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Zane Grey and images of the American West

In 1995 Kevin S. Blake wrote an article about Zane Grey’s influence on popular culture. In his introduction he says:

“The western novels by Zane Grey have been a source of imagery about the American West for almost the entire twentieth century. The plots and characterizations of Grey’s popular novels set in the American West have been thoroughly examined, but it is less clear how his work acquired a fundamental role in the creation of western imagery. With the ability to influence much of the public, mass media dominate the molding of popular culture. A medium that repeatedly projects a set of simple ideas can define the amorphous perceptual lenses through which people view a landscape and fuse them into a clear, uniformly perceived place image. Movies and television now often clarify place perceptions, but literature traditionally played a key role.

Speculation about the meaning of the American West, a landscape that occupies center stage in American folklore, is more profitable with an understanding of the evolution of the ideas that are attached to the place. This article explains how Grey’s distinctive combination of spatial, temporal, landscape and social elements crystallized the enduring idea of a mythical West and qualified him as a place-defining novelist (Shortridge 1991). My mapping and analysis of Grey’s settings lead me to contend that he shaped popular attitudes about the extent of the boundaries of the West and the location of its core. Furthermore, the temporal settings of these novels proved integral to continuing popular acceptance of the western myth. I also illustrate how Grey’s evocative portrayal of the landscape and social characteristics of the region is representative of the western imagery. I discuss modern ramifications of Grey’s imagery in each section, and a review of the western myth making that preceded Grey and his unparalleled record of popularity provides the context for understanding his power of place definition.”

The entire article may be read at: Blake, K. S. (1995). Zane Grey and images of the American West. Geographical Review, 202-216.

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