Prof Rounds Up Wild West Tales by Colorful Writer
Dr. Clay Reynolds, director of the Creative Writing program at UT Dallas, has compiled a collection of novelettes from the 19th-century novelist Edward Zane Carroll Judson – better known by his pen name Ned Buntline.
Reynolds’ compilation, The Hero of a Hundred Fights: Collected Stories from the Dime Novel King, from Buffalo Bill to Wild Bill Hickok, documents Buntline’s body of work as the so-called “King of the Dime Novel.”
In the new book, Reynolds gives an in-depth introduction to Buntline’s controversial life and work.
Reynolds portrays Buntline as being as colorful as some of his characters, describing him as a “bigamist, a slanderer and blackmailer and notorious scoundrel, an inciter of riots and a fugitive from justice, and very possibly a murderer, an ex-convict, deadbeat, philanderer and one of the world’s greatest liars.”
He also, Reynolds notes, was “a nationally known author of arguably more publications than any living writer” of his time.
Reynolds also writes about the emergence of the dime novel and the Western. He explains the archetypical characters that made Buntline successful – the damsel in distress, the villain and the hero that would intervene. Reynolds also gives insight as to how Buntline made the Buffalo Bill character famous.
“It’s maybe some of the most important work I’ve done in terms of scholarship,” Reynolds said. “Only recently have literary historians and philologists begun to acknowledge the vital importance these story weeklies and dime novels, shilling shockers, nickel libraries and other inexpensively produced fictions had in the formation of the modern American novel and film.”
There are four stories in the collection, and each is supplemented by a literary analysis from Reynolds:
- Buffalo Bill: The King of Border Men; or, The Wildest and Truest Tale I’ve Ever Told, which ensured Buntline’s fame and made his real- life hero, William F. Cody – better known as Buffalo Bill – a household name. It also introduced Wild Bill Hickok as a character in his books.
- Hazel-Eye, the Girl Trapper. A Tale of Strange Young Life, which introduces Ned Buntline’s fictional alter-ego, a fanciful mountain man named Cale Durg.
- The Miner Detective, or, The Ghost of the Gulch, set in the gold fields of Northern California – a story that fuses mystery and Western genres.
- Wild Bill’s Last Trail, where Hickok is filled with regret and guilt for his past actions and haunted by a premonition of his death.
Assembling the book wasn’t as easy as Reynolds had imagined. It was difficult to find usable copies of primary and secondary materials in the library collections he scoured.
“The condition of the original publications and many of the reprints that do exist range from brittle to fragile to nearly deteriorated,” Reynolds writes. “In some cases, the original is in such bad shape that merely handling it at all causes it to disintegrate. This means that some of the material cannot even be digitally scanned, let alone photocopied, as the original paper on which it was printed was of the cheapest variety, acidic, and subject to rapid decomposition.”
Despite the difficulties, Reynolds believes the long process of research and writing was worth the effort. The archetypes and themes developed by Buntline, Reynolds added, have shaped American popular culture.
Reynolds is author of more than 900 published works, including 13 books and three edited editions. He has been named runner-up three times in the Western Writers of America Spur Award for the novel and short fiction, and finalist for prizes from PEN Texas and several national writing organizations. He was also a finalist in the Western Heritage Award for 2001. Reynolds is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters, has received grants from the Texas Commission for the Arts, and is also a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.