Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Hondo by Louis L'Amour: A Review

Hondo by Louis L’Amour


1.      Bibliographical Information


L’Amour, L. (1953, 1997). Hondo. New York, New York. Bantam Bell, a division of Random House, Inc.


ISBN 0-553-80299-2


2.      Summary


Hondo Lane is a man of the West: stoic, quiet, who comes and goes when and where he needs to.  He has no family and no friends (though he does know people).  In fact, his only real companion is Sam, a dog who goes with him and resembles him in almost every way (for example, he doesn’t like to be petted).  Hondo, who has some Native American blood and both has lived with and knows the way of the Apache, wanders into a small ranch whose only inhabitants are Angie Lowe and her son Johnny.  Her husband has gone but she knows not where or when he will return.  Hondo does not understand how any man could leave a woman, especially one as fit to the West as Angie, with her determination to live on the land, to her own devices.  He is there only one day, but he kisses her before he goes, telling her a woman should be kissed like a woman should at least once.  Angie is full of her own conflicted emotions, seeing in Hondo someone worthy of both her love and Johnny’s admiration.  Hondo, however, has to go, for he has served as a scout to a nearby fort.  He offers Angie a chance to leave, for the Apache are on the attack, but she is rooted to the land and the hope her husband returns, so she declines.  Hondo, back at the fort, learns of a massacre by the Apache and their leader, Vittoro.  In town, Hondo forces a card shark and his associate to stop taking advantage of someone else, and they secretly follow Hondo into the desert despite the Apache.  Killing both in self-defense, Hondo discovers the main attacker was Ed Lowe, Angie’s husband (a picture of Johnny was with him).  Hondo, upset about having killed the husband of the woman he loves, is conflicted.  However, Angie has her own problems, as Vittoro has come to her ranch.  Johnny defends his mother against a ruthless Apache named Silva, and Vittoro, amused that a child could take down one of his great warriors, makes Johnny (or Small Warrior as he dubs him) his blood brother.  However, Vittoro also thinks Angie should have a man, offering one of his warriors.  Angie demurs but after Hondo is captured and brought to the ranch, she claims Hondo to be her husband.  Hondo begins to trail Johnny in the ways of the West, but the Army moves in and orders them out when they take an offensive against Vittoro.  In that battle, Vittoro is killed but Silva takes control.  As they ride out to safety at another fort, Silva attacks, and Hondo spears him like Silva killed Sam.  Angie, who knows by now the truth but knows what kind of man Hondo is, along with Johnny, ride off to the nearest fort, with the idea of going to California and Hondo’s own place.


3.      Comparison of Characteristics


Hondo has every characteristic associated with the Western.  First, the location is the American Southwest, with L’Amour’s poetic description of the desert.  These are figures who are either tied to the land or intimately aware of the importance of the land.  Hondo is the quintessential Western hero: quiet, guarded, with a code that he won’t violate.  We also have Indians who are also antagonists but not the only ones.  Vittoro is wise with his own codes, Silva being brutal and uncaring.  The story also has straightforward characters: Ed and Silva are bad, Hondo and Vittoro are good.  There are few shades of grey with them.  Angie is also heroic: she uses her inner strength and wits to keep the Apache waiting. 


4.      My Reaction


I knew of Louis L’Amour by reputation, and Hondo was my first L’Amour book.  I highly enjoyed it and thought it an excellent book.  L’Amour’s story reminds me a bit of the myth of Odysseus, with faithful Penelope waiting for the hero to return as Vittoro brings suitors to raise his blood brother.  I liked the fact that unlike traditional images of Native Americans, they were not all villains (and that Vittoro spoke perfect English).  I liked that L’Amour created extremely poetic turns of phrases.  As Ed and his partner Phalinger sleep before attempting to attack Hondo, L’Amour writes, “Under a quiet sky the planet turned, and horses ate, and men slept, and death waited for morning”.  L’Amour’s writing is sparse, simple, but extremely descriptive and poetic.  We also get brief insights into the minor characters like Phalinger, whom you feel sympathy for because L’Amour has us know he has learned too late the error of his ways.  I felt sad for him, and for Sam when Silva kills him.  L’Amour uses language beautifully and paints the characters in broad strokes but enough to understand what kind of people they are.  If Hondo has any flaws, it is that the ending seems a little abrupt, where the final battle between Silva and Hondo and the troops seems to happen almost as a way to wrap up the story.  Minus that, Hondo is a brilliant story that I got into and that flowed quickly.   When it comes to Westerns, one simply can’t go wrong with Louis L’Amour, whom I think should be the first name recommended for the genre.


5.      Comparison to Other Genres


Fans of Westerns will love Hondo, and I think the book will also appeal to those who like romances.   The story between Hondo and Angie is simple and romantic.  You understand that they should be together from almost the very beginning, and that Hondo would be the perfect father to Johnny.  Hondo could easily be a romance that women could enjoy.  Hondo has a strong hero, a strong woman, and both who yearn for love and each other. 

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