Western Historical Fiction
“I am Johannes Verne, and I am not afraid.”
This was the boy’s mantra as he plodded through the desert alone, left to die by his vengeful grandfather. Johannes Verne was soon to be rescued by outlaws, but no one could save him from the lasting memory of his grandfather’s eyes, full of impenetrable hatred. Raised in part by Indians, then befriended by a mysterious woman, Johannes grew up to become a rugged adventurer and an educated man. But even now, strengthened by the love of a golden-haired girl and well on his way to making a fortune in bustling early-day Los Angeles, the past may rise up to threaten his future once more. And this time only the ancient gods of the desert can save him.Goodreads Overview
Insightful, Inspiring, and Mesmerizing
Storytime: Sometimes, I judge a book without ever reading it. For The Lonesome Gods my reasoning was simple. I don’t like Westerns that much, probably because I have lived in the West for most of my life, and its history and culture don’t interest me. Because of this weird bias, I never read any of Louis L’Amour’s books. My Dad LOVES L’Amour novels, whether he reads a physical copy or listens to prerecorded audiobooks.
When my Dad got out a L’Amour CD for a seven-hour car ride six or so years ago, I plugged in my headphones and tuned out. After a good thirty minutes, I lost my phone signal and couldn’t read the book I brought, so I gave up and listened to David Strathairn narrate The Lonesome Gods. I fell in love with it.
Louis L’Amour is an author who can paint for his audience a story’s look and feel with only words. The style reminds me of old epic films like Lawrence of Arabia or Ben Hur. He does not rely on dialogue to illustrate how his characters fit into their environment. Rather, he gives a detailed description of his character’s actions and interactions with the environment and people. The effect this writing style has is staggering. For me, it felt almost as if I could see, feel, and live with the characters, especially when listening to the audiobook.
Louis L’Amour was a well-traveled historian. Any of the places he wrote about he personally went to, cataloged, and researched. Since this book took place almost primarily in California, L’Amour made sure to do his research on its settling and exploration. I learned so much about Los Angeles’s history as a trade city, immigrants from Russia, China, Spain, and Japan who came to settle there, and even the Native American tribes who lived in the mountains of Northern California.
The Lonesome Gods is Johannes Verne’s coming of age story and a tribute to his father, Zachery Verne, who spent his last days teaching Johannes how to study and learn from others. Johannes’s journey was one I couldn’t forget. It could have become a revenge story like L’Amour’s Comstock Lode or a seafaring adventure like Sackett’s Land. Instead, it evolved into a Californian Western about a young man who took his father’s teachings and developed connections with good, intelligent people. It also showed his relationship and respect for the land in which he dwells and travels.
If the narration wasn’t enough to suck me in, the characters definitely were. L’Amour knows how to write relevant and resourceful characters. They feel like people. L’Amour always goes out of his way to establish characters who possess great intelligence, moral character, and integrity. Through his novels, he emphasizes understanding and honoring one’s family history, being self-reliant, and acquiring many types of skills. All the characters in The Lonesome Gods feel needed and natural to L’Amour’s story.
Who is this book for?
It’s a shame I didn’t pick up this book sooner because I love studying and writing about history. This book will suck you in with its fascinating prose and dynamic setting, but it will do it in a subtle, quiet way. Sometimes there are gunfights or other intense scenes. However, the most powerful moments in The Lonesome Gods and L’Amour’s other books are when characters stop and ponder their journey and teach each other.
I recommend this book to lovers of American history, historical fiction, or Westerns. Honestly, though, I can picture anyone enjoying this book if they take the time to sit down and drink in its story. It is a novel for “those who prefer the solitude of a good story” (Amazon Reviewer).
‘Much of what I say may be nonsense, but a few things I have learned, and the most important is that he who ceases to learn is already a half-dead man. And do not be like an oyster who rests on the sea bottom waiting for the good things to come by. Search for them, find them.
But read. There are books here, read them, all of them. Find others. Many a man has done well with no more of an education than what he can have by reading.’Zachary Verne
Men need stories to lead them to create, to build, to conquer, even to survive, and without them the human race would have vanished long ago. Men strive for peace, but it is their enemies that give them strength, and I think if man no longer had enemies, he would have to invent them, for his strength only grows from struggle.Zachary Verne
Long ago, before the Indians who live here now, there were other people. Perhaps they went away, or maybe they died or were driven out by these Indians’ ancestors, but they are gone. yet sometimes I am not sure they are gone. I think sometimes their spirits are still around, in the land they loved.
Each people has its gods, or the spirits in which they believe. It may be their god is the same as ours, only clothed in different stories, different ideas, but a god can only be strong, Hannes, if he is worshipped, and the gods of those ancient people are lonesome gods now.
They are out there in the desert and mountains, and perhaps their strength has waned because nobody lights fires on their altars anymore. but they are there, Hannes, and sometimes I think they know me and remember me.
It is a foolish little idea of my own, but in my own way I pay them respect.
Sometimes, when crossing a pass in the mountains, one will see a pile of loose stones, even several piles. Foolish people have dug into them, thinking treasure is buried there. It is a stupid idea, to think a treasure would be marked so obviously.
It is an old custom of these people to pick up a stone and toss it on the pile. Perhaps it is a symbolical lightening of the load they carry, perhaps a small offering to the gods of the trails. I never fail to toss a stone on the pile, Hannes. In my own way, it is a small offering to those lonesome gods. A man told me they do the same thing in Tibet, and some of our ancient people may have come from there, or near there. Regardless of that, I like to think those ancient gods are out there waiting, and that they are, because of my offerings, a little less lonely.
Thank you for reading! See you tomorrow.