A mighty happy (um, late) birthday to Max Brand! He never thought much of his westerns between May 29, 1892 and May 12, 1944, but I can’t hold that against him for too long. If you had been named Frederick Schiller Faust, you might have wanted to be a high-falutin’ poet too.
Unlike many pulp western writers, Max Brand actually spent time out West, working as a cowhand, and he was no fop: he was also a war veteran. Brand was a prolific, swift-writing (12,000 words over a weekend) wordsmith and we’re not talking two-fisted shoot-’em-ups but moody West-as-state-of-mind epics.
The kind of epic where the man, acting in a manly fashion, is the stern gem set in the arid, harsh, windswept landscape.
Where the woman, waiting for her man in womanly fashion, infuses the sparkle of dewy lips and fresh, blushing cheeks to this self-same landscape.
Where roaring streams parted by rosy cliffs were code for men and women doing things together in manly and womanly fashion. (Okay, I can’t say for sure that’s what he was exactly writing about, but I think it’s pretty obvious.)
Where just the entrance of the good man–or the bad man, as below–was a signal for words that spun sunlight to gold that glinted off the shadows in men’s hearts.
Vespers was ringing faintly when William Benn crossed the piazza and turned down a western street. His horse slackened from a dogtrot to a walk and Benn himself blinked, for before him was a living wall of gold that seemed to be rolling from the rooftops to the dust and advancing upon him with a rush. It was the red-gold light of the sun, now about to sink. William Benn, like all men who live by their wits, was superstitious; for he who cheats his fellows is convinced, in that hidden corner of his soul where conscience has its uncomfortable abode, that there must be some power which cannot be overreached.
The Border Kid, by Max Brand, originally published in 1921
Max Brand–you can’t make up a guy like him.