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Shane and the Myth of the Gunslinger is in the movie and the novel length book

Updated on September 28, 2012
Shane book cover. Used under fair use provisions of the copyright law  as it does not limit copyriht woners rights to sell film, in fact it might help. It is of low resolution and used in providing critical commentary.
Shane book cover. Used under fair use provisions of the copyright law as it does not limit copyriht woners rights to sell film, in fact it might help. It is of low resolution and used in providing critical commentary. | Source

Back in high school when I first read the western novel Shane, I thought it was the best western I had ever read. The movie made of the book starring Alan Ladd as Shane was also very good and has become a classic. I find that there was also a TV series based on it, which I have never seen but I will at the first opportunity. Clint Eastwood’s film “Pale Rider” has a similar plot, which indicates that Shane has had a far-reaching influence on the Western genre.

Briefly the story is told through the eyes of a young boy. A man wearing black comes and stays at their frontier homestead. He identifies himself only as Shane. We learn that he is an ex-gunfighyer and wants to leave all that behind him He does not at this stage carry a gun. The Sterretts, the owners of the homestead invite him in.

Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur. public domain
Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur. public domain | Source


 Luke Fletcher wants to claim all the land now held by the Homesteaders because he has acquired a contract for as much beef as he can produce.

Eventually Shane feels obligated to don his guns again to help the homesteaders in a big shootout.

Do you think the Gunslinger myth

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Burnham sidearm.
Burnham sidearm. | Source

Reluctant gunman

There were other great movies of the time, such as “High Noon” which treated the gunman somewhat differently. Shane is not alone but it was, for me, the most stricking of the theme of a gunslinger turning his back on the use of guns and then finding the need to turn to the gun again. It was also the first one I read. But what is the meaning of it in our national mythology?

It is pretty well established that the image of Gunfighter, gunslinger, is mostly built up from the imagination of Ned Buntline and other Dime Novel writers and later by comics, Movies and television. Like with most myth there is an element of reality. The exploits of a few men like Wild Bill Hickok were drawn upon to create the image.

The scene of the gunfight is played over and over like a medieval morality play. in books movies and television. The morality play was popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was an allegorical play with characters representing different virtues. Since they did not have to constant sensorial input we have today the same plays were done over and over. The shootout is also done over and over albeit with different actors and changes in minor characters.

For a long time I thought that the shootout as portrayed was possibly a variation of the formal dual which was still practiced in the South and possibly other places even until the Civil War. I still think this might be an element since many southerners migrated west after the war. Mark Twain barely avoided a dual.

I have not been able to verify this theory but it would seem to contribute to the “code of the west” in movies. Mythical shooters are portrayed doing fancy spinning, fast draws and fantastic marksmanship. Mostly this seems more apropos to the stage than the street.

It could go back to Robin Hood putting an arrow through his opponent’s bull’s-eye arrow. A continuation of an old legend in a newer setting.   .

The shootouts are mostly myths, at least in the fashion portrayed. It is the confrontation of good vs. evil: of law vs. chaos.

According to the Tarlton Law Library article entitled “Slap Leather: Legal Culture, Wild bill Hickok, and the gunslinger Myth” this legend started after the Civil War era West with its availability of mass produced side-arms, a lingering hostility of the war made for a cultural environment where many had both the inclination and the ability to act out resentments. People of differing backgrounds, conflicting goals included ranchers, cattle drivers, cowboys, prospectors, land speculators, gamblers, merchants, and sheepherders.

Despite the legend there was a degree of law and order. As settlers came so did social institutions such as churches, schools, and businesses, all wanting law enforcement. The Dodge City Peace commission is cited as being famously effective and professional. Western juries and some judges were sympathetic to claims of self-defense.

The hero, in this case, is unable to escape a destiny of being the defender. In the case of “Shane” he seems to be there to defend the social order that is trying to get established against criminals who want to take everything over for their own benefit. What interests me about Shane and some other westerns with the theme of the gunfighter wanting to put away his guns and is brought back, almost against his will to once more come to protect the good people against the bad.  .


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I can see the cultural difference between the Japanese and Americans in your example.

      I guess I tend to think that the gunfight has some symbolic significance because otherwise it would be trite, and overused.But somehow we never get tired of it.

      In some ways the history of the Gunfight at the OK corral sort of defies the legend as I understand the city dwelling Earps and assiciates did not wear holsters.

      Our outlaws also have mythic proportions from Jesse James to Pretty Boy Floyd.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 7 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      A very well thought out write-up.

      In Australia after Shane the movie came out a lot of women named their sons after the reluctant gunslinger. Hence there are a lot of Shanes running around who are around about my age.

      In Australia it was more the outlaw that took on mythic proportions rather than the gunslinger.

      I have the pilot episode of The Samurai. In this episode the powers that be decided to give the lead character a long barreled colt, the sort used during the American Civil War. This would have placed the show well into the tail end of the 19th Century. Well, the very idea of a Samurai fighting in the name of justice with a gun did not go down well with the Japanese public and probably wouldn't have gone down too well with an American audience. The series was back dated in time and the star of the show was given Samurai swords which he was definitely more comfortable with. It seemed that trying to transplant American culture into Japan in this instance did not work. I am glad. After seeing the pilot and noting how clumsy and out of sorts the actor looked with a gun I doubt if a series would have done any good in the USA or Australia.

      The gunslinger, including the mythic elements, have become very much American. They may have their origins in the European duel but the differences are as compelling as the similarities. John Wayne summed it all up in a Western: A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

      There was a director who made two films about the shootout at the OK Corral. The first one portrayed the myth and was very successful. The second made decades later was as close to what really did happen as possible and got only a luke warm reaction from viewers. Both are good films but I personally prefer the first one. I believe My Darling Clementine was the first of these two movies.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your positive comments.My day of playing cowboys was the Lone Ranger on radio.Oddly my kids seem to have no inters in cowboys. I did like shows like Have Gun and all the others at taht time. Unfortunately I had to limit TV time because of work and school during that period.

    • TheManWithNoPants profile image

      TheManWithNoPants 7 years ago from Tucson, Az.

      Excellent Hub. I still remember my "Have Gun Will Travel" kit, complete with the hat gun and business cards reading "Have Gun will Travel - Wire Paladin, San Francisco" with a little chess piece or something in the middle. I put that gear on and shot no less than fifty or sixty bad guys a day plus a few rattle snakes for over a year. No, the real gun fight didn't usually take place from twenty paces apart in the middle of a dirt filled Main Street. I'm a big history buff on this era myself, and usually it consisted of rolling up on a dude and shooting him in the back at close range. (laughing)

      Thank's for the work in putting this together.


    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm glad you found it enjoyable. Thanks for reading it and commenting.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 7 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you dahoglund, for a wonderful story, I enjoyed reading it. Than you for sharing. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      You have provided some of the insight I was looking for. I have always been taken with the gunfighter who wants to put down his guns but circumstances bring him back to it. One of my first attempts at writing a short story was on that theme. It appeals to me but I do not know why. Thanks for your input.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      The Western Gunslinger myth is one of the iconic images of culture and cinema. Stories of the gunmen of the American West created their own mythology of heroes battling villains on the wild frontier. Some wore a badge; some wore a mask (the Lone Ranger); not all were heroic. Some weren't even very good with a gun (Butch Cassidy) but they all make up a diverse mythology of gun-wielding warriors fighting bandits, Indians, evil "town bosses' and rival gunfighters.

      Shane was a prototype of western figures like William Munny in "Unforgiven" who get draw back into the world of violence they tried to escape from. This image goes all the way back to Greek mythology. Hercules tried to give up his life of adventure and settle down with his new wife Danae, but her death (Hera drove Hercules temporarily insane and he accidentally killed her) forced him to reluctantly resume his travels and perform his 12 labors.

      The true life story of Wyatt Earp and the gunfight at the OK corral has the same theme. Earp wanted to give up gun-fighting but the situation in Tombstone forced him to become a Marshall again and he got involved in the infamous gunfight.

      "Shane" is one of the great western films, along with "High Noon", "My Darling Clementine", "the Searchers", "Stage Coach", and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance".

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting, Tom. I was kind of looking for something a bit beyond it in the idea of the gunfighter who wants to leave the violence behind and is brought back into it.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      Good hub on the western gunslinger. I think the myth does have the religious/moral signifcance of good vs evil and good triumphing over evil.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      There have been some other examples. A 1960's series called "Sugerfoot" and if memory serves right the play "destry rides again' Thanks for reading and comemnting.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Interesting topic. I'll have to think about the reluctant gunfighter idea a little bit more.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting. I've been trying to get a handle on what it is about the gunfighter myth that so captures our national imagination.

    • eovery profile image

      eovery 7 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      I loved the movie.

      Growing up in Wyoming, I was a big western fan.

      Keep on hubbing!