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November 21, 2009

On just about any Louis L’Amour book you will find a caption that entitles L’Amour as “America’s Storyteller.”  Recently I picked up the first four novels of the Sackett stories and was reminded of the affect these books had on me 20 years ago when I first read them, and why L’Amour was such a great storyteller.

I read my first Louis L’Amour book at the age of 12 and by the time I was 16 I had read every one of his 100 plus books save the four Hopalong Cassidy novels, his poetry, and autobiography.  Before this I was not much of a reader, but ever since that four year period I have not ceased to expand my literary explorations — and library.  I believe that through his stories L’Amour taught me the love of literature and instilled within me a passion for learning.

Inside my paperback copy of Walking Drum is a biographical note that states,

On the afternoon of his death, June 10, 1988, Louis L’Amour was proofreading the complete manuscript of Education of a Wandering Man, an autobiographical book about his lifelong love of reading and learning.

Currently my 7th grade class is reading The Odyssey.  Following a number of their critical comments (perhaps complaints) concerning the value and importance of the story I shared these highlights from the first 4 Sackett novels that display L’Amour’s “love of reading and learning.”

(Note: These 4 novels are set in the 17th century prior to and during the first formalized colonization of America.  Barnabas Sackett was the first to come across the Atlantic from England to settle along the base of the Appalachian Mountains in the region of North Carolina.)

Sackett’s Land

“I think . . . I feel some lonely battle was fought here, and fought well, and men died for what they believed, perhaps surrounded in this place.  Someday men may come with more knowledge than we and they will put the parts together.  And out of it will come a story of heroes.”

“You believe in heroes?” Corvino looked at him thoughtfully.

“I cannot believe in anything else.  A man needs heroes.  He needs to believe in strength, nobility and courage.  Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death.  I believe this.  I am a soldier.  I try to fight for the right cause.  Sometimes it is hard to know.

“But I do not sit back and sneer in cowardice at those with the courage to fight.  The blood  of good men makes the earth rich, as it is here.  When I die sword in hand, I hope someone lives to sing of it.  I live my life so that when death comes I may die well.  I ask no more.”

To the Far Blue Mountains

 “My father finished his life,” I continued, “and made a better foothold for me.  And I in my time shall do the same for my sons.  Yet it is honor I wish for them, honor and pride of person, not wealth.  Nor do I wish for titles, or a place near a Queen or a King, for pride of title or family is an empty thing, like dry leaves that blow in the cold winds of autumn.”

…What books then?  They must be few, for the luggage of books is no easy thing when they must be carried in canoes, packs, and upon one’s back. 

Each book must be one worth rereading many times, each a book that has much to say, that can lend meaning to a life, help in decisions, comfort one during moments of loneliness.  One needed a chance to listen to the words of other men who had lived their lives, to share with them trials and troubles by day and by night in home or in the markets of cities. …

…”Do you turst this man?”

“Aye,” I said, after a moment of thought, “although he has the name of one gifted at conniving.  Yet we have things in common, I think.”

“What manner of things?”

“Ideas, Tom.  We have shared large ideas together, Peter and I.  There is no greater time than for young men to sit together and shape large ideas into rounded, beautiful things.  I do not know if our thoughts were great thoughts, but we believed them so.  We talked of Plato, of Cathay and Marco Polo, of Roman gods and Greek heroes, of Ulysses and Jason.”

The Warrior’s Path

“To make a country we need all kinds.  He is a thoughtful man, and such are needed.  He reads, he thinks.  Too many of us are so busied with living that we do not.”

I gestured about us.  “A man must think, but he has not enough to nudge his thinking.  From morn ’till night we are busy with finding game, hunting food, cutting fuel, shaping wood for houses.  Ours is too busy a world, and there is no time for considering.”

“I know . . . even father.  There are days when he has not the time to touch a book.  There is no market where one can go and buy what is needed.  It must be hunted, gathered, or made with the hands.”

“And at night,” I added, “a man is too tired.  I fall asleep over my books, but we must read, not only for what we read but for what it makes us think.  Shaping a country is not all done with the hands but with the mind as well.”

Jubal Sackett

“He look much at small packet.”  He shaped a rectangle with his fingers.  “Many leaves sewn at the back.  The leaves have small signs on them.  He looks at them and sometimes he smiles or speaks from them.  I ask what it is and he say this is book and it speaks to him.

“I listen, no hear it speak.”

“The signs in this book spoke to him,” I said.  “When you look at a trail in the morning, it speaks to you of who passed in the night.  It was so with him.”

“Ah?  It could be so.”  He looked at me.  “You have book?”

“At my home there were many books,” I said, “and I miss them very much.”  I tapped my head.  “Many books up here.  Like you remember old trails, I remember books.  Often I think of what the books have said to me.”

“What do books say?”

“Many things, in many ways.  You sit by the knees of your old men and hear their tales of warpath and hunt.  In our books we have made signs that tell such stories, not only of our grandfathers but of their grandfathers.

“We put upon leaves the stories of our great men, and of wars, but the best books are those that repeat the wisdom of our grandfathers.” . . .

. . . “Sakim, my old teacher, told me that some wise men in India and China believed the stars were suns like ours and that somewhere out there were other worlds.  Who knows if this is true or not?  But do you think men will be content to wonder?  Someday they will find a way to the stars and an answer to their questions.”

She looked at me with wonderment.  “You talk strangely.  Why are you not content with this?”

“It is man’s nature, Itchakomi, to wonder, and thank all the gods for it.  It is through wonder that we come to know.”


From → Education, Literature

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