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T H O M A S W. F O R D University of Houston A. B. Guthrie’s Fair Land,Fair Land: A Requiem In an address to the Western Literature Association in October, 1972, A. B. Guthrie, referring to the chronology of his novels, said, “I do not choose to write more about the same times. If I go on, advancing in period as I have been, I must deal with the almost present” (“Why Write About the West?” 168). He remained true to this resolve in his next novel in his western series, The Last Valley, published in 1975, with events in this story covering the time shortly after World War I to shortly after the end of World War II. In a rather surprising departure, however, with the publi­ cation of Fair Land, Fair Land in 1982, he broke his resolution not to return to earlier times. In his Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Guthrie offered this brief explanation for his reversal: I have sworn more than once to write no more about the earlyday West and just as often broken the vow. I break it again for one reason among others. In my series of novels—mostly about the interior northwest— I left a time gap, roughly from 1845 to 1870. Here I have under­ taken to fill it. Though the story is complete in itself, it belongs chronologically between The Way West and These Thousand Hills. There is certainly no reason to doubt that to fill this time gap was indeed one motive, and an important one, prompting Guthrie to write the book. One of his initial intentions had been to write a sustained historical chron­ icle of the western movement, and he had not covered this period. From this point of view, then, he was being true to his historical purpose.1Basic­ ally, each of his first three novels had dealt with a distinct phase of the western movement: The Big Sky, with the mountain-man phase from 1830 to 1843; The Way West, with settlers moving over the Oregon Trail in 1845; and These Thousand Hills, with cattle ranching in Montana in the 1880s. 18 Western American Literature Fair Land, Fair Land is linked to The Big Sky and The Way West through recurring characters: Dick Summers, the mountain-man mentor of Boone Caudill and Jim Deakins in The Big Sky and pilot of the wagon train in The Way West; Higgins, who had played a minor but colorful role in The Way West as a hired hand for Charles Fairman and his family, members of the wagon train; Teal Eye, the Blackfoot Indian girl who had been married to Boone and had borne him a blind son, the latter also appearing in Fair Land, Fair Land; and Boone, the central character in The Big Sky who, although actually making only one brief appearance in Fair Land, Fair Land, is never far from Summers’thoughts and has a pro­ found effect upon him. The book covers events between 1845 and 1870. But as Guthrie acknowledges in the Author’s Note, to fill the time gap was “one reason among others” for writing the book. I propose that among those other reasons is one of such fundamental importance that it serves as the informing principle of the novel, conditioning and shaping everything in the book. Purely and simply, the novel is a requiem—a requiem for a life of communion and freedom under the big sky that inevitably had to end with the expansion of civilization. All the events that make up the story line of Fair Land, Fair Land are held together by the informing principle of the requiem. The overall pattern that Guthrie’s first five novels in the series had taken was that as civilization expands, the big sky becomes smaller, and opportunities for experiencing psychological freedom and transcendence of self through sacred union with land and sky become less frequent and, in fact, may be vanishing.2 The Big Sky becomes The Last Valley. Now, Fair Land, Fair Land does nothing to contradict this earlier pattern. On the contrary, what it does is to make even...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 17-30
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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