Westerns take me to ghost towns, dry unforgiving deserts, cowboys and, of course, those straw rolls blowing through the middle of the empty cinema canvas. Cinema! I only encountered westerns on movies. From “The Great Train Robbery” to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, my imaginary turns to fishy taverns and their dubious customers, just lolling around waiting for the best gunslinger in town to give a show – and maybe die in the process so that one of them can take his place.
But this world of outlaws and dusty misfits has been in the literary realm long before it reached the silver screen. Beginning with James Fenimore Cooper’s series of novels, it spread with the dime novels, based sometimes on real life characters, of the likes of Buffalo Bill or Billy the Kid. The Pulp Magazines and later the comics also helped immortalize the genre.
However, while the first stories have the cowboy, the sheriff, the indian, nowadays the genre has mutated. Mixed up with different genres, you get the most interesting set ups and characters.
Fantasy brings sorcerers and dragons into the outskirts of the cities.
Horror carries curses, zombies and unknown perils.
Steampunk takes the industrial clogged world to these deserts. Intricate machinery thrives, characters with mechanical limbs abound and guns are more powerful and unpredictable than any real western pal put his hands on.
Sci-fi adds some futuristic touches: cyborgs, spaceships, aliens and time-travel – which on its own conveys a ‘Verse full of opportunities to explore.
And yes, westerns are still on tv series and movies (even games), but in literature it has gained another chance of imposing itself as a sub-genre and get noticed by more avid readers. You can argue that it isn’t really “western literature” anymore, because it has an assortment of elements that its early writers would never approve.
Or would they?
Let’s not get too caught up on the labels, shall we? Let’s face these mixes as we would with…”fusion cusine”. Yes: embrace genre-bending or “fusion literature”, and just enjoy the new flavors authors keep on creating