My interest in the The Searchers began some years back as I was leafing through an old Hollywood book for an image to paint. One photo that captured my attention was of an old western, The Searchers, starring John Wayne. The still photo takes place at the end of the film where Wayne, as Ethan Edwards, stands apart from the rest of the cast looking out onto an open prairie and to an uncertain future now that the search (not to mention the movie) was over. I love that now iconic image and hope the painting did it justice. Of course, after the paint had dried I just had to watch the movie. I am pleased to write that the film did not disappoint. John Wayne was at his best and it was great to see Jeffrey Hunter and Natalie Wood in co-starring roles. And if you loved the movie as much as I did, I highly recommend a book about the film called The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel. In his book you will learn about the true story The Searchers was based upon (that being the 1836 abduction of 9 year old Cynthia Ann Parker by Comanche warriors on the edge of the Texas frontier), the myths that sprang from the true story, and the subsequent novel The Searchers by Alan LeMay that the film was based upon. After reading Frankel’s book, I checked out LeMay’s novel from the library. I expected a dime store western (boy is that a dated reference), but what I got was an astonishing novel that is not only about the search for a kidnapped girl, but also a novel about revenge and racism and the possibility of redemption in a hard land with changing times ahead. It’s no wonder that the book was made into a film so soon after its publication. As a western, I would have to rank it right up there with True Grit by Charles Portis (its movie also starring John Wayne!) and any of Cormac McCarthy’s classic novels such as Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men, and Shane by Jack Schaefer. I confess I’ve only read the beginning of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, which I know is a favorite of many. I hope to pick that one up again soon. So now am I finally done with The Searchers? With such a fascinating history of Native Americans and the prairie settlers alike, and with the excellence of artistic representation, I just don’t know if I ever can be.
Mar 17, 2020 [e
Being an ardent fan of the film "The Searchers", I was immediately drawn to this book when I came across it, and eagerly looked forward to learning more about the film and how it was made.
As I started reading, however, I realized I had overlooked the meaning of the subtitle, "The Making of an American Legend", and found that the book was about far, far more than the making of the iconic film. It goes back to the original story (as much as is possible given the different levels of credibility of the primary sources) that later became a legend, which inspired the writing of a Western novel, which in turn inspired the (in)famous movie director, John Ford, to turn the novel into a film.
The story covers the history of the Parker family, who helped to settle Texas in the early 1800s, and the conflict that engulfed the land between settlers like the Parkers and the Native Americans, most famously the Comanche. It then goes into the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was captured by the Comanche around the age of nine, brought up by them, married one of their warriors and had a family, going on to explore her "rescue" by U.S. Cavalry and Texas Rangers, and her unwilling return to her white family. It also explores the racial and cultural attitudes of the day, and how among whites, a woman who was captured by Indians and brought into their tribe suffered a Fate Worse Than Death. The book then continues to cover the story of Cynthia Ann's son, Quanah Parker, and his life as a Comanche warrior, chief, and man who walked in both the worlds of the Comanche and whites, struggling to work with both sides and keep both sides as content as possible, while also knowing that he never truly fit in either one owing to his mixed heritage. Following that, we learn the story of Alan LeMay and how he came to write his novel which was inspired by the stories of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker, and then into the making of the well-known film.
I loved every page of this book. Before going in, I knew vaguely that the film and the novel it was based on had been inspired by a true story, but nothing in any real detail. Learning about Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker was a fascinating experience, as well as learning about the attitudes the colored so much of the events and how everything was seen in that time. The conflict between the white settlers and the Native Americans was a brutal one, and it encompassed so much.
Definitely worth your time if you enjoyed the film and want to learn more about where the story originated. Very well-researched, and written in an engaging style that will keep you interested from beginning to end.
Quite a well researched telling of the background for the book. I saw the movie when I was a young John Wayne fan. It was a different world back then. This movie showed that a man could hate, yet still love family. Family was more important then than it seems to be today. I think it is the greatest western ever made, and I am a fan of westerns. I enjoyed this book.
Exhaustive is right. This book plods along, but there is an occasional bright spot. Far too historical (and I'm a fan of history if it's well-written!). It took me about 2 months, constant renewals and even a re-check-out to finish it. I usually read before going to bed and after 10 pages a night I was out like a light. The first half is especially plodding (the story of the Parkers, Cynthia Ann & Quanah).
This is two books in a sense. The first part is an exhaustive, detailed history of Cynthia Ann Parker's 1836 abduction by the Comanche and rescue in 1860, followed by the story of her son who became a prominent Comanche chief. It was hard to follow and I resorted to skimming. The second part is an equally detailed recounting of the making of the movie and of the main parties involved. I found it a lot of fun, sadly marred by many silly errors. For example, Monument Valley is placed near the boundary between Southeast Utah and Northwest Arizona. Of course, that should be Northeast Arizona. Later, he calls "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence" the last John Ford-John Wayne film. What happened to "Donovan's Reef"? Considering these and other errors I noticed, I end by questioning nearly everything. So my three star rating is an average for the entire book.
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