GHBC 1: Bendigo Shafter Part I

Grim's Hall Book Club: Bendigo Shafter Part I

I realize that several of you are just now in the process of getting the book, so we'll only do introductory commentary and a few pages.

The first thing to know about Bendigo Shafter is that it arose from an earlier short story Louis L'amour wrote called "The War Trail." (You can find this in the collection Grub Line Rider, pp. 186-208). In the short story, the widow Ruth Macken's son Bud is the protagnist -- unlike in the novel, in which it is Ben Shafter -- but the real hero is the lady herself. Her forceful and forthright nature wins the respect of the best men in the party after the death of her husband, and she saves the party by proving able to negotiate with the Sioux in their own language.

She continues to play a major role in the novel. Her character is one of a few very important ones, and her remarks on love and marriage will be of interest as we continue. She is also the patron of education in the community, as you will discover: not the actual educator, but the one who encourages education. It is clear that L'amour loves this character, and that she is an exemplar of the kind of woman he most admires.

Other characters to pay attention to in the early parts of the book are Ethan Sackett and Webb. Ethan's last name marks him, for those who read L'amour's full works, as a member of a clan from Tennessee that he wrote about at great length. They are simple folk, Scots-Irish, and a fighting people. They tend to be marked by great skill in the woods, learned in the relative poverty of the Appalachians. I find the Sacketts interesting because they are very regularly L'amour's progatonists, but are very different from the protagonists that L'amour normally writes about when he is not writing about Sacketts. His normal protagonist is well-educated (though often self-educated), a creature of the mind as much as of the body. The Sacketts mostly do without the book learning that L'amour valued, but he finds a way to admire them too.

Webb is a character that receives significant foreshadowing in the early pages of the book. I'd like you to pay particular attention to him when he appears in the novel, as I'd like to discuss him and what he means to L'amour. As they move West:

Webb grew, too, but in another way. There had always been a streak of violence in him, but fear of public opinion and fear of the law had toned it down. Now a body could see the restraint falling away.
We'll talk about that at length as the novel progresses; but for now, just based on that paragraph, what do you think will happen to Webb?

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