Really Late Book Reviews: The Searchers by Glenn Frankel

The Searchers

The Searchers is partly a history of the making of the John Ford film “The Searchers”, partly a history of the Alan LeMay novel “The Searchers”, and partly a history of the Cynthia Ann Parker captivity narrative on which both of those two works of art are loosely based on.  More broadly the book is a history of myth making and specifically the myth of the settlement of the West.  As described in his author bio Frankel started out wanting to write a book about the film but soon discovered the film was sourced from the novel which was based on historical events.  What he then tries to do in the book is to tie all these pieces together to a) describe how the film came to be and provide the reader with a broader context to interpret the film, and b) to show how fact is transformed into fiction and myths are created and perpetuated.  The good news is he is mostly successful.  The first half of the book describes the history of the Parker family in Texas, the uncle who searches for Cynthia Ann after she is captured (and the basis for the John Wayne character in the film), her tragic life as a captive and her tragic life post captivity, and finally the long and prosperous life of her son Quanah Parker.  This half of the book really works and Frankel moves the story along without dwelling in the tragic fates of the individuals in the story but also not shying away from the brutality that many of them suffered.  The second half of the book focuses on the writing of the novel and then the making of the film.  Here is where the book stumbles and spends too much time on the making of the film.  Understandably this is Frankel’s reason for writing the book but unless you are a die hard fan of the film much of that section reads as a fan boy describing his favorite film.  This is unfortunate because when taken as a whole the book really describes how fact is translated into fiction and how much of the mythology of the American west and its settlement is just that, a myth.

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