Review of Riders Of The Purple Sage; Zane Grey; First published in 1912; pp 196
– Shana Susan Ninan
I was introduced to Western novels before I had my hands on Famous Five and the Hardy Boys, by way of my parents’ love for lasso-wielding, cowboys of the American West. Movies and books introduced me to the desert life and culture. But I’d never read Zane Grey’s masterpiece, somehow. So reading this work, later in life, took me back to my childhood reading days on our farm.
Jane Withersteen has come to a lot of wealth – land, horses and riches – that her rich Mormon father had left her after his death. And she’s the kind of Mormon woman who hires a hundred or more Gentiles on her property – one, as charity; two, in order to bring them to her faith and ways – and earns the ire of the elders and ministers of her church. But her generosity rubs off on those around her – the riders, workers, her employees and the women of the society, who in turn help people who come to them.
Lassiter is a known name in western Utah as well as in Cottonwood, where Jane lives. His arrival in the town doesn’t exactly bring cheer to the church elders. And in the year 1871 when there’s already unrest regarding the black farmhands on the property, hiring non-Mormons in a Mormon stronghold, and the ubiquitous question of a woman who’s running a household or one who makes her own decisions, comes this man whose infamous deeds precede him. Quick-gunned and living with a vengeance to fulfil, he is charmed by Jane’s soft manner and soothing philosophies.
The subplot of Venters’ and Bess’ story is woven well into the flow. And Venters became my hero after reading one of the best horse chases in history! Sitting on the edge of the chair and flipping pages, I could feel the horses’ mane hit my face, the swift night wind encompass me.
Held in high regard, Jane finds it a personal turmoil to choose between her love of the religion and the love she feels in her heart, deep down, for a man. Although her love of religion greys her general outlook about other things, her allegiance to the Mormon Church doesn’t wane her concern for humanity.
The ever-present Sage is the central character of the book. It is wild country; the purple sage which is vast and unconquerable truly represents the large-hearted woman who finally picks her heart over her head, when it came to living a life of choice.