Western Sub-Genres that aren’t really western, but are

27 Sep

When we think of a western, it’s often the John Wayne type figure in a shoot ’em up, cowboys vs Indians style settling.  Somewhere in the American west as the frontier opens up and the people begin settling in the western reaches of America.  That’s not always the case with a western, because westerns have certain beats that they play off of.

Author and screenwriter Frank Gruber listed seven basic plots for westerns.

  1. The Union Pacific story. The plot concerns construction of a railroad, a telegraph line, or some other type of modern technology or transportation. Wagon train stories probably fall into this category.
  2. The ranch story. The plot concerns threats to the ranch from rustlers or large landowners attempting to force out the proper owners.
  3. The empire story. The plot might involve building up a ranch empire or an oil empire from scratch, a classic rags-to-riches plot.
  4. The revenge story. The plot often involves an elaborate chase and pursuit, but it may also include elements of the classic mystery story.
  5. The cavalry and Indian story. The plot revolves around taming the wilderness for white settlers.
  6. The outlaw story. The outlaw gangs dominate the action.
  7. The marshal story. The lawman and his challenges drive the plot.

The western subgenre has several sub-subgenres, including the western comedy, spaghetti western, meat-pie western (Australian settling), epic western and musical western.

From the wiki article:


Eastern-European-produced Westerns were popular in CommunistEastern European countries, and were a particular favorite of Joseph Stalin.[citation needed] “Red Western” or “Ostern” films usually portrayed the American Indians sympathetically, as oppressed people fighting for their rights, in contrast to American Westerns of the time, which frequently portrayed the Indians as villains. They frequently featured Gypsies or Turkic people in the role of the Indians,[citation needed] due to the shortage of authentic Indians in Eastern Europe. Gojko Mitić portrayed righteous, kind hearted and charming Indian chiefs (e.g. in Die Söhne der großen Bärin directed by Josef Mach). He became honorary chief of the tribe of Sioux when he visited the United States of America in the 1990s and the television crew accompanying him showed the tribe one of his films. American actor and singer Dean Reed, an expatriate who lived in East Germany, also starred in several films.

Revisionist Western

After the early 1960s, many American film-makers began to question and change many traditional elements of Westerns. One major change was in the increasingly positive representation of Native Americans who had been treated as “savages” in earlier films (Little Big Man, Dances with Wolves). Audiences were encouraged to question the simple hero-versus-villain dualism and the morality of using violence to test one’s character or to prove oneself right. Some recent Westerns give women more powerful roles. One of the earlier films that encompasses all these features was the 1956 adventure film The Last Wagon in which Richard Widmark played a white man raised by Comanches and persecuted by whites, with Felicia Farr and Susan Kohner playing young women forced into leadership roles. Westward the Women (1951) starring Robert Taylor is another example.

Science fiction Western

This subgenre places science fiction elements within a traditional terran Western setting. Examples include Wild Wild West, Westworld, its sequel Futureworld, Cowboys & Aliens, “Back to the Future Part III“, and the hybrid film Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Damnation is a video game example of the science fiction Western.

Space Western

Unlike the science fiction Western, the space Western transposes traditional genre themes onto a space frontier backdrop, updating them with futuristic technologies. Examples include Bravestarr, Outland, and Firefly (as well as the film Serenity based on Firefly).

Horror Western

A developing sub-genre,[citation needed] with roots in films such as Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), which depicts the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid fighting against the notorious vampire. The Ghoul Goes West was an unproduced Ed Wood film to star Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the Old West. Recent examples include the 1999 film Ravenous, which deals with cannibalism at a remote US army outpost, and the 2008 film The Burrowers, about a band of trackers who are stalked by the titular creatures. The Red Dead Redemption downloadable content “Undead Nightmare” is an example of a horror western video game.

Weird Western

This subgenre blends elements of a classic Western with other elements. The Wild Wild West and its later film adaptation blends the Western with steampunk and Jonah Hex blends the Western with superhero elements. This subgenre can encompass others, such as the Horror Western and the science fiction Western, e.g. Firefly (see above).

The Western isn’t really it’s own genre, as it borrows a lot from other genres.  It can be equated to Low Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, some of the plays of Shakespear, and many of the Greek tragedies.  It’s no surprise that there is other subgenres of the Western, considering how easy it is to insert something in with six gun fiction.  Epic fantasy, for example, could easily be placed in a Western setting, even adding in the aspect of magic or dragons if one so wishes.  As cited above, sci fi, space, weird west, and horror western have all inched their way into the Western.  Firefly, for example, took place in space as the ship Serenity hopped from planet to planet but never lost that concept or feel of a western.  The Wild Wild West television series and subsequent movie with Will Smith is also another good example, as the setting is in the United States, just after the Civil War, yet the technology is something that one wouldn’t expect to see (steampunk).

This is the type of thing I’m attempting to do with Elves of the Old West.  But step it up a notch.

Taking the concepts of vampires, zombies, a lich, and adding in a few other fantasy type characters along with the ability to use magic.  The characters themselves will become archetypes of fantasy, even the ones who are stereotypically western.

Some examples:

  • Johnathon Caleb Walker is the archetypical gunfight, but favours a double barrel shotgun.  He lost his leg in the Battle of Chickamauga during the Civil War (fought for the South).  When faced with elves and magic, he takes it in stride, albeit reluctantly.
  • Reverend Carter Stewart is an older man, who tries to use kindness, calm and his words over the Colt .45 that rests on his hip.  He is compared, by Shani Wennemein, to a paladin, a holy knight.
  • Clayton “Slowhand” Johnson was a former slave who won his freedom when his former master closed down his plantation.  Having an afinity with hunting, he built a small house for himself in the back country north of Carroltown, Arkansas.  It is he who eventually helps Shani and teaches her some of this world and helps her acclimate to it.
  • Mistress Aurela Dorchester is the owner of a brothel in Chicago, Illinois.  This is merely a cover for it’s true purpose, which happens to be a safe house for the Underground Railroad.  She is a former Southern Belle who vocally disagreed with the use of blacks as slaves.  Her beliefs caused her family to cast her out, which was just fine by her.

Even the main characters, while based in fantasy as they are all elves, do have western archetypes of some sort or another.  But there’s several changes that I wanted to make, something that actually reflects the world we live in.

  • Shani Wennemein is mixed race Turtle Island elf (Turtle Island being the name First Nations People called North America).  He father was Gaul while her mother is Mohawk.  Shani is very much a rogue as she has an affinity with locks and traps, can hide in the shadows without difficulty, even to the point of disappearing right in front of someone’s eyes.  She also claims to be the world’s fastest gunslinger, a boast she proves again and again.  Shani’s constant companion is a tiny shoulder dragon she has taken to calling Scales.
  • Pania Alow is a Celtic elf of Northern Irish descent.  She comes from a bardic family, having grown up surrounded by books and music.  But she also was trained as a skilled swordsman, favouring the rapier and main gauche.  She is also a skilled sorceress, focusing on the magic of evocation, she is able to shoot flames from her very finger tips.  She is constantly followed by a wood pixie named Verit.
  • Wren Wennemein is Shani’s younger sister, and therefore of mixed race Turtle Island heritage.  After the death of their father, Wren became intrigued with the care and comfort that the Consolers offered her family.  She chose to become one, and was bequeathed her father’s longsword to aid in her abilities.  She is a healer and a comforter, but she is also skilled in combat, and has an affinity with the undead as she can cast them down with a mere wave of her hand.
  • Abisayo Temilou is a Yoruba elf, born in Western Africa.  She knows of the world of the elves, but has never visited there as she focused on driving back the invaders that were taking her people, both human and elf, into enslavement.  She is a paladin, and favours two Ida blades that she fights with.  Eventually she finds her way to North America, having the lofty goal of freeing every slave and destroying those who would put anyone in such bondage.  Abisayo is constantly accompanied by a fairy dragon named Rey-Mi.

The biggest changes should be easy to see with these characters.  First, all four are women, which having women as the starring role of an epic fantasy has never happened (as far as I know, that is).  At least, not in the mainstream.  The second is the fact that of all four characters, only Pania is white.  We sadly live in a world that is sorely lacking in representation, and I wanted to change some of that with Elves of the Old West.

So this story is a western, but it’s a lot more than that.  It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I also think it’s going to be a lot of fun writing it.  I always have to keep in mind that when writing the characters there are certain stereotypes I have to avoid.  That’s one of the things as being an individual with a lot of privilege (white, straight, male) that I’ve learned.  Research, write respectfully, listen to others’ stories, try to write something that people will enjoy.

I don’t think I’m going to get 100% of everything correct, but if I work hard at it, and I do a respectful job of it, then I think I should produce a product that people will enjoy.

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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Fun, randomness, Writing


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