Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Untamed (Max Brand)

The Untamed
(The Dan Barry series, Book 1)
Max Brand
Project Gutenberg
Fiction, Fantasy/Western
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: As a boy, "Whistling" Dan Barry was found wandering wild in the mountain deserts, companion to wolf and mustang. When the rancher Joe Cumberland took him in, only his daughter Kate could keep the child from leaving. While he may seem tame, though, Joe has no delusions about the now-grown Dan's nature: he still has an uncanny way about him, a yellow light in his eyes when riled, and could easily be an enemy worse than any outlaw should his innocence be corrupted with bloodshed.
Jim Silent is the region's most notorious outlaw, but with his hand deep in many a corrupt lawman's pocket, he's yet to be brought to justice. When he first meets Dan, he thinks him a simpleton... but soon Silent recognizes him as the only man who might bring him down, a man motivated not by money but by the raw power of the untamed West. The frontier isn't big enough for the two of them, and not reason nor danger nor the pleadings of Kate Cumberland can turn Dan from his destiny.

REVIEW: This is a strange tale, constructed of larger-than-life characters - most more accurately described as caricatures - in a plot that's light on logic but heavy on action, overlaid with a certain magical mystique. Just what Dan is or where he comes from is never described: he's a prototype superhero, as much god as man, an American Pan who could only ever belong in the harsh, stylized mountain deserts that birthed him. He seems to be the embodiment of every preadolescent boy's imagination, the ultimate range rider whose only true companions are his mustang and his wolf-dog - both of whom understand him more than any human, just as he seems a perpetual stranger to the ways of Mankind. The rest of the cast, as mentioned, tends to be fairly one-dimensional, drawn from the Western stock bin: the evil Jim Silent, the generic lady love Kate, the last honest lawman Tex Calder, and so forth. They act out their tale with melodramatic exaggeration, sometimes going out of their way to create complications, as the story marches toward the inevitable showdown between Jim and Dan... followed by a wrap-up that, while unexpected, was in its own way inevitable. Brand apparently wrote at least two (possibly three, according to some internet sources) more tales of Dan Barry; while they're also public domain, I don't expect I'll follow the series any further. Whistling Dan may be an intriguing creation, and parts of Brand's writing had a certain poetic beauty, but the world he inhabits is just too stylized and dated for me to enjoy.

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