Friday, December 6, 2013

Hero or villain?

Several book reviews have criticized Steve Dancy as barely better than the bad guys.


I believe vile villains make a story work, so I've invented some highly reprehensible characters. There has to be some tough-as-nails criminal around for Dancy to dispatch or he couldn't be a hero. Now, I also prefer flawed heroes, so Dancy is certainly not perfect. Besides being a tenderfoot, he can be a dunderhead when it comes to romance. He is especially ill equipped for the lawless frontier until he has survived a few nasty episodes.

So, what gives? I can think of only two reasons why people would think ill of Mr. Dancy. First, he is rich and prefers to buy his way out of trouble. It’s unusual for a western hero to be wealthy. Most fictional frontier gunmen own a saddle and a horse, and part of the mythology is that their lack of possessions makes them free. But surely readers don’t hold Dancy’s wealth against him. After all, television's Paladin lived pretty high on the hog, and he earned his piles of cash by less than reputable means. Dancy, on the other hand, came by his wealth honestlyhe inherited it.

Steve Dancy
Gunsmoke TV series Opening Sequence

So if it's not the money, it must be something else. I suppose it could be that Dancy has never had a one-on-one stand-up duel in the middle of the street. When faced with a gunfight, Dancy always searches for an edge. He wants the other fella off balance, unaware that he is about to be shot. Now, that’s closer to how it actually was in the Old West. I remember reading about a study that concluded that most gunfights during that era occurred inside of three feet and most often in a saloon. The epic one-on-one gunfight did occur, but it was not the norm. (The stand-up duel may have faded from popularity after our United States Vice President killed a former cabinet member on the shores of New Jersey.)

Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were two famous Westerners that lived long enough to die of old age. Both were cautious when it came to gun trouble. Earp liked to sneak in the back door of a saloon and coldcock a troublemaker from behind. The practice even got him fired once from the Dodge City force for “police brutality.” Masterson counseled that if you got in a gunfight, you should shoot your opponent center chest … and more than once. 

Steve Dancy has numerous gunfights in every book. It’s the nature of the genre. I like him and most of my readers like him as well, so I can’t let him get shot dead. After all, I need him for the next book.

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