Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Zane Grey

With Pictures!

So last time I said that I would be reading Zane Grey's Code of the West and I am currently halfway through the book. So far I'm really enjoying reading the book, though the going has been slow because of the prose and my personal commitments. Not that I don't like the prose but after a few pages filled with how glorious the Arizona landscape is, you get a little tired. There are some problems I'm having with the book - mainly the slight patriarchal line running through it but I can accept that as a product of its time. (1923) It is nowhere near the level of the Decameron. That being said, I decided I wanted to do a little research on Zane Grey since I'm halfway through this novel.

Pearl Zane Gray was born in 1892 in Zanesville, Ohio. That is how every single biography starts about him online. Apparently Zanesville is named after his mother's family, who settled it. The family's name was changed to Grey sometime after Zane was born. It did not take him long to drop the Pearl from his name. I would like to argue that his books about the west, very geared towards rugged masculinity, might have something to do with him being named Pearl. But that might be a more modern interpretation of it. Perhaps the name Pearl was considered a masculine name in the 1890s.

Zane Grey lived a very interesting life, full of the excitement of fishing, writing, baseball, and dentistry. To appease his dentist father, Zane Grey got into the University of Pennsylvania's Dentistry Department on a baseball scholarship. He graduated and went on to play semi-professional baseball with an occasional dabbling in dentistry. He married Lina Elise Roth, who he decidedly renamed Dolly. (Personally I know that I should be like "Oh! How sweet. He had a pet name for his wife," but since everything from then on refers to her as Dolly I am slightly insulted. She had a name for crying out loud.)
Zane and Dolly on the Delaware. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
His wife made him famous, mostly because she pushed him to write and (before they were married) paid him to publish his first novel. His third novel, his first western, became the novel that launched him into stardom. I have no idea how many books he wrote but when he died he left behind 20 manuscripts which were all published. There is no doubt that Zane Grey was a prolific author. He also dabbled in film, owning a company that produced films of his novels but it was eventually sold to what would become Paramount Films.
Zane Grey at the Filming of Riders of the Purple Sage.
Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Fun to note, Zane Grey was so popular that there was a museum made out of a house that he owned in Lackawaxen Pennsylvania. It is currently owned by the National Park Service as part of the Upper Delaware Park. I found a picture at the National Park website and now I kind of want to go check it out. 
Zane Grey Museum. Courtesy of the National Park Service.
Grey was definitely an interesting man and today has a huge following. Mostly by people who can't accept change and who think that the Simple West (which never existed, historically) is an ideal that we should try to live by today. There is a website, I looked through it, I'm not sharing its address because it annoyed me. But boy did they try to push living by a western code.

It is interesting to note that the response by these people to our modern times almost exactly mirrors the response of Grey's ranch hand characters in Code of the West to the freedom of the 1920s. The things that stay the same. That being said, with feminism on the rise - much like it was in the 1920s, and the insistence for increasing regulation - much like in the 1930s - its not surprising to see people today turning to books like Zane Grey's to grasp a concept of simplicity and rightness. After all, in the west you follow your own law, guns are necessary, and women mind the home in the homestead. (The last is actually something the lead character said to the lead heroine.) 

The correlations between this book's setting and my own is slightly unsettling. I wonder if my great grandfather did read this. Was it simply an interest in westerns? Or was it simply boyhood reading, since his version was a second reprint in 1934. I wonder what he thought about the book?