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Reviews 379 Exploring Western Americana. By Austin E. Fife. Edited by Alta Fife. (Ann Arbor: UM I Research Press, 1988. 275 pages, $45.00.) Defining the West—as a geographic region, a national image, or a state of mind—has been a conundrum since at least the time of Jefferson. Scholars have argued over the nature of the literature, history, landscape, and regional character of the West, rarely agreeing on so much as the boundaries of the region, let alone what makes it different—if, indeed, it is. The folklorists Austin and Alta Fife have spent their lives examining another candidate for the western essence, the folk culture of the western United States, with emphasis on the Basin and Range Province where both were born and reared. Their partnership has led them to collect and examine —with remarkable attention to detail and an exemplary dedication to perma­ nence of record and accuracy of indexing—Mormon folklore, cowboy song, and western material culture. Austin died in 1986, and this volume of collected essays edited by Alta brings together for the first time many of their most important works, joining their pathbreaking Saints of Sage and Saddle: Folk­ lore Among the Mormons (1956). About half of this collection is made up of studies of Mormon culture beginning with Austin’s 1940 article on the legend of the Three Nephites, and including studies of birthmarks and psychic imprinting of babies in Utah folk medicine, folk elements in the Mormon personality, and other essays on the relationship of folklore, history, and Mormonism. The second half consists of articles on songs (about cowboys, Custer’s Last Stand, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre) and on material culture, with important essays on hay derricks and jack fences as prominent examples of the Fifes’ unrelenting efforts to focus attention on the cultural values embedded in western folk culture. An example: by examining ranch gates and mailbox supports assembled from plows, ox yokes, pieces of harness, logging chains, wagon wheels and the like, the Fifes demonstrated—in an essay still unpublished—the tripartite themes of history, family, and the individual intertwined in the day-to-day expression of western folk culture. That is the recurrent motif in this collection, and it would be easy to underestimate the importance and the quality of the Fifes’ work. UM I Press deserves praise for issuing this collection; it is unfortunate that the price reflects both the limited press run and the lack of subsidy that press receives. DAVID H. STANLEY Utah Arts Council Fire on the Rim: A Firefighter’s Season at the Grand Canyon. By Stephen J. Pyne. (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989. 323 pages, $19.95.) As a fire lookout for nine seasons, I’ve long awaited a work that fully captured the drama, frustration, and black comedy of firefighting. (George Stewart’s novel Fire is good but outdated.) Now that I’ve read Fire on the Rim, I can finally declare: my wait is over. 380 Western American Literature Literary scholars may be unfamiliar with Steve Pyne’s work. He is an environmental historian best known for Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire (1982) and The Ice: A Journey to Antarctica (1986), and has just received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship (“genius grant”). His six books are all distinguished by a keen understanding of the earth sciences and an ability to articulate this knowledge to the layperson in powerful and lyrical prose. Fire on the Rim contains three major themes. First, it is an autobiography recounting Pyne’s coming-of-age as a firefighter. When he began working on the North Rim fire crew he didn’t know how to find, much less fight, a wildfire; when he finally retired fourteen seasons later, he was crew foreman and occa­ sionally assigned as crew boss on major fires in the Canyon. He became a fullfledged “pyromantic.” The work follows the chronology of a fire season on the North Rim beginning in May, when snowdrifts often obstruct road access to fires, through October, the time of prescription (deliberately set) fires and termination date for seasonal employees. In telling of how wildfires are fought Pyne captures the wonderful...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 379-380
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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