Bar-20 Days by Clarence Edward Mulford

There ain’t a square man in this part of the country that won’t feel some honored an’ proud to be called a friend of Hopalong Cassidy. Them’s the sentiments rampaging hereabouts. I ain’t denying that he’s gone an’ killed off a lot of men fist an’ last – but the only trouble there is that he didn’t get ’em soon enough. They all had lived too blamed long when went an’ stacked up ain him an’ that lightning short gun of hissn. But, say, if yo’re calculating to tackle him at yore game, lead him gentle- don’t push none. He comes to life real sudden when he’s shoved….

The revivalist…mused, “I hope I was informed wrong, but this much I have to be thankful for: The wickedness of most of these men, these over-grown children, is manly, stalwart, and open; few of them is vicious or contemptible. Their one great curse is drink.”

– Bar-20 Days by C.E. Mulford

For this month’s western book, I read this now-in-the-public-domain title – originally published in 1911 and one of the twenty-plus books in the Hopalong Cassidy series as written by the character’s creator, Clarence E. Mulford (1883-1956) (He also wrote short stories about Hopalong, and other authors have written other books and short stories carrying on the character. Some say this is the first western series featuring continuous characters. (The Bar-20 is the name of the ranch for which Hopalong works.)

My Dad tells me that when he was a little kid, he had a Hopalong outfit, just like in “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” – the Hopalong Cassidy character was whitewashed for acceptance as a hero for children, on radio, and was used in over sixty films starting in the 1930s, and then was on television – the first network western series on TV, according to Wikipedia, and the first to be merchandised heavily. Enormously popular, there was even a Hopalong Cassidy amusement park in Los Angeles, between 1951 and 1954.

I have listened to a few of the old time radio episodes of Hopalong Cassidy, starring actor William Boyd, but they are primarily intended for children (or maybe teenagers) and as such are not all that interesting to me as an adult, to be honest.

Still, I was curious to read at least one of the original books. This entry into the series, Bar-20 Days was simply the one I happened to download as an e-book first, and while there were what I assume were callbacks to previous events a few times, it really didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t read the first books first.

Not unexpectedly, there are terms (and attitudes expressed) in this book that are considered unacceptably racist today. However, there are no obscenities – unless you count “hell” – otherwise you have lines like “What the blank are you doing?”

“Blast it all! Wire fences coming down this way now,” mused Johnny, sullenly. He hated them by training as much as he hated horse-thieves and sheep; and his companions had been brought up in the same school. Barb wire, the death-knell to the old-time punching, the bar to riding at will, a steel insult to fire the blood – it had come at last.

Dialog is often rendered phonetically, which is a thing that authors just used to do a lot, and now we don’t much. Some people find it very annoying, I didn’t mind it particularly in this instance.

I was left unsure when the novel is set in time, and only have a vague idea that it’s set in either Texas or New Mexico.

There is also, for all it’s humour and for all the silliness of “the plot” (there isn’t really a plot) and for all it’s generally light-hearted tone, a fair amount of cheerful violence in this novel.

A relatively short, easy and quick read, Bar-20 Days is a series of sometimes rather loosely connected episodic adventures, starting up with our hero being “shanghaied” out to sea by arms-runners, proceeding through an episode with a “ghost” and a cougar (a sort of funny coincidence considering the short story I was working on earlier) a couple of cases of horse-theft, a fight with Apaches, some fist-fights with friends, an encounter with a preacher, cattle rustling, a cattle drive that encounters barb-wire fencing and includes a rather shocking stampede, and probably some other things that I forget now, leading to a twist ending with an unusually terminated big finale involving a “baddie,” a thicket and a flash flood.

It is very energetic, the action scenes, of which there are plenty, are often quite funny and well done.

His guns came out like a flash and he laughed with the elation that comes with impending battle. “The first man to start it’ll drop,” he said evenly. “Who’s going to be the martyr?”

What it lacks is characterization. We learn that Hopalong Cassidy has red hair, walks with a limp, (probably due to a gun-fightin’ injury explained in the first story is my guess) commands respect and loyalty from the others on the Bar-20, drinks too much on occasion (something that was removed from his portrayal when he became a hero for the kiddies) is pretty constantly seeking adventure and getting caught up in violence, gambles, does not always seem especially bright, will start trouble at the drop of a pin, has a vague respect for religious types, does not like barbed wire fences, is more than willing to risk his life for his friends, and does not seem to have any romantic interest. (This novel is rather singularly devoid of females.)

We learn next to nothing at all about any of the other characters, except most of them are equally willing to brawl for little reason and to risk death for their companions.

Some of the writing is not so great.

And the story-telling is so energetic, that after awhile, I got tired of it’s constant fast pace, of jumping from one adventure-fight to another. There are a couple of loose ties holding some of the adventures and chapters together, but I did wonder if perhaps the book was written not as a novel but constructed from short stories stuck together to package as a book. There were only a couple of moments that took me by surprise in the whole book.

Over all, I was glad that I had the chance to read this book and to see where the wildly popular Hopalong Cassidy character comes from, but I don’t feel that I’ll be reading the other entries in the book series any time soon. This was colourful, action-packed, silly, and not really about anything.

I give it three smokin’ six-guns out of five.

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