend A.B. Guthrie or Elmer Kelton. I’ll list below a couple of their books I’ve read and reviewed in the last few years. Don’t give up on this genre. There are some excellent books in the genre, just not Riders of the Purple Sage. Here are two good suggestions:
I read this book as part of my five year goal to read some of the Classics.