Louis L'Amour remains the most popular and mainstream western author with sales exceeding 300 million books. With over 100 original novels, most of which are still in print, the writer's prolific presentations of America's wild frontier have influenced or impacted countless authors, screenwriters and even U.S. Presidents. While most of his literary work was stand-alone westerns, L'Amour also created five specific series titles – 'Talon', 'Chantry', 'Kilkenny', 'Hopalong Cassidy' and the wildly successful 'Sacketts'.
The 'Sackett' series began in 1960, ten years into L'Amour's literary career of authoring full-length novels. Starting with “The Daybreakers”, the series ran for 17 total installments, finishing in 1985 with “Jubal Sackett”. L'Amour died in 1988, and I would imagine if he had lived longer he would have continued with more contributions to the series. While “The Daybreakers” was the first novel to feature members of the Sackett family (circa 1870), the series publishing order isn't parallel to the time periods L'Amour would explore. In fact, the family's origins weren't fully explained until 1974's “Sackett's Land”, which is the beginning of a four-book adventure series chronicling the family's history from 1599-1620. The remainder of the Sackett novels take place in the mid to late 1800s. Paperback Warrior typically indexes based on the chronology of the story, so essentially “Sackett's Land” is represented as the first novel.
The book begins in Cambridgeshire, England in 1599. Protagonist Barnabas Sackett is living a meager life in a marshy residence called The Fens. While never starving or destitute, Barnabas works in the quarries and lives off the acreage he inherited from his father Ivo, a career fighting man. While crossing an area called Devil's Dyke, Barnabas finds a large sum of old coins in the mud. With aspirations to buy an adjoining piece of property, Barnabas heads into town to appraise his riches. But his joy is short-lived when he becomes embroiled in a dispute with the Earl's nephew, Rupert.
Realizing that he can't remain in England, Barnabas decides that America, the New World, might be a fresh start. With his riches, he buys supplies that will allow him to trade and hunt for furs in America. Hoping to capitalize on the lucrative fur-trading business, he arranges to sail with a Captain who respected his father. After an early connection with the Captain's beautiful daughter Abigail, Rupert and thugs mug Barnabas and place him on a ship of pirates heading to the New World. It's here where he leans heavily on his survival skills, outwitting the pirates while enslaved. But, his joy is short-lived when he finally arrives in the mysterious New World. Contending with pirates, Native Americans, wildlife and the harsh weather, Barnabas realizes that his dreams of a new start may bring about his bitter end.
With “Sackett's Land”, L'Amour's writing prowess is clearly influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson and Johann David Wyss. This is an adventure story, complete with swords, muskets and cannonballs. While it is an alternate approach for L'Amour, it was evident that after 80+ novels of 1800s gunslingers, the author wanted to explore different eras of storytelling. The novel's epic presentation, with historical context, was a dynamic and welcome change. L'Amour emphasizes the numerous adversities many of our forefathers experienced as they entered a vast, mysterious land in North America. It was also clear that Barnabas' story would continue, with lots of foreshadowing inserted by the author. The book's next titles focus on the main character's dreams of going “to the far blue mountains”, a goal that Barnabas sets after viewing the far off peaks and ridges.
Overall, “Sackett's Land' is one of my favorite novels of any author. I've read it a couple of times and have encouraged many young people to explore the book as well. While American schools continue to heap Shakespeare plays on students, I wish they would incorporate this novel into their required reading curriculum. It is these novels that have become the new “classic literary tale”.
Note - If you enjoy this novel, "Fair Blows the Wind" (1978) is a similar tale focusing on the first Chantry member to arrive in America circa 1600s.
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