I was watching (yet again) the John Wayne western El Dorado. It looks amazing on the 75-inch 4K screen. In fact so amazing that I noticed something that had escaped me before. Leigh Brackett wrote the screenplay. I’ve written about the gifted, prolific Leigh Brackett before. People know she worked on Star Wars:The Empire Strikes Back. And The Big Sleep screenplay. And wrote terrific ERB-inspired planetary romances. She’s enshrined in the Appendix N pantheon. So she had multiple-genre chops. A western, then, should come as no surprise.
It didn’t, in fact, come as a surprise, except as a pleasant one. Watching El Dorado, it is clear that Brackett has an intuitive grasp of (once and, I hope, future) American masculinity. She gets the archetypes. Her dialogue is snappy, moves the plot along, and builds nice little character portraits. It might seem strange that the same fingers typed scenes for John Wayne’s Cole Thornton as for Matt Carse in The Sword of Rhiannon. But after all, is there much difference between Cole Thornton stalking the darkened streets of El Dorado, tracking his quarry to a saloon and Carse being tracked through the Martian streets of Jekkara. The sentence “His gun hand swung loose and ready for action” could apply to either man.
So give the flick a re-watch sometime and keep the screenwriter in mind. (Also, Robert Mitchum’s performance is excellent. The whole cast is good, but keep an eye on Mitchum, even if he’s only in the background.)
I can’t claim Brackett’s skills, but if you’re in the mood for some contemporary fantasy adventure, check out the Semi-Autos and Sorcery series published by Aethon Books, beginning with Blood and Jade, moving on to Santa Anna’s Sword, then Obsidian Owl, and finally the recently released Silver and Bone. People with a sense of fun seem to like them. You might too.
With that distasteful business out of the way, on to Magnus Stoneslayer’s latest diary entry.
I have been around, dear diary. A bit of a genteel understatement there. More properly, I’ve traveled extensively, living a generally peripatetic existence. I’ve devoured the few maps I’ve had the opportunity to view. I’ve spent countless hours listening to the stories of every vagabond, caravan master, and inveterate wanderer to cross my path.
So I have a pretty good picture of the world and little strikes me as novel. And yet every time I set foot in a new land I feel a thrill of discovery, the same delighted anticipation I felt when, as a newly bearded youth, I first ventured from the untamed woods and patchy fields of my tribal homeland. It is a pleasure fundamental to my very sense of identity. If I were mired in ennui and no longer experienced that frisson of excitement upon exploring new territory there wouldn’t be much point in my remaining an itinerant savage warrior. I might as well stay put.
I have a fair notion of where I am. Rugged hills step down to a narrow, sparsely inhabited plain bordering on a vast inland sea. But that detached knowledge is no substitute for experience. I’m anxious to move on, garner that experience. For the nonce, hunger and the enervation suffered during my flight across the desert keep me pinned in place. I’m hunkered down in a cave now, roasting over a small fire a lean goat I’d trapped after a day of patient hunting. I’ll savor the strength-replenishing flesh just as I’m savoring my anticipation of the impending trek.
Tomorrow, dear diary, belly full and blood quickened, I tread new ground.