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Reviews 159 a twenty-five or thirty year old man—cowboy, sheriff, or miner. She is a little girl, so her "frontier virtues” are ironic. In addition to providing the reader with such delightful, and believable, characters as the elder and the younger Mattie Ross, Portis provides at least two other characters who satirize the stereotype western novel. They do so with respect rather than maliciousness, however. These two characters are Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn, and a man called, simply, LaBoef. Each of these is, in his own way, a parody of a “Western Hero.” Rooster Cogburn is fat, in poor physical health, dishonest, a bit cowardly, given to excessive drinking, mean, low, and (in the words of the man who refers Mattie to him as a likely candidate to help her find Tom Chaney) “He is a pitiless man, double-tough, and fear don’t enter into his thinking. He loves to pull a cork.” (p. 23.) Mattie decides he is just the man to help her get Tom Chaney, for he has, in her own words, “true grit”. LaBoef, on the other hand, is young, handsome, brave, and gallant. He seems, as the reader first becomes acquainted with him through Mattie, to be one character who represents goodness, justice, fair play, and masculine frontier virtue. Mattie, and the reader, soon discover, however, that his only motive in tracking down Chaney is the bounty currently on the members of Lucky Ned Pepper’s Gang, with whom Chaney has recently thrown in his lot. In this way, then, by drawing satirical, but at the same time believable, characters, Portis has written a highly readable and important western novel. As it satirizes the western novel as a genre, it simultaneously imparts to that genre a new and unforgettable set of characters, led by Mattie Ross. Mattie Ross is certainly a new kind of western protagonist, and a valid one. D o n a ld A. H o g lin , Community College of Denver Six-Horse Hitch. By Janice Holt Giles. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969. 436 pages, $6.95.) The broad category of “historical fiction” offers a number of choices to the novelist with respect to the handling of his materials. A central problem concerns the proportion of history, authentic detail, and real characters to bring into the novel—and the manner in which such elements of historical actuality will be blended imaginatively into the book’s fictional aspects. One need only observe the differing approaches on the art of Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop, Kenneth Roberts in Northwest Passage, Stewart Edward White in The Long Rifle, A. B. Guthrie in The Big Sky, and Vardis Fisher in Children of God to realize the wide variations which exist in concepts of what the historical novel is and how it achieves its unique 160 Western American Literature effect of bringing the past to life in a fashion which satisfies the reader’s desire for re-creation of distant places and events, imaginatively presented knowledge, entertainment, and varying degrees of literary art. An introduction such as this seems necessary in evaluating Six-Horse Hitch, the latest novel by Janice Holt Giles, an experienced author of historical fiction whose extensive publications include Hannah Fowler, Johnny Osage, Voyage to Santa Fe, and The Great Adventure. Set mostly in southern Nebraska and northern Colorado between 1859 and 1869, Six-Horse Hitch draws its basic materials from the heyday of stagecoaching and the history of the Overland Mail and Stage Line in particular. Mrs. Giles deserves high praise for her research, commitment to authentic detail, and presentation of a segment of Western life largely ignored by the novelist in favor of more obvious and easily exploited experience involving the mountain man, cowboyeven the pioneer farmer. Indeed, one finishes the novel with such appreciation at seeing how the stages operated, the political and economic forces at work in Washington and the West related to the large transportation companies, the skills required by the drivers and hazards of their existence, the nature of trips across the West from the passengers’ perspective, the operation of stagecoach stations, and so forth, that a consideration of other aspects of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 159-161
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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