Monday, April 1, 2013

1920: The Man of the Forest by Zane Grey

This is my second time reviewing a book by Pearl Zane Grey, the first being The U. P. Trail.  I’d rather not repeat myself too much in the bio section, so maybe some factoids?  Zane Grey went to college on a baseball scholarship, and played some minor league baseball.  He played one major league game in 1903, for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Three of his books were about baseball.  Grey was also heavily involved in fishing and wrote fourteen books on the subject.

So what's this book about?
Milt Dale is lives in the woods with his half-tame cougar.  A stoic hero, he overhears a plan to kidnap the nieces (and only heir) to a local ranch owner as part of a larger plot to get the rancher’s land.  Being the hero, Milt sets out to save the girls, Helen and Bo, and to stop the villains. 

As I said in my review of The U. P. Trail, the story is written with strong emotion, but very predictable.  The characters are archetypes and caricatures, the stoic hero, the greedy businessman, the heartless bandit, etc.  Looking at this story from the perspective of its part in creating the Western genre is far more interesting than the story itself.  

While this is only the second Grey novel I’ve read, this seems to be fairly representative of the rest of his works.  It’s easy to read escapism. 

Why was it so popular?
It’s easy to read escapism.   But that’s not all.  Grey’s novels have a fair mix of action and romance, which broadens his readership demographics.  Additionally, the genre was still being developed at that point.  What he was doing was setting the groundwork, which meant that much of his work may have been original and exciting to audiences of the time.  And like I’ve mentioned before, people trust authors they’re familiar with, boosting future book sales. Also, Zane Grey's books were quickly and frequently adapted to film.

Why haven't I heard about it?
There’s nothing particularly special about this book.  Over the years, as the Western genre grew, books like Man of the Forest became cliché.  I feel like I’m repeating myself, but let me reiterate that Zane Grey’s oeuvre is more notable and long lasting than any of his individual books.

Should I read it?
If you like easy to read escapism and the western genre, then sure.  Otherwise, you’ll either be bored and/or disappointed.

You can read The Man of the Forest on Project Gutenberg.

Also published in 1920:  

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Grey, Zane. The Man of the Forest. Roslyn, New York: W. J. Black. 1948. Print.
Gruber, Frank. Zane Grey: A Biography. Roslyn, New York: W. J. Black. 1969. Print.

Oh, you're still here.  Ummm... yeah, today's update was a little shorter than usual.  Sorry about that. 


  1. Growing up, my mother had an entire shelf of Zane Grey novels, and I read quite a few. But I must admit the first one I read was my favorite,and the only one I reread. (At this point I don't even remember it's title, only that there was a lady in a blue dress on the cover.) I agree with you, his books are great as a group, but not particularly memorable individually.

  2. I think you need to also consider the social evolution commentary prevalent in Grey's books. One one level, nature has great healing power and cures the ails of "modern" east coast, civilized American Man. In Man of the Forest, however, he also outlines the need for "strife" to develop beauty and perfection-- perhaps a more Darwinian approach.

    ZG's formula for the Western is much different than Louis L' Amour's or Max Brandt's.

  3. I really enjoyed this book, so much so that I'm considering reading the rest of his books.