Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Hondo" by Louis L'Amour

I'd only read this once before, maybe eight or ten years ago, but I've seen the John Wayne movie based on it probably close on a dozen times.  Its screenplay takes most of the dialog straight from the book, so reading this is like watching an expanded version of the movie in some ways.  The movie also sticks very faithfully to the book, except there's a bit that happens at the end of the book that I think comes along earlier in the movie.  Minor, though.  I can read this book and see and hear the actors very clearly, especially Geraldine Page as Mrs. Angie Lowe.

Okay, so the story is about a guy named Hondo Lane who lives in the southwest.  He rides dispatch for the cavalry sometimes, he once lived with the Comanche and had a Comanche wife, and he travels with a dog named Sam.  It's also about a rancher named Angie Lowe, her son Johnny, and her no-good husband Ed.  The Comanches are preparing to go to war against the whites, and one day Hondo stumbles on the Lowe ranch while making his way back to the fort with some messages for the cavalry commander.  He and Angie are drawn toward each other -- her husband left her several months ago and she doubts he'll be back, but she doesn't know for sure that he's dead, so she makes it clear to Hondo that she's unavailable.  He rides on out after borrowing a horse, but he can't get her out of his head.  And then he meets up with her husband at the fort, and... okay, I'll stop there :-)  Read or watch it yourself!

L'Amour's writing is spare and lean, and bit philosophical at times, but always so grounded and concrete that everything he writes about seems tangible.  I love the way the landscape and characters are drawn to complement each other -- Hondo Lane is hard and dry like the desert, while Angie Lowe is vigorous and resilient like the little ranch she owns.  

Particularly Good Bits:

Under a quiet sky the planet turned, and horses ate, and men slept, and death waited for morning (p. 97).

For months now he had seemed like somebody who had never really been.  Like someone who had walked across the page of her life and left no tracks (p. 119).

When they were the age of this boy it was an awful thing to see a friend ride off.  Later you became used to it.  Later you learned that nothing was for long.  It was a pity you had to learn that (p. 149).

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for western violence.


  1. Actually, the adaptation was the other way around. The screenplay was based on L'Amour's short story "The Gift of Cochise," and then L'Amour wrote a novelization of the film script which was released around the same time as the movie. I didn't know that when I read the book, and I just thought it was a really good film adaptation (with a few scenes dropped, as usual).

    That said, I found it interesting that L'Amour made a few changes of his own—particularly the conversation between Angie and Hondo near the end when she tells him not to tell Johnny his secret yet. I thought the book version made much more sense.

    1. How cool! That would explain why the dialog matches so closely, and it's so easy to hear the actors in their roles. Thanks for explaining that! I'm just going to have to watch the movie again now with a new appreciation for it.


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