What Makes a ‘Real’ Western

A post by Nicole

‘That’s not a real Western!’ scoffed my dad when he found out I was reading The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent. I thought I’d made quite a good choice; the idea of reading a Western really does nothing for me at all, so I’d picked one with a female protagonist in the hopes it would feel more like reading the female-driven historical fiction I usually enjoy. After all, what really is a Western but a very specific subgenre of historical fiction? Right?

Unfortunately for me, Lucinda – the conniving, criminal main character – was not the only protagonist of The Outcasts: the book was also told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Nate, the Texas lawman sworn to bring Lucinda’s lover to justice. I probably could have read a whole book about Lucinda; she was slightly two-dimensional as a character, but she had an interesting back-story and it would only take a bit more time for her to shine. Nate, on the other hand, was endlessly dull. No amount of sharp-shooting could make me care what happened to him. By the time I reached the final plot twist, the whole thing seemed too silly to be taken seriously.

But, as my dad keeps telling me, The Outcasts is ‘not a real Western.’ Proper Westerns, apparently, aren’t the place for character development, or plot, or female leads (?!). A real Western is escapism, more in the realm of what I’d call a penny-dreadful: easy reads with a few good thrills. Maybe I should have stuck with the library’s ever-popular large print Linford Western series.

In saying that, The Outcasts showed me reading a Western wasn’t as dire as I thought it would be. Maybe I just prefer my Westerns with a bit more kick – recommend me a Steampunk Western, perhaps?!