Book Review: Hondo

“Hondo” is Louis L’Amour’s first full-length novel (1953) and is considered by many to be his best. Hondo Lane, a dispatch rider for the U.S. Army, stumbles, horseless, onto a ranch in the middle of Arizona and the middle of an Apache/Army war. Angie Lowe and her 6-year-old son are alone on the ranch and refuse to leave with Hondo for the safety of the fort, with Mrs. Lowe insisting on waiting for her husband, who, in her heart, she knows isn’t coming back. Hondo reluctantly leaves her and Johnny alone, having to report back to the fort that Company C has been wiped out by multiple Apache tribes who have come together, throwing aside their treaties with the United States and any chance for peace.

The great Chiricahua Apache Chief Vittoro is leading the battle against the Army and is held responsible for more than 1,000 settlers’ deaths, but for reasons known only to him, has so far spared Angie and her son.

Will Hondo, who lived with the Mescalero Apaches, ride with the Army against Vittoro and his men, a decision that would almost certainly end in the death of Angie and Johnny, or will he stand aside as the Army’s final battle with Vittoro takes place?

Louis L’Amour (1908-1988) wrote more than 100 books, almost all of them Westerns or, as he called them, “frontier stories.” L’Amour’s early writing efforts included boxing stories (boxing is woven into many of his later Westerns), poetry, short stories (which, early on, he struggled to get published) and even working on the “WPA Guide Book to Oklahoma.” As his Westerns gained favor (which they have yet to lose), his struggles to sell ended, and he eventually sold more than 300 million copies of his various works.

Many critics dismiss L’Amour’s writing as simplistic, predictable and formulaic — good guy struggles against overwhelming odds to defeat bad guy(s) and, in doing so, wins the hand of the lovely young lady he’s had his eye on for most of the book. And there is truth to the critiques. Yet, there is a reason that hundreds of millions of copies have been sold.

My backyard is about an acre that slopes gently down to a pleasant little year-round creek. At the top of the hill is a little wood deck with a roof, an ashtray, a light and a ceiling fan. And, most importantly, a very comfortable hammock. More afternoons than not, you will find me out on that hammock in the afternoon, usually with a good book, a cigar and a little something to drink.

I own every one of Louis L’Amour’s Westerns. Every five to six years, I treat myself to rereading all of them, and every page of each book is read on that hammock. My family says, “Dad’s going out for a Louis and a cigar.” For those so inspired and curious about the timing, each book lasts for two, maybe three, cigars.

“The Gift of Cochise” was a L’Amour short story published in the July 5, 1952, issue of Collier’s magazine. John Wayne read it and purchased the rights, and it was turned into the movie “Hondo.” L’Amour actually took the screenplay and turned it into a book of the same name, and “Hondo,” the movie and the book, were released on the same day in 1953.

It is probably not surprising that when you combine one of the iconic Western writer Louis L’Amour’s best stories with his cinematic iconic counterpart, John Wayne, you wind up with what can only be considered an iconic Western: 1953’s “Hondo.” “Hondo” is rumored to have been Wayne’s all-time favorite Western novel, and Wayne is at his best, as the loner who doesn’t want to be alone, Hondo Lane.

“There were things a man must face and things a man must do that no woman could understand, just as the reverse was true.”

Three Horseshoes


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