Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"To Tame a Land" by Louis L'Amour

So.  Um.  Hmm.

The thing is, I really quite liked this book until the last chapter ruined everything.  You've got a coming of age story where a guy called Rye starts out as a boy, and life is really hard because he loses both his parents young and in miserable ways, but he gets through that with the help of a nice guy named Logan who mentors him and kind of semi-adopts him until he's old enough to go out and be his own man.

And Rye does, he goes out and lives a full life on the frontier and does what he needs to survive, and he falls in love with a girl.  And he eventually gets a pretty steady job as a lawman and wants to go back and find that girl and see if she'll marry him.

All well and good.  I was 100% on board.  Good stuff.  Lovely character development.  Nice story arc.  Very episodic, but I like episodic.  Kind of ramble-y, especially for a L'Amour, but I like ramble-y.

And then, that last chapter.  

SPOILER ALERT: I am discussing the ending here and I am not going to pull punches and I am going to be crabby about it.

Yeah.  That last chapter.  When it turns out that -- surprise! -- the big crime boss that our hero has to go up against, the one that's been leading all the baddest of bad criminals in the area for a few years, and who has now kidnapped the woman Rye loves... is his old mentor, Logan.  Which, you know, that's a thing -- boy grows up and has to face the fact that the guy who raised him is not as heroic and wonderful as he remembered.  It's not a trope I generally like unless it's done just right, but it's a thing.  Oedipus and all that.  Whatever. 

Except it didn't make any sense.  Like, at all.  This mentor he had?  Logan?  Was a nice guy?  Yeah, he had to leave home back east fast after a duel, but he was clearly a good guy?  And got married to a really nice lady, and settled down, and was all set to continue being a good guy.  Only, unbeknownst to anyone until Logan tells Rye this at the end, his wife died a few years ago, in childbirth, and then, obviously, he turned to evil and became an outlaw kingpin because that completely makes sense.  Very logical.  Much natural reactionness occurring here.


I mean, if his wife had died in a train wreck, and so he started robbing trains because he thought the train company had been at fault, that would make sense.  Or if his wife died during a bank robbery and the bankers cared more about the stolen money than her life, so he started robbing banks, yeah, okay.

She died in childbirth, y'all.  It happens.  Still today.  It is not a reason to go become a crime boss.


Yeah.  You can just see that L'Amour had this really great idea for a plot twist and he couldn't resist using it, and he tossed in the girl being wooed by both Rye and Logan to hammer the whole Oedipal thing home even harder, and... and I hate seeing the author working.  I should not be able to do that.  I should not, in the course of a book, see what the author is doing.  They must be invisible.  If I see them, they're doing it wrong.  And L'Amour is too doggone good for this kind of thing to just get shrugged off as, "Well, you know, the idea was good..."

Nope.  I'm not having it.  Sorry, folks.  I don't believe the character arc, I see the author tiptoeing around, and I am all kinds of disappointed.

The thing is, I realized after I'd finished the book that L'Amour had totally set up a different plot twist, and it would've been totally cool.  Logan had left the east after killing a guy in a duel over this rich girl Logan loved, but her family didn't want her to marry him.  And Rye's mom was a rich girl who married Rye's dad against her family's will and left them to be with him.  So... what if that was the same girl?  What if losing Logan made her determined not to let her family make her decisions for her anymore, and when she fell in love with another guy and her parents pulled that same stunt again, she just left?  And what if Rye looked enough like his mom that Logan was reminded of her, and so on?  I mean, Rye carries his mom's picture around with him forever, and Logan could even have seen it and known this was the son he almost had, and that's why he takes him in and everything, but he doesn't want to tell him until he's older, whatever.

But noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

(Happily, I read another L'Amour book right away and liked it heaps, so don't worry, I'm not going to quit reading him just because of one unsatisfactory ending.)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for western violence and peril to women and stuff like that.  And some low-level cussing.

This is my 37th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.


  1. I'm glad you loved Rye and Liza, I really like them, too. <3 Rye is one of my favorite male heroes ever (I Rant about him often enough you probably know that, heh heh hehhhhhhhhhhh ;))

    For myself, the ending doesn't bother me--I never question "why" Logan turns evil, although I can definitely see why it would strike you as illogical and an insufficient reason. That's a valid concern.

    I think for myself ... I'm mostly pleased that Evil Antagonist Logan only shows up in the very last chapter and we don't have any serious antagonist to deal with for the entire rest of the story, lol.
    Because I tend not to enjoy stories with strong villain presences.

    I should also mention (since it seems relevant) that I first read To Tame a Land when I was very, very young, I believe I was 13 or 14, and that I read the ending FIRST. I was thumbing through this omnibus of L'Amour novels which my brother had borrowed from the library, and I stumbled on the ending of TTaL, and I was IMMEDIATELY drawn to the tension in the conflicting relationships, plus the idea of disillusionment in your "father figure" and all that good stuff. That's what hooked me on the book and made me want to read it--the fact that I loved the ending so much. But also, it meant I was "prepped" for the idea that Logan would eventually turn evil, so I was like eh, no great loss.

    1. Katie, I definitely liked Rye. And Liza seemed like a good fit for him. I also liked that it was episodic and didn't have an overarching villain, as I find stories like that pretty fun.

      How interesting that you read the ending first! Do you often do that, or did you in the past? I don't know that I have ever read the ending of a book that I haven't read. Unless maybe it was a book I meant to DNF and I wanted to just find out how something was going to get resolved without finishing the whole book. I think maybe I did that once or twice.

      Your comment of "no great loss" touches on something else that bothers me -- there wasn't enough of an emotional punch to having Rye have to kill his mentor and friend. It was like, "Well, okay, I've done that, let's go on with our day now," and... no. Rye wasn't cold, he should have felt that deeply, it should have been a HUGE loss to him. And it was more of a "look at my nifty plot twist" than emotional gut punch.

      That's how I felt, anyway.

    2. Rye and Liza, yesssssssssss.

      In the past, I would "skim" books or skip to their endings ALL. THE. TIME. This was largely because these were books I wasn't allowed to read, so I would be standing in the library thumbing through the story trying to get the "gist" of it before anybody saw me. Or stealing a book my older brother had left lying around and, again, trying to get the "gist" before somebody caught me. :-P To Tame a Land was one of those books.

      Once I got old enough to make my own choices about reading material and didn't have to justify them to anybody, skimming/reading the ending first was a VERY HARD habit to break.

      So ... I did feel like Rye was shaken enough by it (killing Logan) that he felt he had to leave the West behind, in its entirety: he had been planning to leave before, but after that final gunfight he's like "okay now I REALLY have to leave before I become somebody I shouldn't." After reading your review, I've been having a lot of interesting Ponderings about why I actually like what L'Amour did with Rye and Logan and why their respective arcs make sense to me, and why I'm a fan of this villain story when usually I'm like "ugh villains, get outta here."

      I will probably write a post about it at some point, my own perspective on what L'Amour might have been trying to say.

      This has definitely been a thought-provoking discussion for me, since I really like this book. :D

    3. Katie, oh my word, you sneaky little sneaker, you! I don't think I ever did that... but maybe I'm just getting forgetful. I do remember reading a couple books in my early teens that I was like, "I don't think I was quite prepared for this!" A couple Victoria Holt books that my mom had, for instance -- not actually racy, but definitely more romantical than I was ready for, lol. And the first time I read The Big Sleep, I had no idea what half of the stuff they were talking obliquely about really meant...

      Anyway. I can see how that could become a habit. (And I 100% will skim a description-heavy paragraph even today. I don't care about the distinctive shades of green grass in the different areas of the estate, I just want to know what happens next to the people, mmmmkay?) I know some people who will skip to the end of the book after a few chapters to see if it's worth reading the whole thing or not.

      Definitely write a post on it yourself!!! And I hope I haven't made you think that I think this is a bad book, because I totally enjoyed 95% of it. I just think the ending is a miss.

    4. HA!!! I was a sneaky little sneaker, indeed! xD Looking back, I don't think I was being intentionally rebellious, it was more like ... I'm a very independent minded person? And a very secretive person, even to this day. It didn't really occur to me to go directly to my parents and negotiate with them, "I'm bored, I need more reading material, help me expand my reading material." I was just like "Ha, I can solve this problem!" *grabs forbidden books off my brother's table and gobbles them up*

      Girl, same. Overly detailed description got me like *eyes glaze over*

      I'm definitely looking forward to writing that post!! Oh, no, not at all--I'm glad that you enjoyed the bulk of the book and thought it was well written! And I'm glad you got a chance to meet my certified Book Boyfriend, Rye Tyler. ;)

    5. Katie, maybe it's kind of like how I used to read the backs of every video at the video store. Just to find out of I'd be interested in seeing them some day.

      And I'm very secretive too. I rarely share what I'm thinking or planning until I'm all done. It's a thing.

  2. It's been ages since I read this book and I don't remember any thoughts--good or bad--about the twist. But I think that your idea for a twist would have been awesome. ;)

    1. Eva, I am starting to wonder if L'Amour set up the plot twist I suggested, and maybe an editor or someone was like, "That's too neat. Instead, why don't you do this?" Because... L'Amour is not usually this off-balance. His books drive straight to their climax like an arrow, everything working toward a goal, at least the ones I've read. And this didn't work that way. So I'm kind of thinking maybe... someone else told him to change things? Dunno.

  3. People turning "evil" or "bad" in books and movies FOR NO REASON, or acceptable reason, is the worst! It just falls so flat and I am much disappointed. Sorry that it happened to you here!

    1. MC, right? "Oh, by the way, I'm evil now" just... doesn't work. You have to have a real reason for that big a change, or they have to have been evil from the beginning but the protagonist didn't see it (thinking specifically of Batman Begins). Sigh.

  4. I haven't read this one, but I did very much enjoy your rant (though y'know, I'm sorry you had to go through all that ;P). I love your plot twist idea. Maybe some fanfic is in order??

    And hee, I guess you didn't mention it in the post, but I was scrolling the comments and thought I'd pitch in. I am a notorious end-of-book reader, both to see if it's worth my time and in a weird way I feel the zing of the ending in a different way through the delights of knowing anticipation. (Though yeah, I'm trying to recover what it felt like to experience the element of surprise. xD) Case in point: growing up I read Downright Dencey by Caroline Dale Snedeker over and over and over. The sequel was/still is out of print and when we laid our hands on it one splendid day (by this time I think I was in my twenties), my second sister read it first and then constructed an elaborate sleeve thing to block off the ending chapters, as they were such a twist she insisted I had to come upon them in order. XD Reading a lot of nonfiction of late is helping break the habit a bit.

    Whew!! Ok, now that's all off my chest I'm gonna reward myself with a good strong cup of coffee. Pip pip! ;)

    1. Heidi, sorry for the very late reply to this! Somehow, your comment ended up in the spam folder. Very weird. Anyway, haha! Fanfic that rewrites the ending of the book might be very comforting, huh?

      I have a sister-in-law who skips to the end a lot, for that same reason. I think maybe I just generally don't because I read so many mysteries, and it kind of ruins the joy of reading a mystery for the first time if you know how it ends, hah.

      However, there have been select times in my life when I read the ending before I got to it. I remember specifically doing that with And Now Tomorrow because I loved the movie dearly, and it was looking at the very beginning as if the book would end differently than the movie, and I was pretty sure I couldn't bear it if that happened, so I did skip to the end to be sure that Merek and Emily would get together.

      I get what you're saying about delighting in anticipation of an ending, though. That's how rereads are for me!


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