ZANE GREY’S HERITAGE OF THE DESERT

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

ZANE GREY’S HERITAGE OF THE DESERT

 

Dec. 28, 2011

CLUB NEWS

Since I’m stumbling into this Book of the Month Club thing, I must confess I have no idea how many of you are actually trying to secure copies of these books and are reading them.  Nor do I have any idea as to how many of you are actually reading the club-related blogs.    True, I have received a number of responses — all positive so far—, but that’s all I have to go on.  Naturally, I’d love to hear from you.

ZANE GREY

As some of you know, I wrote my Vanderbilt doctoral dissertation on the frontier writer Zane Grey.  Four years later, I began editing and publishing Zane Grey’s West (it ran from 1979 – ‘91); in 1983, I co-founded the Zane Grey’s West Society; I have continued as Executive Director ever since.

Since many of you may not be acquainted with Zane Grey, permit me to sketch out his significance:

            THE TITAN

ZANE GREY

(1872 – 1939)

Zane Grey towers over the first half of the twentieth century like no other.  During that period he was not only the highest-paid author in the world, he was also the top-selling author, his readership estimated to top 500,000,000.  Frank Gruber feels that Grey dominated the entire twentieth century, his popularity as great overseas as in America.

He also dominated the magazine world during the Golden Age of Print.  Never before (and never since) were so many great magazines all publishing at once.  And should Country Gentleman, Field and Stream, Munsey’s, Argosy, American, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s, McClure’s, Pictorial Review, Popular, Ladies’ Home Journal, or Colliers be serializing a Grey novel, newsstand sales would skyrocket, hence no author was paid as much for a serial as he.

No author, before or since, has even come close to his dominance of the Silver Screen.  Almost unbelievably, over 131 movies have been made from his books, and the leading actors and actresses of the age starred in them.  On movie marquees (in size and lights), Grey’s name far outranked those of the stars.

Two television series based on his books have been aired, one lasting six years.

He is considered to be the Father of the Western.  Before him, there was not even a perception that there ever was such a period as “The Old West.”  And later western bards such as Louis L’Amour had to admit that Grey was the last western writer to write while the frontier still existed.  Alice Payne Hackett, in her 70 Years of Best Sellers: 1895 – 1965 (Bowker, 1967), noted that, of the 25 top-selling westerns of all time, 15 of them were by Grey.

No western author is represented by so many comic book and Big Little Book titles as he.

So why has his popularity lasted for over a century now, when most of his contemporaries have long since been forgotten?  Why is it that even today as many women read him as men?  Perhaps because his female protagonists are even more fully realized than their male counterparts.  Perhaps because to him, the settings were more important than the characters (he was the first author to insist that his books be filmed on location).  Perhaps because Grey painted with descriptive words and passages in the same way that Moran or Bierstadt painted with a brush.  It is these marvelous descriptive passages that elevate Grey into the pantheon of great artists.  Perhaps because values worth living by were central to Grey.  His tales play out on epic stages such as did the Norse heroes of the Nibelungen Lied, the Arthurian tales, Beowulf, or Shakespearean dramas such as Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear.  Perhaps because he knew the people first-hand that he chronicled.  Perhaps because Grey was at heart a naturalist, and chronicled, in his fiction and nonfiction, the wildlife he encountered.  George Reiger (the dean of contemporary sports writing) maintains that Grey may someday be remembered more for his True Life outdoor adventure stories and books than for his fiction.  Perhaps because the animals in his books were developed as fully as his humans (featured in masterpieces such as Don, The Wolf Tracker, Tappan’s Burro, and The Thundering Herd).  Perhaps because he may very well be the greatest fisherman of all time (he and his entourage capturing all but two of the deep-sea fishing records of the world).  Perhaps because of his leading role in conservation, in his concern for an environment that was already vanishing.  Perhaps because he was a semi-pro baseball player who could easily have walked into Cooperstown had he stayed in baseball.  And last—but anything but least—perhaps because he had the wisdom to marry Lina [Dolly] Roth Grey (one of the most remarkable women of her time), and an equal player in the unparalleled success story that is Zane Grey.

By

                                                                                     Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.

©2005

THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT

I have chosen this book as our January 2012 book of the month for a number of reasons.  Before he wrote Heritage, he’d first written Betty Zane (1903), The Spirit of the Border (1906), The Last of the Plainsmen (1908), The Last Trail (1909), and The Short Stop (1909), but of them, three were eastern Ohio Valley frontier novels, one a baseball novel, and one a hybrid biography/True Life Adventure.  Heritage was the first western he ever set in what we today consider to be the mythical Old West: the Southwest.

In January of 1906, Zane Grey and his bride Dolly disembarked from the train at the then new El Tovar Hotel on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  This was their first stop on their honeymoon.  When the clouds lifted that evening and the sunset transformed the abyss into an inferno, Zane and Dolly were speechless: the spectacle was too overwhelming for mere words.  Grey would spend the rest of his life vainly trying to capture that scene and the West in words.

Grey returned in 1907 and 1908 to lasso mountain lions on the Grand Canyon’s Kaibab Plateau with Buffalo Jones (“The Last of the Plainsmen”), but not until November of 1909 did Grey finally sit down, pencil in hand, to write his first great western, a book he hoped would have the epic scale of Wallace’s Ben Hur.  As Mescal (his first title) took form, he became more and more excited—the outside world, for him, all but ceased to exist.  On January 22, 1910, meals were all. but forgotten as his pencil raced across the page.

Heritage was Grey’s first great book.  It sold well from the first and has consistently held its own through the years.  August Naab was, in real life, Jim Emett, a Mormon pioneer who lived at Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River.  Grey lassoed mountain lions with Emett and Buffalo Jones in 1907 and 1908.  I think you will agree with me that August Naab is one of the most magnificent characters in all western literature.  In the novel, Naab is portrayed as an apostle of non-violence who is gradually forced by circumstances to alter his code.  The book also features a theme Grey dealt with often: Regeneration.  Grey felt that the West either transforms weaklings into strong men or it destroys them.  In the pages of this novel, you will experience with Grey a West that is so new to him you feel its vibrancy in every page.  In fact, some critics claim the book is one-of-a-kind because never again was the West to be this fresh to him.

I don’t want to deprive you of your own conclusions so I’ll let you take it from here.  Some questions yu may ask yourself are these: What kind of a heroine is Mescal?  Is she fully developed as a character?  Multidimensional?  What about the element of Good Samaritanism in the novel?  When Grey wrote the novel, magazines ruled supreme, and those who could write spell-binding serializations were paid extremely well.  In those pre-TV days, family life centered around the fireplace, kitchen stove, or front porch.  Since pictures were few, readers gravitated to writers like Grey who could paint pictures with words rather than with a brush.  That way, each of them could paint pictures unique to them in their minds.  I will be most interested in your reactions to this novel.

The book ought to be relatively easy to find on the web.  Two sources you might check are Don Gallagher (1425 Broadway, Denver, CO 80210) and Eric Mayer’s Bluebird Books (8201 S. Santa Fe Dr., #245, Littleton, CO 80120).  Harpers published the First Edition; Grosset & Dunlap followed with hardback reprints which normally included four illustrations.  Most other hardbacks do not feature illustrations.  The same is true for the many trade paper editions.  Just make certain your book is unabridged.

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IOWA CAUCUS – REBIRTH? OR ABERRATION?

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IOWA CAUCUS

REBIRTH?  OR ABERRATION?

 

Dec. 21, 2011

 

As a historian of ideas, I’ve always been fascinated by sudden turning points.  Case in point: During the last year, we’ve seen, one after another, the emergence of democracy all across North Africa and the Middle East.  Even totalitarian Russia now feels the open scorn of its people.

 

In the daily news, we’ve seen Europe reeling from one economic seismic shock after another.  For decades, Europe has been a poster child for a template that appeared to have staying power: one currency for all, fiscal stability, no closed borders between nations, cradle to the grave welfare for all, more than generous retirement benefits, vacations galore (it often seemed that the population of the entire continent could be found on beaches every August), and millions of tourists flooding the continent the icing on the cake.  But no longer: Europe’s template has cracked right down the middle.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

 

In the U.S., things are little better than in Europe.  Only the fact that the spotlight of the world has been fixated on Europe rather than us has enabled us to escape the world’s scrutiny.  But that cannot long last.  Our status quo is unrelentingly grim.

But in Iowa, on the eve of the last debate before the Caucus, something electric happened.  Gingrich may well be right in declaring that we haven’t had anything this substantive in our political arena since the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century and a half ago.  But first, I must admit that, though I’m a registered Republican, I’m a centrist and vote accordingly.  Like most Americans, in recent years I’ve been disillusioned time after time by the G.O.P.  All too often it has seemed as if our Republican leaders were determined to out-dumb each other.  “”Naive’ and “uninformed” way too inadequate to describe their condition, their evident ignorance of current events and national and world history off the charts of probability; their voting out of offices the informed and intelligent moderates who would work together for the good of the country –  instead they elected, all too often, individuals so close-minded they’d stampede the nation off a cliff rather than work together.

However, on Dec. 15, there took place a rational debate between presidential candidates who, for once, did themselves and their party proud.  Same for the moderators.  Such an impact did this make on me that I was unable to sleep afterwards; in fact, at 2:30 a.m. next morning, I got up and wrote until 5:00 a.m.

 

But even now, I find myself incapable of really making sense of all I heard that night.  I’m mightily muddled.  But even so, permit me to muddle through these swirling unconnected thoughts.  Stream-of-consciousness disorganized because I can’t yet make sense of them:

 

It’s like, on the eve of Dec. 15, the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.  The candidates and the concerned audience fed on each other, together rising to unexpected heights:

 

Rather than merely ramble on unstructured I am bullet-pointing the concerns that generated that eve of Dec. 15:

 

 

  • Government gridlock
  • Out-of-control spending
  • Massive unemployment – worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, for third year in a row
  • Epidemic of bankruptcies
  • Millions of lives shattered by foreclosures and being evicted from their homes.  Almost half owe more than they could get by selling their homes.
  • The middle class shrinking so dramatically that the gap between rich and poor has yawned so wide we risk revolution from the disenfranchised.
  • The collusion between government and Big Banks
  • The breakdown of our protective agencies
  • The federal out-of-control spending taking a terrible toll on the finances, education, social programs, infrastructure, and public services of individual states, resulting in a devastating implosion
  • The revolving door between government and lobbyists
  • Government office being restricted to self-made millionaires or billionaires or those who sell their souls to special interest groups
  • The decline of a literate electorate.  With elections decided by electronic sound-bytes rather than thoughtful reading of newspapers, magazines, and books
  • The political campaigns degenerating into attack ads and character assassination orchestrated by unknown sources or people
  • Vote fraud
  • The staggering economic toll taken by multiple foreign wars
  • Retirees losing all they’d saved for their retirement years
  • Graduates unable to find well-paying jobs
  • Manufacturing continuing to be sent overseas
  • The perceived failure of so many of our schools and colleges
  • The courts becoming ever more hostile to all public expressions of religion or belief in a higher power
  • Marriage discredited by secular forces; so much so that the nuclear family (man, woman, child) is for the first time ceasing to be the norm.  Out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing to such an extent that it is said that one-third of all American children are effectively being raised by their grandparents.  Sexuality today trumps lifetime commitment.
  • A media apparently determined to so ridicule religion and those who attempt to live by biblical principles that they will discredit those people into irrelevancy.
  • Widespread attempts to strip religious holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving of their spiritual significance
  • The replacement of time-honored concepts of Good and Evil and Right and Wrong with psychiatric terminology divorced from a Higher Power.  Result: lying under oath no longer means much to all those who don’t believe in God (however they may perceive Him).  Neither do cheating or stealing seem wrong.
  • Deconstruction of history strips our erstwhile national heroes of whatever noble qualities were once attributed to them.
  • Thoughtful parents so terrified of societal forces hostile to their children (bullying, hazing, pedophilia, rape, substance abuse, sexuality without commitment, ridicule of their beliefs, etc.) that they are pulling their children out of public schools and homeschooling them

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

All these variables swirled around during the memorable two-hour debate (meaningful because moderators asked searching thoughtful questions of the candidates, zeroing in on issues where candidates were perceived to be on thin ice).  Furthermore, moderators permitted candidates to respond and defend their actions and words.  Unlike so many meaningless public debates of recent years, where no real substantive dialogue took place, this debate was very real—indeed it was so gripping I felt it to be high drama!

 

Significantly, the Dec. 15 growing consensus appeared to be: our template is broken beyond repair; it almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with cutting politicians’ salaries in half, moving back to citizen governance with half-time government service and half time work in the real world.  Frugality once again.  Pay as we go: don’t spend any money we don’t have.  Create jobs rather than parasitically siphoning off the life blood of those who are working hard to create a newer and better society.  Bring God back—, more to the point: bring us back to God.  Respect right to life.  Bring back a society based on the twin bedrocks of God and country.

 

Frankly, I’m less than optimistic that what I felt in the auditorium on Dec. 15 will blossom into a much needed cultural revolution.  For both parties—not just the G.O.P.

 

However, in the darkest days of history, God has summoned great men and women to selfless service—Moses, Daniel, St. Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Francis, Luther, the Wesleys, Washington, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Churchill, Mother Teresa.

 

Why could not God do it again?

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #4

 

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

 

Dec. 14, 2011

In all probability, most of our readers have never even heard of Capitol Reef National Park.  Where’s that? you may wonder; if it’s anywhere most likely it’s some island park somewhere in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. Instead, it’s situated in one of the driest sections of our nation.

 

It came by its name because early pioneers in westward-bound wagon trains felt its topography (featuring many dome-like sandstone rock formations) reminded them of the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.  Secondly, because it had been, since time immemorial, a 100-mile-long reef-like obstruction to east/west traffic.  Indeed, it ended up being the last-explored territory in the lower 48 states.

Not until 1853 did an explorer even get close.  But Captain John W. Gunnison, seeking a transcontinental east/west train route, never made it into the interior.  Later that year, John C. Fremont, following upon Gunnison’s exploration, actually made it into the heart of the range.  He was, in turn, followed by John Wesley Powell, who named the river running through it, the Fremont.

 

Outlaw bands, such as Butch Cassidy and his gang are reputed to have hidden out in the towering wrinkle of rock, honeycombed with cliffs, canyons, knobs, monoliths, spires, slots, alcoves, arches, and natural bridges.

 

Brigham Young sent Mormon pioneers to settle here in 1880.  In a little two-hundred-acre river valley they named Fruita, they settled in, complete with a blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse, barns, and 2700 apple, peach, cherry, pear, and apricot trees.  The little settlement lasted for sixty years—finally, the desolation, isolation, and loneliness got to them, and they moved out in 1940.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt first made it a national monument in 1937; it did not achieve national park status until 1971.  But relatively few visitors come here to explore its 241,900 acres; and of those who do, fewer yet venture off the two paved roads into the dirt roads of the interior, which is a pity, for they thereby miss some of the most magnificent scenery in the Southwest.  Especially legendary are sections such as Upper Cathedral Valley, so monolithic early explorers likened many formations to Gothic cathedrals.

 

Of the five national parks in Utah’s fabled Colorado Plateau, Zion gets the most visitors, by far; followed by Arches, Bryce, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands.

 

OUR OWN JOURNEY

After a good breakfast at the Moab Best Western, we looped north on 191 to Interstate 70, headed west, then turned south on Hwy 24.  Two mountain ranges so dominate southeastern Utah that rarely are both the La Sal and the Henry Mountains out of view.  As for the Henrys, they rise like a great windjammer at full sail.  Some years ago, in my faithful red Toyota I’d dubbed “Eloquent,” I’d driven here on a sabbatical.  Foolishly, I’d taken Eloquent up into the Henrys; after crossing over the crest of the highest of the three Henrys, I all but lost Eloquent in the loose shale on the western side.  Many the time I had to back up with spinning wheels, then race down in hopes I could get enough momentum to make it to the top of the next hill—again, again, and yet again.  No cars at all on the road!  I finally got back to Hanksville riding on fumes in an all but empty gas-tank.

 

Now, as the Henrys came into view, I took a long lingering look at its now snow-capped peaks, stopped for photos, and we reboarded and headed west along the Fremont River to Capitol Reef, the Henrys our constant companions to our south.  To say we didn’t do justice to Capitol Reef would be a gross understatement.  We didn’t even have time in our tight schedule to take the nine-mile scenic spur (the only other paved road in the park).  We only had time to shutterbug along the Fremont, in the Fruita orchards, at the schoolhouse, and spend ample time in the park visitor center.

Anyone who fails to take advantage of the generally informative and sometimes splendid visitor centers in our national parks and monuments will later suffer for the omission, for those videos and films enrich your actual experiences and compensate for all you fail to see.  We saw enough of the latter here in Capitol Reef to make us sigh and vow to return when we have the time—and four-wheel-drive—to enable us to venture into the hundred-mile north-south Waterpocket Fold that contains the park’s real treasures.

 

In one respect, Capitol Reef National Park towers over all other park visitor centers: the video footage comes to its memorable conclusion, the curtains slowly part and are pulled wide; behind: a magnificent panorama anchored by a castle-like fortress of rainbow-colored rock.  It took our breath away!

 

After delaying as long as we could, we reboarded the Lincoln and continued west.  In no time at all, we’d exited the park.

 

Next is Bryce National Park!

 

CORRECTION FOR BLOG #40, SERIES #2

 

Gus Scott, one of our sharp-eyed readers, has corrected me: “Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachoma arches are in Natural Bridges National Monument, and not in Canyonlands National Park.”

Many thanks, Gus.

 

SOURCES

 

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred Knopf/Random House, 2009).

 

Leeth, Dan, “Utah’s Forgotten Park,” featured in May/June 2011 AAA Encompass.

 

The Most Scenic Drives in America (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, Inc., 1997).

 

Olson, Virgil J. and Helen, Capitol Reef: The Story Behind the Scenery (Wickenburg, AZ: K. C. Publications, 1990).

 

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, DC., National Geographic Society, 2009).

Christmas In My Heart Turns Twenty!!!

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

 

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® TURNS TWENTY

 

For Dec. 7, 2011

 

In this strange journey we call “life,” certain years loom larger than others—2011 is one of those for Connie and me.  Mainly because of an event we never saw coming.  Not with that first book of Christmas stories in 1992, for none of us ever expected there to be another—why, there was not even a number printed on that horizontal trade paper book, with a Currier & Ives cover and woodcut illustrations for the stories inside.      But miracle of miracle, four years later the series had its fifth birthday.  Not only was that not the end, but five years later, here came its tenth birthday.  Each of those anniversaries, we’d inwardly wonder, Is this the end?  And then came its fifteenth birthday—and it was still alive.  One year later, Review and Herald® signed off after sixteen wonderful years; serendipitously, in only hours, Pacific Press picked up the torch—and here we are at twenty, still under full steam.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________

Along the way, other publishers bought into the series:

Doubleday/Random House with seven hardback collections—they it was who insisted we trademark the title.  We’re grateful; otherwise, several years ago, we’d have lost control of the brand.  RiverOak/David C. Cook published one hardback.  Focus on the Family and Tyndale House published one vertical trade paper and seven hardbacks.  And, more recently, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three hardbacks.  All told: 38 books bearing that series title.  And the manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® #21 was just sent in to Pacific Press to launch our third decade.

We’ve never felt the series to be our own for it was born over my protests; we didn’t become pro-active rather than re-active until two years later.  And again and again, during the years that followed, we’ve seen a Higher Power step in and keep it going against what appeared to be overwhelming odds.  A number of them having to do with my own body, that all but shut down on me twice; a head-on accident that should have ended everything; and several others so close a call that it was clear God was preserving my life, for what He considered to be “an unfinished task.”

            THE 20TH CELEBRATION

It has been an eventful year: Last Christmas I was on Hope TV’s “My Story, My Song,” reading Christmas stories each of the fourteen days leading up to Christmas.  Four months later, Don Schneider’s “Really Living” hour-long interview was broadcast by Hope TV.  Several months ago, Jim Gilley’s hour-long interview was broadcast on 3 ABN-TV.  All three were world-wide.  Just a couple of days ago I recorded several Christmas stories for a Focus on the Family podcast.  Only a week ago, for the 21st year in a row, I was interviewed by Dr. Gerry Fuller on “Breakaway” on WGTS-FM (the second most powerful Christian radio station in America) for an hour.  On Dec. 13, I’ll be privileged to join Janet Parshall on her syndicated radio program, “Janet Parshall’s America” (a yearly tradition going clear back to the beginning of Christmas in My Heart®).  I’ve had so many book-signings lately, I’ve begun to feel like a wind-up doll.  Miraculously, God has so far preserved me from carpal tunnel, a miracle given that I’ve often signed for eight to twelve hours at a stretch. But I consider it an honor to have been invited into so many thousands of households over the years.  I take great care to make each of my book inscriptions a work of art.  I tell people the real reason: “Fifty years from now one of your descendants may find this book in a musty old attic trunk, dust it off, look inside, and say, ‘Look!  This was given to Grandma when she was young half a century ago!”  Then family members would almost kill for this book, considering it to be a cherished artifact of family history.

Each of our now 75 books (60 being story anthologies) has its own distinctive inscription, each of which I must remember whenever I do a book-signing.  Many, no small thanks to the worldwide web, Facebook, my website and weekly blogs and daily tweets, take place at home as people everywhere ask for that scarcest of commodities in our digital age: a personalized inscription to a book.  We never charge for these..

CHRISTMASAHOLIC COMPLETISTS

Just a week ago, in marathon East Coast signings, I came across a new phenomenon: completists.  People who have all twenty of the Christmas in My Heart® series.  They’ll stand in line for hours waiting for me to get to them and their stacks of books.  Almost invariably they’ll have a big stack of books for me to inscribe to their families and friends.  One lady in the Northwest gives away over 200 a year, to her nursing staff.

It is deeply humbling to me to be thus assured that so many cherish every last book in this series.  Reasons completists give: that they’re spiritually based, you can’t read them without reaching for the Kleenex® box, the values incorporated are worth living by, they are very difficult to put down, they run through the entire gamut of emotions, they feature authors whose work deserves to live on [many are virtually unknown today], and taken in their entirety, they add up to the greatest treasure box of such stories—perhaps in the world.

If you have not yet discovered this series, I invite you to join our world-wide family of Christmasaholics—for us, Christmas lasts all year long!

* * * * *

Next week, we’ll move back to the journey through our Southwest national parks.