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The Riders of High Rock (Louis L’Amour)

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1. What is the genre?

Global—Western > Vengeance

Secondary—N/A

2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for the genre?

Conventions

The hash, hostile wide-open landscape is a ‘character”. The story takes place in the wild west and covers a vast landscape from Texas to California (notably the towns of Tascotal and Agate) and covers terrain that includes mountain ranges, gorges, barrens, a dessert and timber-clad hills.

Hero, victim, Villain roles clearly defined through the story. The primary hero is, of course, Hopalong Cassidy (who is helped by Red Connors and Joe Gamble). The main victims are and Sue Gibson and her father, owners of the 3TL Ranch, although other nearby ranches are implicated. The villain is Jack Bolt (aided by several outlaws led by the Aragon brothers).

Hero’s object of desire is to stop the villain and save the victim. Hopalong Cassidy wants to keep Jack Bolt from stealing more cattle from the 3TL and neighbouring ranches.

Hero operates outside the law (selectively or as a matter of course). Hopalong is not a formal law man. He’s a gunslinger and drifter who observes Bolt and tracks his men, slowly and quietly gathering evidence of their cattle rustling. Once he has proof and evidence, he sends telegrams to the sheriff of Goose Lake so he can come and arrest Bolt and his men.

The power divide between the hero and villain is very large with the villain being far more powerful than the hero. Hopalong Cassidy is a formidable hero, however, The Riders of High Rock, pits him against Jack Bolt who is a devious as Cassidy is heroic, but has far more advantages in this particular scenario; he’s regarded as an honourable rancher, Sue Gibson admires him, he has a team of thirteen well-armed outlaws working for him (all except Pod are dangerous, quick-drawing and notorious). By contrast, Hopalong has only Joe Gamble and Red Connors (who has been shot) to rely on. Mr. Gibson (the victim) is unable to help because he’s recovering from a broken leg. Frank Gillespe must stay to protect the 3TL ranch. What’s more, his own horse is injured so until the end of the middle build, he’s forced to rely on rented horses.

Speech in praise of the villain. There are a number of speeches in praise of Jack Bolt. The first one comes in chapter 3 when Red Connors gives Hopalong the summary of who Bolt is and what he’s been up to. In chapter 4, an omniscient narrator sings Bolt’s praises, filling in some backstory and telling us what a formidable outlaw he is. Throughout the text, various characters, notably Sue Gibson and other townsfolk, talk about what an up-standing rancher and neighbour Jack Bolt is.

Obligatory Scenes

Inciting attack by the villain: Jack Bolt has been stealing cattle from nearby ranches and when Red Connors suspects the crime, he’s shot by Bolt’s men who have been sent to hunt Connors down and kill him.

Hero sidesteps responsibility to take action: By the time Louis L’Amour wrote this novel (his first entry into the Hopalong Cassidy canon), Hopalong was an established character who never really sidestepped his responsibility to take action. There’s never a question as to whether he’ll go after Jack Bolt and right the wrong being done to the ranchers of Texas. However, there’s a moment in chapter 5 when, rather than interrogate Pod Griffin (which would begin his active pursuit of Bolt), Hopalong chooses to hang back, chatting with Sue and her father about the countryside. Since Hopalong already has this information, there was no need to delay his conversation with Pod Even when the conversation is over, rather than go directly to the bunkhouse, where Pod should be, Hopalong chooses to go to the corrals. So he is, temporarily at least, sidestepping his responsibility to take action and find out more about Jack Bolt.

Forced to leave the ordinary world, the hero lashes out. On his way to the corrals, Hopalong is ambushed by Pod. Until this point in the story, he hasn’t been actively involved in Bolt or the cattle rustling. When Pod pulls his gun on Hopalong, Hopalong is now forced out of his ordinary world (that of a drifter) and is pulled into the extraordinary world (the cattle rustling problem). Hopalong lashes out when, rather than merely pulling out his Colt and ending the confrontation in a draw, he chooses to first shoot Pod in the wrist, and then threatens to hang him.

Discovering and understanding the MacGuffin. Hopalong initially discovers that Bolt is the villain, and that the MacGuffin is the cattle of the 3TL and 3F ranches, in chapter one. However, as the beginning hook progresses, more and more details of Bolt’s plan are revealed. In the fourth chapter (from Bolt’s POV), the reader is made aware of the villain’s ultimate plan. It’s not until chapter ten that Hopalong realizes that Bolt plans to steal all the cattle from both ranches, and from 4H as well.

Hero’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the villain fails. When Pod reveals that Bolt will steal 3TL cattle that very night, Hopalong and Frank Gillespe try to track down the herd by following their trail. After hours of tracking, they’re forced to camp for the night but by morning, the tracks have disappeared from the loose sand. Not only has Hopalong lost the cattle, but he has no way of finding out where Bolt is taking them. He’s lost the scent.

Hero, realizing that they must change their approach to salvage some form of victory, reaches an ‘all is lost moment’. When Hopalong Cassidy gets shot, and learns that part of the stolen cattle was handed over to the ranchers from California, he decides to head into Tascotal and send a telegraph to the sheriff in Goose Lake. Up to this point, he’d been handling the situation alone (with sidekicks Red Connors and Joe Gamble), but now he needs to change tactics and call in law enforcement.

The showdown where the hero and villain face off. Hopalong Cassidy and his gang have a showdown with Bolt’s men in Tascotal (chapter 21). Cassidy is lured into the streets where he’s an easy target for the outlaws. However, he’s also an expert tracker and gun slinger (who doesn’t kill people needlessly) and by expressing these gifts he’s able to avoid the gunmen, secure access to the bank building (where they’re shooting from), sneak up on them and overtake them. Although he could kill both Manuel and Pete Aragon he injures them instead, ties them up and gets a confession out of them. Sim Aragon (the meanest hombre in Bolt’s posse) draws fire on Cassidy, but he expresses his gun-slinging gift (“Hopalong’s guns leaped from his holsters”) and takes Aragon down in self-defence.

The hero’s sacrifice is rewarded. Injured and exhausted, Hopalong Cassidy further sacrifices himself after the showdown. He could convalesce in Tascotal and let the sheriff find and arrest Jack Bolt. However, he sacrifices his health and puts himself in danger by choosing to track Bolt himself (rather than risk him getting away). He finds Bolt, and kills him in self-defence.

Learn more about obligatory scenes and conventions.

3. What is the point of view?

Although primarily from Hopalong Cassidy’s point of view (presented as third person limited) The Rides of High Rock also includes passages from Red Connor’s POV and Jack Bolt’s POV. There is also an omniscient narrator that pops into the story from time to time.

Learn more about point of view.

4. What are the objects of desire?

Conscious Wants: Hopalong Cassidy wants to catch Jack Bolt and stop the cattle rustly from the 3TL and 3F ranches.

Sub-Conscious Needs: Since Hopalong Cassidy doesn’t have an internal arc, he doesn’t have a sub-conscious need. There are only two instances when things don’t work out as planned and in both cases, Hopalong has underestimated the outlaws. Even though it’s tempting to suggest that he needs to mature (be less naïve about the villains’ abilities), that’s a stretch.

Learn more about objects of desire.

5. What is the controlling idea / theme?

Justice prevails when the uncompromising individual sacrifices himself for the good of all.

The Riders of High Rock epitomizes the controlling idea as stated on the Story Grid genre cheat sheets. Justice prevailed (the cattle rustlers were thwarted and the cattle saved) when the uncompromising individual (Hopalong Cassidy) sacrifices himself (he knowingly puts himself in a vulnerable position and gets shot) for the good of all (the 3TL, 3F and 4H ranches, as well as the people of Tascotal).

Learn more about controlling ideas.

6. What is the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff?

Beginning Hook – Jack Bolt has been stealing cattle from local ranchers and when Hopalong Cassidy discovers that he’s about to do it again (from the 3TL, 3F and 4H ranches), he must decide whether he will stay in Tascotal and help the ranchers (thereby putting his own life at risk), or continue on to Montana (thereby allowing the cattle to be stolen and the ranchers livelihoods to be destroyed). He decides to stay and recruits Red Connors and Joe Gamble to help him.

Middle Build – Hopalong tracks the cattle rustlers, but when he loses the trail of the stolen cattle, Cassidy must decide whether he’ll abandon his pursuit of the rustlers or having his gang split up and search in different directions. They split up and Hopalong finds the cattle but is shot by Pod Griffin.

Ending Payoff – Although Bolt is laying low, Red Connors finds evidence of his guilt. So, Hopalong must decide whether to let the sheriff deal with the outlaws (thereby giving Bolt a chance to escape) or go after them himself (putting his own life, and the lives of Red and Joe, in danger). He goes after Bolt himself and shoots him in self-defence.

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About the Author

Valerie Francis is a Certified Story Grid Editor and best-selling author of both women’s and children’s fiction. She’s been a Story Grid junkie since 2015 and became a certified editor so that she can help fellow authors become better storytellers. To learn how to put story theory into practice join Valerie's inner circle: valeriefrancis.ca/innercircle