Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shadows From Boot Hill by L. Ron Hubbard

It’s refreshing to see such noted writers as James Reasoner and Will Murray make public statements acknowledging L. Ron Hubbard’s talent as a pulp writer. I began reading and writing the occasional review of this historic reprint series from Galaxy Press commencing in 2008. Incidentally, my reviews have nothing to do with religion but rather stem from a love of reading and an abiding interest in the pulp era.

Originally published in a 1940 issue of Wild West Weekly, Shadows From Boot Hill was Hubbard’s only western with supernatural elements. That he added a supernatural slant to the story isn’t unusual because by 1940 had had begun writing fantasy and science fiction steadily, but adding such an element to a western was a first. The genre we now refer to as “The Weird Western” had yet to be invented. Shadows From Boot Hill must certainly qualify as among the first weird westerns. The plot is straightforward but far from typical: When the murderer Brazos encounters a witch doctor he soon thereafter discovers he has two shadows. Brazos gets involved with additional mayhem in addition to extracting gold from an oxide ore. The story breaks from tradition with its lack of redeeming characters. There are no heroes in Shadows From Boot Hill but in the end, of course, justice of a type is served. Told in four brisk chapters, Shadows From Boot Hill is a typically action-packed piece of pulp fiction. I was surprised that Hubbard chose to make it a character study of an outlaw who gets what he deserves in the end. This is a tight, fun story to read. Its unique plot twists make it a special story among connoisseurs of pulp fiction. This volume also features the western stories The Gunner From Gehenna and Gunman! Both are from the golden age of pulp western fiction and feature Hubbard’s trademark action and pacing.

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