Book of the Month – Zane Grey’s “Riders of the Purple Sage”

BLOG #23, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #20
ZANE GREY’S RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
June 5, 2013

Zane Grey (1872 – 1939), creator of the Romantic West, was the most famous and highest-paid author in the world during the first half of the Twentieth Century. He was the last western writer to write while the American frontier still existed. Over 119 movies have been made from his books, and two television series. He was the first American author to insist that movie producers film his books on location, reason being that he felt locations, to a significant extent, influence behavior and even contribute to character development, both positively and negatively. Interestingly enough, Grey has always attracted as many female readers as he has male readers.

THE GREATEST WESTERN EVER WRITTEN
RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
ONE-HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY
(1912 – 2012)

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Grey’s second western (after Heritage of the Desert) begins with one of the most memorable opening paragraphs in American fiction and ends with one of the most memorable conclusions in all literature.

According to Lawrence Clark Powell, “The character of the deadly yet noble gunman, Lassiter, approaches the epic folk-hero in its powerful simplification, and was memorably personified by the old-time movie actor William S. Hart–slit-eyed, steel-muscled, and claw-fingered on the draw. The final scene . . . is perhaps the finest moment in all western fiction, approached only by the Virginian’s ‘When you call me that, smile.’” –“Books Determine,” Westways, August, 1992.

Digby Diehl of the Los Angeles Times noted that “By the tine Grey died in 1939, he had two generations of writers hot on his western trail, such as Ernest Haycox, Max Brand, A. B. Guthries, Sam Peeples, and Louis L’Amour. But none of them ever wrote a sentence like ‘A sharp clip-clop of iron-shod hoofs deadened and died away, and clouds of yellow dust drifted from under the cottonwoods out over the sage.’ This, of course, was the beginning of Riders of the Purple Sage, hailed in many circles as the best western novel ever published. –“Zane Grey’s Tales of the West,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1972.

T. V. Olsen pointed out that Riders of the Purple Sage . . . sold two million copies, a then unprecedented sale and ranked with Pollyanna and Tarzan of the Apes as one of the ten leading best-sellers of the decade 1910-1920. A masterpiece of romantic adventure, it combined a suspenseful, well-knit plot with firm, totally dimensional characterization, a gut-ripping pace with awesome spectacle. At times its prose soared to a truly epic strength that, for all the high spots in his early works, Grey never achieved again. –“Pantheism and the Purple Sage,” The Roundup, November 1966.

Nor could western scholar G. M. Farley forget him: “What man while reading Riders of the Purple Sage hasn’t seen in Lassiter some of the characteristics of himself? These rough-hewn characters appeal to something basic in the reader; they touch the fountain-head, and the reader becomes identifiable with them. He can almost feel the trigger against his finger, the buck of the booming gun against his hand. For that moment he escapes the office, the home, the everyday strife, and is transported. It is not just the fast action that thrills him; he is there.” –“An Approach to Zane Grey,” Zane Grey Collector, Vol II, #4.

Nor could John Parsons forget him: “Lassiter of the Purple Sage specialized in carrying his black-butted guns ‘low down.’ By a rapid but undefined movement, he was able to swing ‘the big black gun sheaths around to the fore.’ Ordinarily a two-gun man, he buckled on two more revolvers when going out to face the foe in quantity. Think of the fire-power, even if only two at a time were fired. So far as I know Lassiter was the first four-gun man in print. . . . Zane Grey successfully exploited a vanished cult of gunfighters, seldom contemporaneously documented, whose resuscitation fired the imagination of millions of readers.” –“Gunplay in Zane Grey,” The Westerners, (New York: Posse Brand Books, 1961).

Lassiter doesn’t even have to actually use his guns to be memorable. Case in point, his first appearance in the book: “Lassiter’s face’ had all the characteristics of the range riders–the leanness, the red burn of the sun, and the set changelessness that came from years of silence and solitude. But it was not these that held her; rather the intensity of his gaze, a strained weariness, a piercing wistfulness of keen, gray sight, as if the man was forever looking for that which he never found. Jane’s [Withersteen, the heroine] subtle woman’s intuition, even in that brief instant, felt a sadness, a hungering, a secret.” (p. 8).

Another gunman, Venters, and Bess Oldering, the Masked Rider, hold sway over half the book.

Grey loved horses. Indeed, Frank Gruber maintained that the novel contains the most magnificent horse race in all western fiction.

The novel was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s favorite book.

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The book is available in multitudes of editions, both hardback and paper. Just make sure your copy is unabridged.

But, for all you book-lovers who cherish heirloom classics whose value can only go up through the years, the Zane Grey’s West Society recently published a magnificent Centennial Edition. Ordering information follows.

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This book was a labor of love by the Society. Many people were involved, with Roseanne Vrugtman deserving special mention as she did all the work of cleaning up the manuscript and formatting it to properly match the original first edition. Multiple folks were involved in proofreading, editing, and several members authored additional content articles for the book. Joe Wheeler wrote on the importance of Riders to American Literature, Todd Newport wrote on Grey’s love of the outdoors, Chuck Pfeiffer and Zen Ervin wrote an article on the geography of Riders, Bob Lentz discussed the movies made from the novel, and Marian Coombs provided a biography of Grey.

This book was printed in 2012, the anniversary year of Riders, and will be shipped in January 2013. We went to extreme lengths to try to make the book as close a replica of the original 1912 Harper’s First Edition as possible. The actual text of the novel was formatted in such a manner that it exactly matches the original, so now if you are doing research, you can use this book as if it were the original first edition. The book cover is bound in linen, like the original, even though we could not find an exact match to the color. We stamped the text on the front cover using a purple backing with gold text on top of it, just like the original. We scanned the original paste down image that was on the front cover and tried to match that, even though those paste down images did not survive the years very well, and every example we found had issues. We used a slightly ivory color paper, hoping to make it look more vintage. –Zane Grey Review, December 2012, p. 3.

One of the rarest of all Zane Grey dust jackets was used for the Centennial Edition’s reproduction dj. Where rare Zane Grey First Editions are concerned, original vintage dust jackets sometimes bring five times as much as the book itself at auctions.

Just in: The printer: Frederick Printing/Denver Bookbinding was just honored by the Printing Industry of America’s 2013 Print Excellence Silver Award (for demonstrating superior craftsmanship, digital print, hardbound book) for the Centennial Edition of Riders of the Purple Sage.

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This rare edition had a print-run of only 300 copies. Most likely, they’ll all be sold by the end of the Zane Grey’s West Society’s 31st annual convention (to be held in Provo, Utah June 16-19, 2013). Last year’s convention was held in the Black Hills; the year before in Williamsburg, Virginia; in 2014, in Durango, Colorado.

Price for the Centennial Edition is $70 plus shipping. However, if you contact our Secretary Treasurer, at

Sheryle Hodapp
15 Deer Oaks Drive
Pleasanton, CA 94588
Telephone: 925-485-1325
email: sheryle@zgws.org

and first join The Society as a member (our annual dues are only $35, and include our splendid quarterly magazines; we’ve only raised dues once in 31 years, by all serving pro-bono), rather than the regular $70 for the Centennial Edition, you will be entitled to the Society member price of $48 plus shipping, thus your membership will end up costing you only $13 for the year if you’re able to land a copy before they’re sold out.

We’d love to have you join our extended family of Zanies. Perhaps you’d even like to join us at Provo! Contact Sheryle Hodapp for details.