Wednesday, November 7, 2012
100 Books #104 - Louis L'Amour's SACKETT'S LAND
You've got to admire, or at least smile at, this founding document of the fictional Sackett dynasty, not only for its main character's, Barnabas Sackett's* minute consciousness of the fact that he is a founder of a dynasty, but for how he (again, very consciously) goes about doing so. For while, as his companion Jubain tells him early in the story "some of the great families of the world were founded with nothing but a sword and a strong right arm," Barnabas is all about establishing something other than just another coat of arms for his descendants to polish and admire and lord it over the neighbors over in Britain.
He knows there's more out there in the newly discovered Americas. And he's going to do something about that.
But first! I love that what really starts Barnabas moving towards Illustrious Ancestor status is the discovery of a small cache of ancient coins, which leads to the discovery of a small cadre of people who are devoted to acquiring and studying them. So thus L'Amour's fictional exploration of where the settlers who took over and exploited the American West came from is starting with people who are interested in exploring where they came from, all the way back to the pre-Roman Iceni.
I'm reminded a bit of Edward Rutherford, in a way, he of the 10,000 year story-line. But that's not really what L'Amour is up to. He, like Barnabas, is chiefly interested in the past as a springboard into the future; those coins Barnabas finds are worth a life-changing amount of money, which would make for a pretty interesting story right there, but it wouldn't really make for a L'Amour story, would it?
For a real plot-propeller, L'Amour turns to the good old angry aristocrat. The day Barnabas brings his coins to a local antiquarian enthusiast also winds up being the day he witnesses one doing something dumb in front of a pretty lady, and if there's one thing such types hate more than the Laughter of Women, its having witnesses when they provoke it. The fact that said aristocrat already has reason to hate Barnabas (unknown to Barnabas at the time) doesn't help.
Barnabas has to Get Out of Dodge. Which he does, though not in the way that he planned.
What I like best about Barnabas, and this first Sackett novel, is that this Big Damn Hero could very plainly accomplish his goals by following in his mercenary father's footsteps; Barnabas is "as strong as two men" and his father taught him every sword-fighting trick in the book.
But Barnabas is determined to succeed by his wits instead. Even if sometimes it seems a bit perverse of him to do so.
It's as if Jayne Cobb decided to knuckle down and master business administration. Who wouldn't want to read that? And who wouldn't want to know what happens next?
*And as a matter of fact, no, I was not, in fact, able to stop thinking of Barnabas Collins through this, and yes, kept expecting him to meet a vampire on his journeys. Why do you ask?