Westerns as American Fantasy

(NOTE: I previously recorded this as a response to the "Westerns: The Original American Fantasy Genre" episode of the Strangers and Aliens Podcast)

I never thought much about it before listening to the episode. As a Texan, I grew up with a great appreciation for the Western as a genre; that probably started with reruns of The Lone Ranger and other shows on TV.

Speaking of The Lone Ranger, it started off as an Old Time Radio program. The creators also launched another  OTR program that featured the great grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger: Brit Reid, also known as the Green Hornet

As an adult, I've developed a fondness for the "Weird Westerns," which are Westerns that have been "nerd-troped" by taking the classic Western and adding supernatural, horror, sci-fi and straight up fantasy elements. The best examples of this are The Wild, Wild West TV show and Cowboys and Aliens.

Looking at Western movies, especially those of John Ford, they emphasized the mythic nature of the Western. This plays to the American Monomyth, an interpretation of Joseph Campbell's study of myth based on the American experience.

Italy and Greece have their myths, the Nordic peoples have their Viking sagas, the Middle East has their 1001 Nights, and the British Isles have their tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

The US has the Western, which is a celebration of those individuals who left the comforts of civilization to brave the the wild frontier and tame it.

It has also been noted that the Dungeons and Dragons game has more in common with Western tropes than it does with those of Medieval Europe.  In fact, Western tropes find their way into other genres, the most famous example of which is Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. Kurosawa took tropes from the American Western and applied them to the samurai films of Japan.  His attempt was so successful, it was easy to translate the tropes back into the American Western The Magnificent Seven.  Another film that has taken the Western tropes and imported them into a film that reflects its native culture is Korea's The Good, the Bad and the Weird. It is a great Western fantasy, just not an American Western fantasy

If you want to check out one of the earliest forms of the literary Weird Western, go to the PulpGen website  navigate to the list of authors, and find the Lee Winters stories written by Lon Williams.  (start near the bottom of the page and continuing on for the next couple or so)

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