Magazine article Insight on the News

Go West, Grey Fans: Western Writer Zane Grey Is Enjoying Increased Popularity, Especially among 'Highbrows.'

Magazine article Insight on the News

Go West, Grey Fans: Western Writer Zane Grey Is Enjoying Increased Popularity, Especially among 'Highbrows.'

Article excerpt

Western writer Zane Grey is enjoying increased popularity, especially among `highbrows'.

They seem unlikely folks to pay homage to the world's best-known writer of Western novels, but here they were, mingling with fans and old-timers at the annual convention of the Zane Grey's West Society. The 16th gathering recently convened in Grand Junction, Colo., nestled in the shadows of the Grand Mesas, the red-rimmed, flattop mountains that Grey once explored and later used as a setting for his novel, The Mysterious Rider.

Take Joe Wheeler, for example. A retired English professor, author and fellow at the Center for the New West in Denver, Wheeler could be described as an intellectual. But he's also a Grey buff and, as far as he's concerned, that's not a contradiction. "He's the logical successor to James Fenimore Cooper," Wheeler says. "He's the last author to chronicle the American frontier while the frontier still existed."

Grey, who died in 1939, is best known for books such as Riders of the Purple Sage, Heritage of the Desert, Arizona Aims, The Light of Western Stars and Nevada. But Grey isn't just for cowboys anymore. Among those who attended the convention were historians, doctors and executives, along with a generous portion of retirees and just plain "Zaneys," as his fans call themselves.

Students of the writer argue that his stories of heroic cowboys and brave pioneer women were pivotal works of social history that defined the West for the vast majority of Americans. Indeed, they place him in some highfalutin literary company. At the conference, historian Stephen May compared the influence of the Colorado River in Grey's work to that of the Thames in the novels of Charles Dickens and the Mississippi in Mark Twain's. Others credit Grey with writing some of the first chronicles of Western geography, landscapes, rivers and plants.

The Western code of honor laid out in his books continues to influence how Americans view themselves and how they are viewed in the eyes of the world, notes Wheeler. Grey's cowboys, with their determination to do the right thing in a lawless world, are growing more appealing as Americans tire of moral relativism. …

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