Book Review: Hondo by Louis L’Amour

Title: Hondo
Author: Louis L’Amour
Published: 1953
Genre: Western

Synopsis: He was etched by the desert’s howling winds, a big, broad-shouldered man who knew the ways of the Apache and the ways of staying alive. She was a woman alone raising a young son on a remote Arizona ranch. And between Hondo Lane and Angie Lowe was the warrior Vittoro, whose people were preparing to rise against the white men. Now the pioneer woman, the gunman, and the Apache warrior are caught in a drama of love, war, and honor.

My Rating: 8igbk4dbt8igbk4dbt 1/2
First let me give you a brief overview of the plot. A lone “broad-shouldered” man wanders the desert, he knows the way of the Apache (I’m not even kidding with that one), he knows the ways of all men. He meets Angie, a woman living alone in the dessert with her young son, they feel something towards one another – that magnetic pull of a woman and a man (not kidding at all) he has to ride out but his heart stays back with her. There’s Apache and there’s US Government officials but no one is as awesome as Hondo.
Hondo is one of those books published in the mid 20th century that seek to cement that romanticized idea of the West filled with wise Indians, angry Indians, foolish white men, brave women that just need a strong man to fulfill her life, young white boys admired by the Apache, adventure ,and The Man who stands above others. This book is really the stencil for all others, including Hollywood movies. If I were to ignore the serious problematic elements of this story, this is a great fast-paced tale filled with American adventures. However the problems are inescapable and the more I sit on the novel the less I like it.
Problem #1 – Hondo is a Gary Stu. Hondo is a great rider, well respected, quick with the gun, wise, knower of Apache ways, fixes fences, breaks in wild ponies, understands the female sex, can knock a man out, is tall , broad-shouldered and handsome – you name it, Hondo is. Hondo is a 12 yr old’s wet dream of a man, everything he wants to be. It comes to a point that there is a turn to predictability because you know he will succeed.
Problem #2 – Those Indians. I have to hand it to Mr. L’Amour, he painted good Indians as well as bad Indians but regardless they were painfully stereotypical. Our main Apache is Vittoro, a wise chief who adopts Angie’s son as his blood brother (because he was able to shoot a gun to defend his mother – never mind that all other white men mainly suck) and insists that Angie needs a man around to raise the boy. Certain scenes were utterly painful, I had so much discomfort with the Native American portrayal. Then there’s Silva, who is brash, younger and angry and apparently a coward. This fact is never disputed and he ends up being the ‘big bad’ of the book who seeks revenge against Hondo and Angie. Silva’s purpose is to antagonize and there’s no dimension to his character at all, he is the Indian in the Cowboys and Indian narrative.
Problem #3 – What feminism? I know, this is 1953 but the problem is that it hardcore dates this book. 1984 (Orwell) was published before this and it’s still relevant. Hondo is incredibly dated and because of this, it will be lost in the pages of time. Angie was born and raised on the farm, her father taught her everything, she marries a man, has a child and he leaves her. She’s alone for months handling her business as best she can. Along comes Hondo and she realizes how nice it to have a man in the house and for things to be handled. I’m not saying that a partnership is bad, on the contrary I think it’s excellent when two people on equal footing enter into a relationship that is mutually beneficial and consensual. This is not that. Over and over we are told that her son needs a man around to teach him of manly things. We are also told that Hondo chops up the firewood and fixes the fences because man’s work. I’m sorry but Angie was born and raised in a farm, the girl knows how to chop wood and fix fences. Is it a lot of work? Sure! But don’t paint it based on sex, this is about another adult being around to help on chores not a strong man to do man-stuff. Needless to say, she would have raised a fine strong man on her own but you know thank god Hondo came along and saved her.
Overall – I’m stuck reading Westerns until June 26 because of school but man I can’t wait to dive into my women in literature class which starts right after, I can almost taste Julia Alvarez on the tip of my tongue.
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