Monday, February 10, 2020

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey (novel #143)

That hour at the entrance to Deception Pass had been the climax of her suffering – the flood of her wrath – the last of her sacrifice – the supremity of her love – and the attainment of peace.

Riders of the Purple Sage is of course a Western, by one of the quintessential authors of the genre, Zane Grey.

I’m sure I’ll catch grief for this, but I was disappointed. It felt like a guilty pleasure more than literature. So, on the plus side, let me acknowledge that it was a pleasure. It was fun, exciting, riveting, and satisfying.

But I felt a little cheated. First, I’m not sure how much Zane Grey really new about cowboys or horses. I’m no expert myself, though I did have a beautiful, gentle mare in my youth. There were several items that gave me doubts about Grey’s knowledge of horsemen of the wild west. Second, and this was quite distracting, he uses the word “sage” hundreds of times – literally hundreds. It was absurd. “Riders” and “purple” popped up over and over again, leaving me convinced that this was an intentional motif of the author, but it just seemed ridiculous. Finally, each one of the four main characters had moments when their behavior was completely unbelievable to me.

Sounds like I hated it right? Well, no! I’ve said before that a good story is more important to me than perfect writing – and this story is captivating. Set in Utah Territory, 1871, it concerns beautiful and wealthy Jane Withersteen who is befriended by near outlaw Lassiter as she fights to keep her independence from the churchmen of her Mormon faith. It’s filled with rustlers, stampedes, horse chases, gunplay, two separate love stories, and a pair of loyal dogs. 

I want to give it juuuust a bit less than four stars, but three and a half is too low, so for the sake of the dogs, ya gotta love faithful dogs, I give it…

4 of 5 stars

This book satisfies square O-2 in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge and “Abandoned Classic” from the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

I began this book once before, probably as a teen. I can’t recall what caused me to abandon it, but in spite of my criticism, I’m still glad to have read it and will read more by Zane Grey, though I think next in this genre I’ll try Louis L’Amour

I want to give Grey credit for a subtle allusion to classic lit. When two of the main characters realize their perfect hideout has been discovered – Grey describes their realization as…
Both had seen the footprint in the sand.

A clever allusion to Robinson Crusoe.



  1. Yes! Sage!! I git a bit tired of reading that word. I hadn’t read a Western before & although I enjoyed it, mostly, it was ‘t what I’d call a classic. Not being American I’ve been told that Louis L’Amour was a better writer of Westerns.

    1. Yes, I need to get to L'Amour for this genre next. Grey was something of an outdoorsman, but not a true cowboy, whereas L'Amour had a little more genuine cowboy experience.

  2. i thought it was okay, but i've read more of ZG's output and some of them are much better: the ones about deserts are good, with lovely descriptions of ranges and gulleys... Mrs. M has read a great deal of L'Amour and is a dedicated fan...

  3. I've never actually read a Western -- I love a good pioneer story but I just can't get into the whole cowboy motif. And there's nothing wrong with a good yarn that isn't literature! I'm glad you enjoyed your abandoned classic.

  4. It's interesting that you called out the amount of times certain words were used. I read Dracula for my Abandoned Classic and kept Count (pun intended) of how many times 'vampire' was in the book: twice in the first half (both referring to bats), 10x in the span of 2 pages in the second half, and 11 other times scattered in the second half. I was surprised how low the number was and I appreciated the subtlety it gave to the book.

    1. It had to be intentional in this case, and so I hope it satisfied the author...but for me as a reader it just made it a little bit ridiculous.


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