Review of The Hero of a Hundred Fights by Ned Buntline (principal author)
Overview from www.bn.com: The Wild West came alive under the pen of Edward Zane Carroll Judson, who wrote many of America’s best-loved “dime novels ”under the pseudonym Ned Buntline. From Buffalo Bill (whom Judson knew first-hand) to Wild Bill Hickok, these vivid tales feature some of the most colorful characters on the American landscape. This anthology gathers a selection of his best-loved work, including four full-length unabridged novels, each with an introduction by author and critic Clay Reynolds.
Stories include: Buffalo Bill, the King of Border Men, or The Wildest and Truest Tale I’ve Ever Told Hazel-Eye, the Girl Trapper, or A Tale of Strange Young Life The Miner Detective; or, the Ghost of the Gulch Wild Bill’s Last Trail.
This review is unusual to say the least. The book in question is actually an anthology containing four dime novels which were all said to have been written by Ned Buntline.
What is a dime novel? For those not in know, I will tell you. Dime novels were like the comic books of the 1800’s. Many of them featured characters that we now think of today whenever images of the Wild West surface. Of course the big difference was that there were not the vast quantities of drawings that you see in a comic book. You might also compare them to pulp fiction or popular fiction of today but I will not go into a dissertation on this subject in this book review. Instead, I will provide links that will explain dime novels more fully, should you be interested in learning more about them, at the end of this review.
According the introduction for this book which I skimmed through, Ned Buntline is a pen name for one of the best known dime novelist of this day—a man named Edward Zane Carroll Judson. Since I am not an expert on the subject of dime novel authors, I will take the editor’s word for it.
In any case the “novels” are extremely interesting from both a historical as well as literary point of view. I put the word “novels” in quotation marks because these books are much shorter than novels that most of us read today. The ones in this volume average out to about one hundred pages or so per book. Today we would call them novellas.
The first one is Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men; or The Wildest and Truest Tale I’ve Ever Told. The last half of the title is ironic because according to our editor, Mr. Buntline spent very little time worrying about facts in his stories and nowhere did that seem more evident to me than in this story that seems at times hard to believe.
This is the story of Buffalo Bill Cody, his early life, and the beginning of his career as a “border man” (which by the way does not refer to the US border but rather the border between states or territories). It has all the essential elements of a work of popular fiction: melodrama, action, violence, evil, and personalities that appear to be bigger than life.
The next novel was Hazel-Eye, the Girl Trapper. A Tale of Strange Young Life. This one surprised me slightly because of the semi-strong female character that we see in Hazel-Eye. She is not your typical damsel in distress the way that the females in the Buffalo Bill story are but the story disappointed me by how clichéd the mystery was. I guess all clichés started somewhere though.
The third one, and by far my favorite, was The Miner Detective. True to the title it was a detective story and some elements of this as well as that of Hazel-Eye reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes stories that were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I couldn’t help but wonder if Doyle himself drew some inspiration from these.
There was also something of the Scooby Doo element to this one though not nearly as corny or obvious. I liked the idea of the bad guy getting what’s been coming to him.
The last one was Wild Bill’s Last Trail. This one seemed to present us with a very different Wild Bill than the one we met as Buffalo Bill’s sidekick in the border men story. This Wild Bill seemed more like a villain than a hero. I didn’t like him at all and felt like he deserved what he got.
The other thing that kept me wondering about this one was that it begins with Wild Bill’s premonition that his end is near. First, I thought, if I read it correctly, that Wild Bill had already died in the first novel so how was he still alive? Second, how did Wild Bill change so much between that first novel and this one? The only thing that both Wild Bills seemed to have in common was the fear that they would be killed by a woman. I am guessing that maybe there were some in between novels that might have explained this a little for me but who knows?
On the whole I found these novels fascinating from both a historical and literary perspective. They were different from what I expected in that vulgar language that you expect from most Westerns is only alluded to and everyone seems to speak proper English for the most part. The violence is not as graphic as what I expected either. I can see why many people of this time period might have enjoyed these novels. You might too, if you don’t mind the clichés.
Contains: some violence and racial stereotypes.