- We're happy that you've returned to read our 6th - and final - installment of the Western Authors Series featuring Larry McMurtry. If you've just joined us, you can click here
for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 or Part 5.
In 1991, Larry McMurtry underwent a quadruple bypass. Months later he withdrew into a lengthy and crippling depression in which he hardly wrote, or even read books for that matter. It was his darkest hour. He emerged and completed the manuscript for the second novel in the Lonesome Dove
series, Streets of Laredo
. In it, Woodrow Call is wounded by gunfire and loses an arm and a leg. McMurtry writes, “He could remember the person he had been, but he could not become that person again.” One wonders if this isn’t how McMurtry felt after ascending from a near-death experience and the dark depths of depression. Perhaps it also alludes to why, for him, the cowboy lifestyle isn’t worth romanticizing. It is a bygone era and he feels it is better left behind us.
Larry McMurtry’s most controversial work is undoubtedly his screenplay for the 2005 Academy Award-winning film, "Brokeback Mountain". McMurtry co-wrote the screenplay - based on Annie Proulx’s short story by the same name - with his longtime writing partner, Diana Ossana. It garnered widespread acclaim as well as a significant amount of criticism, most notably that the film was pushing a pro-gay agenda.
In a 2005 NPR Interview
, McMurtry comments that "Brokeback Mountain" was, “the best material I ever had to work with for a screenplay.” Given this comment, a penchant for tragic outcomes, and his dogged determination to depict some of the more undesirable sides of the cowboy lifestyle, one can’t help but suspect McMurtry reveled in the hoopla surrounding Brokeback Mountain.
Which brings us back to the crux of his literary career, Lonesome Dove
; the tale of a group of former Texas Rangers who run a herd of cattle from the Rio Grande to Montana. It contains ranch talk, fighting, love, sex, and violence. Celebrated by aficionados of western books, it was the beginning of a love-affair with western books for many others. However, Lonesome Dove
is a melancholy tale.
In a New York Times interview
, McMurtry reflects, “It occurred to me in Lonesome Dove
that the men who drove the cattle up the trail were in the process of killing the very thing they loved. They knew it, and the knowledge lent poignancy to what they were doing, and their memories of it”. Perhaps this quote, more than any other, explains our fascination for The Cowboy. It isn’t the romance, the glory, or even their courage. It’s the fact that the Cowboy lived and now he is no more, at least not in original form. It’s a way of mourning the passage of our own lives, as they too will someday fade into a cloud of dust. Perhaps McMurtry is just braver than most at looking the truth in the eyes.
Our favorite cowboy heroes are often those that say the least about themselves and do their work for the love of it, or out of economic necessity, without a thought to their own God-given talents or accomplishments. Larry McMurtry has certainly put his mark on many modern day literary and cinematic accomplishments. Even if he doesn't like to dwell on the matter, we are sure thankful for his literary contribution to the genre of western books, television and movies. Our cowboy spirit wouldn't be the same without him.