Western Writers Profile: Jack Schaefer

5aa1a7a57466b.imageName: Jack Schaefer (1907-1991)

Notable Works: Shane, The Canyon, Monte Walsh, “Stubby Pringle’s Christmas”


Shane (1949)
First Blood (1953)
The Big Range (1953) (short stories)
The Canyon (1953)
The Pioneers (1954) (short stories)
Out West: An Anthology of Stories (1955) (Editor)
Company of Cowards (1957)
The Kean Land and Other Stories (1959)
Old Ramon (1960)
Tales from the West (1961)
Incident on the Trail (1962)
The Plainsmen (1963) (children’s book)
Monte Walsh (1963)
The Great Endurance Horse Race: 600 Miles on a Single Mount, 1908, from Evanston, Wyoming, to Denver (1963)
Stubby Pringle’s Christmas (1964) (children’s book)
Heroes without Glory: Some Goodmen of the Old West (1965)
Collected Stories (1966)
Mavericks (1967) (children’s book)
An American Bestiary (1973)
Conversations with a Pocket Gopher and Other Outspoken Neighbors (1978)


WWA Survey (2000)

One of the 24 best western writers of all-time

One of the 21 best western novels of all-time

Shane one of the best western films

In the author’s own words:

-“Primarily as a means of relaxation I started writing fiction late at night. I began writing a short story about the basic legend of the West. It kept growing and wound up being a novella. I didn’t know what to do with it.”

-“My first book, Shane, was written in Norfolk, Virginia. I had never been west of Toledo, Ohio, at that time. Those were Depression years. I worked the equivalent of two full-time jobs. I taught nights in a prison; mornings and afternoons I worked for a newspaper and edited a small weekly magazine. Sixteen hours a day! Anyway, when I was through working I read books on American history to relax….I was not reading Western stories then. I read history I only read a few of the better Westerns. In fact, if I had known of the tremendous amount of bad Western writings that was flooding the market I wouldn’t have written anything.”

-Schaefer started writing fiction “to prove that there is no reason why an attempt cannot be made to create literature about the west as about the east or the south or any place anywhere.”

-“I like to write about the wide open spaces when they were still open and their wideness could enter into the people, some of the people, who left life’s footprints on them.”

-“[I] try to write well, be literate and direct and concise, express firm conviction based on thorough research and honest reasoning and supported by sound arguments…”

-“I’m an aging old-fashioned person (pre-T.S. Eliot and the New and then the Newer Criticism not so much by actual years as by deliberate choice) who thinks and writes in the direct old-fashioned manner and who likes to believe that he is bumbling along in the ancient tradition of tale-tellers and has profound contempt for most modern writing, particularly the symbol-laden psychological-probing crawl-inside-your-characters’-minds pretentious nonsense that is so popular with critics these days.”

“[I] tried to make [Shane] classical in form–stripped to the absolute essentials, starting and moving in a straight line to an inevitable conclusion. Other layers of meaning crept in, but did not interfere with the straight-line story.”

-“With The Canyon…I made my decision to keep right on with the furrow I had started to plow–to keep on with my somewhat lonesome attempt to prove that there is no reason why the attempt at least cannot be made to create literature out of western material, to write only what I wanted to write and to please myself alone an not to fall into the trap of repeating myself, of doing the same kind of thing over and over just because a first one had been successful.”

-“…the Amerindians in general (with some exceptions) were truly civilized and…we whites, better or ahead or whatever you want to call it only in our deadly emphasis on technology, were the invading barbarians.”

-“They tell of lives broken and they tell too of lives made whole by resolute acts of will, whether in the long living or the brief dying. They are primarily stories of character, attempts to depict the raw material of human individuality through action and plot. Each was based, in germinal beginning, on an actual incident of recorded fact. The background details were derived from my own study of diaries and journals of the Western frontier. The cast is various: rancher, sheepherder, homesteader, town settler, soldier, miner, cowboy. Yet the essential purpose is the same throughout: to establish a distinct and individual major character and pit him against a specific human problem and show how he rose to meet it. All of them, the characters and the stories that evolve from them, are conditioned by the wide-open spaces of old West, in which the energies and capabilities of men and women, for good or evil, were unleashed on an individual basis as they had rarely been before or elsewhere in human history.”

-“Nuwer: How do you create your characters?

Schaefer: Well, I guess they must become real people to me or I can’t write about them. I always begin with some little idea. A character begins to be tied in with an event and when a character begins talking to me, the book starts to go.

I have to know what the ending is going to be when I start. I must know where I’m going and in what direction I am going before I even start.”

-“I started going to a lot of those literary affairs. Inevitably someone would come up to me and ask me what it was that I did for a living. Then I would begin to stare intently at my questioner, and with a glazed look in my eye I would shout out, “I write Westerns!” Then, in self defense, I would ask the listener a question of my own. I would ask. “Can you give me one good reason why a writer cannon ‘write’ good literature about the west the same as he could about the east or anywhere else?” And do you know, no one has yet been able to answer me.”

What the critics said:

-“Schaefer’s fiction reflects historical fact rather than tired Western cliches.”

-“Schaefer’s writing illustrates the fact that a keen mind, solid research, and craftsmanship can go a long way in the creation of art.”

-“One salient characteristic of Schaefer’s prose is its clarity. Because the central account in almost all of works is crisp and seemingly simple, it appeals to widely different audiences.”

-“Shane is at at easy reading level for high school freshmen. But Shane is also a book rich in such literary devices as complex point of view, counterpoint, and understatement, besides its mythical and historical roots. Virtually all of Schaefer’s work has the same clarity of expression, which is united with complexity of vision.”

-“In harking back to the tale-telling tradition, he places primary importance squarely where it belongs–upon the teller listener-subject triad, and upon the responsibility of the artist, who must fi d important material and then present it as honestly and as powerfully as possible. Schaefer found his own special material on America’s Western frontier.”

-“One of Schaefer’s most important accomplishments in Shane is that the background seems to be a real frontier and the people real people….Moreover, the characters are keenly aware of the significance of the land, which is the setting of their dramas. The environment itself is a dynamic force to which the characters must respond and within the framework of which they must interact. Indeed it sometimes appears that the interaction occurs as much between character and environment as between character and character.  In Shane, that frontier serves largely as backdrop for a classic confrontation. Yet the credibility of Schaefer’s treatment of the frontier as backdrop helps to raise the story above other novels of its kind.”

-“Again and again in his fiction, the author places characters in difficult situations and shows how they have to grow and develop during the process of meeting their problems.”

-“The Canyon is a superb parable of the quest for individualism in a dynamic society.”

-“He chooses as subjects the kinds of Western people whom other writers have largely ignored.”

-“There have been few better writers of short stories on the West than Jack Schaefer.”

-“Ultimately, Jack Schaefer’s roots are in the tale-telling tradition that demands entertainment along with depth, and in the tradition that abjures pontificating. There has been a tendency to see Schaefer as a latter-day Mary Hallock Foote or Owen Wister or Helen Hunt Jackson, since they are all Easteners who have found satisfying literary material in the West. But Schaefer seems to be a writer who found the West in himself, and then himself in the West. In many of his short stories, and novels like Shane, The Canyon, and Monte Walsh, he has explored Western experiences with the skill and depth of one who is a part of his own subject matter. Moreover, he has managed to capture both a popular and a critical audience.”

-“Jack Schaefer has found his material and has presented it honestly, illuminating the recesses of an otherwise dimly seen time and place. In doing so, he has raised himself above the horde of Western authors who have been satisfied with far less than this.”

-“Jack Schaefer’s Shane is considered one of the four or five best traditional westerns ever written.”

-“Shane embodies a romantic view of weaponry and, by extension, of technology, based as it is on the belief that familiarity leads to wisdom, that man’s wisdom can transcend his capacity for technological ingenuity. While Shane has probably been more appealing to readers than ll the rest of Schaefer’s fiction put together, the direction of his later fiction seems to suggest that Schaefer himself was more interested in the parameters of wisdom than of confrontation, and that he came to view the advance of civilization as an encroachment on human potentiality.”

-“For Schaefer the encroachment of civilization is a burden shared by all creatures, since all share the fate of their ecology…Schaefer has expressed a growing concern with the conflict between values endemic to holistic being-in-the-world and the careless limitations of technological exploitation.”

-“No matter how isolated a Schaefer protagonist may be, he must sooner or later face up to his responsibility to the society of which he is a part. Society, for him, is not necessarily a pernicious force; rather, it is a necessary, even inevitable component of life, and must be taken in one’s stride….At the heart of this synthesis is Schaefer’s belief that society and individual are interdependent. Neither, ultimately, can exist without the other.”

-“Because humanity advances itself at the expense of the land, Schaefer suggests, it creates for itself a corresponding obligation to the flora and fauna of the region; as the individual and the society are related, so are the society and the environment…And it forms the essential core of An American Bestiary and Conversations with a Pocket Gopher, as Schaefer relates, part straightforwardly, part fancifully, the close ties between humanity and nature, and the ways in which the race has come to abuse those ties.”

-“Again and again in his works, someone, usually a young person, comes to a new understanding of life and responsibilities; from this understanding comes maturity, for maturity, to Schaefer, consists of the ability to see and do what is right–right not so much in the eyes of the individual or the society, but right in a greater, broader sense.”

-“The virtuosity of Schaefer’s writings become apparent when one examines them in their order of appearance. Employing a variety of narrative forms, points of view, and stylistic patterns, he produces a body of work solidly grounded in the storytelling tradition, yet going beyond stereotypes and formulas to make a series of revealing points about the human condition. Whatever the plot he unfolds or the characters with which he enacts it, Schaefer remains the concerned, contemplative observer of the human race. He is aware of the foibles and the graces of humankind , and uses his skill to transmit his perceptions to his readers.”

-“Schaefer brings to his writing a clear-cut sense of professionalism, a deeply felt commitment to the storyteller’s craft, and a keen ear for the spoken word. He adds to these qualities a growing sense of concern for the life and environment of the American West, and a sympathetic knowledge of the persons who inhabit the region. His thirty-year career as western author has given rise to a score of books varied in nature, consistent in theme, and unfailingly revealing of ideas and concerns central to the growth of the West.”

-“In developing his tales of the West, Schaefer repeatedly employs a cluster of related themes. Most are present in most of his books, though normally one stands out in a given story; all are perceptible in his early writings; and all undergo expansion and evolution as his art and thought mature. Underlying all of the themes is his essential romanticism. He is a romantic in the optimistic Emersonian mold, concerned with exploring the varieties of individualism and principled action as they flourish in the West. He is, by and large, confident of the ability of the human individual to overcome obstacles personal, social, or natural. If that confidence wavers somewhat in his last books, it is nonetheless at the heart of his more general view of human life and ambition.”

-“…in acting for good or evil [Schaefer’s] characters are not demonstrating the good or evil inherent in individualism itself, but the good or evil within themselves and, by extension, in the portion of the American milieu  which produced them and which they have carried them into the West. The parts they play reveal the basic kinds of human action possible in an isolated environment, not necessarily the relation of that action or its environment to Western history.”

-“…Jack Schaefer is writing largely within the tradition of the familiar Western, his emphasis upon such qualities as territorial integrity, popular cohesion, independence, and self-identity makes plain his concern with more than just the American cowboy. He is concerned about his characters, to be sure, but he is also concerned about the changing times in which these characters live.”

Misc (if needed)


downloadTROOPER HOOK, Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, 1957MV5BYTJiYTQ3NjMtYWViZS00MjFlLTlkMWMtNDRkYjFiNDBiZWZiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDI2NDg0NQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,810,1000_AL_sanstitre60mw7361748-stubby-pringle-s-christmas-0-230-0-345-crop510057MV5BMDY5OTI0OWEtNDc3Yy00NzZhLWJkODktODkzZWU4ZjIzNjczXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjI4MjA5MzA@._V1_shane-alan-ladd-jean-arthur-van-everett


A Literary History of the American West
Updating the Literary West
The Wister Trace
Twentieth Century Western Writers
Read the High Country: A Guide to Western Books and Films
Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction
The Western: Parables of the American Dream
Shane: Critical Edition
Shane (2017)
Monte Walsh (2017)
The Short Novels of Jack Schaefer
The Collected Stories of Jack Schaefer
Conversations with a Pocket Gopher
American Bestiary

Author: Brian Lindenmuth

Former non-fiction of Spinetingler Magazine and fiction editor at Snubnose Press. Long time reviewer.

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