Lonesome Dove: Book vs. Film
Elissa M. McClain
My father has always loved westerns and as a child I was able to appreciate the romantic undertones amid the shoot-outs and bar fights. Until this semester I’ve never given much thought to the anguish and pain felt by the women and men living long ago in the vast land of Texas that I call home. Texas by James Michener was informative and interesting but it did not ignite my emotions like Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. This is more than a story about a cattle drive it’s an experience full of nostalgic reverence and raw emotion. The story starts out simple and slow but this is how McMurtry draws you in; there’s no busy plot just a small glimpse into the incredible connection between people surviving in the beautiful, grandiose territory of the South. I became emotionally attached from the very start and as I continued reading the layers of the story unfolded revealing a deep array of emotions intertwined into a lesson of love, regret and fear. The only thing that made the book an even better read was watching the mini-series.
A person cannot fathom the long distance travelled on any cattle drive without having travelled a long distance themselves. This past Christmas holiday I took my first road trip out of the state with my two daughters. We traveled to Alamogordo, New Mexico and it took me nine hours just to get out of Texas and only thirty minutes to get to my final destination in New Mexico. The expansive drive gave me a great appreciation for the distance travelled by the endearing men of Lonesome Dove and that was with me driving at 80mph, I cannot imagine riding a horse or walking only a few miles a day. The distance also amplifies the aching desperation felt when anyone travelled from one place to another especially in Texas. You saw it in Red River when John Wayne leaves the drive right in the beginning. You also feel it when Jubal Quimper leaves to take care of business up north. The sentimental wave of emotion felt by Gus as he looks around Lonesome Dove before leaving on the trail is another good example of this fear of never returning; the film best captured this moment. I’m sure if I was heading to New Mexico by horse and/or foot I’d be filled with the fear and apprehension of never returning as well.
When comparing the movie to the book, I’m surprised that the film was as the book’s depiction. I find that refreshing and appealing since in many instances the film adaptation of a book can become a whole new story. The Lonesome Dove series took the actual storyline, setting and characters from the book enhancing them so the audience was able to identify with the author’s vision. Of course as with any film adaptation there were a few scenes shortened and some parts were even cut out completely. In the series two characters I missed were Wilbarger the traveler most amused by Gus and Louisa the lonely farm woman who tries to keep Roscoe on as her husband but in retrospect I can understand why they were left out of the film. The ending disappointed me the most, especially the death of Gus my favorite character. At first I couldn’t quite understand his last wish of wanting to be buried in Texas when he could be buried near Clara on her land. Even more baffling was Cal’s determination to carry out his request; I was just as upset as Clara at the idea of Cal taking Gus’s corpse all the way to Texas from Montana. The gesture itself I could identify with but with regard to the danger and distance of the trip it seemed to me that Gus could not have been in his right mind when he made that request. Look at how many people were buried along the drive---Sean O’Brien, Roscoe Brown, Joe Allen, Janey, Jake Spoon and Deets. I’m sure they would have all liked to have been buried in a special place but their circumstances would not allow for that.
Watching the film gave me a different perspective and a better understanding of the...
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Horowitz, M. (1997). Larry McMurtry’s Dream Job. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved
McMurtry, L. (1985). Lonesome Dove. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Spong, J. (July 2010). True West. TexasMonthly.com. Retrieved from
Wilmes, T. (2010). 20th Anniversary: Lonesome Dove. American Cowboy. Retrieved from
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