Zane Grey is perhaps one of the most popular and prolific authors
of Western romances. During his lifetime he sold nearly twenty
million copies of his novels, and since his death in 1939,
readers have bought at least another twenty million (Scott).
His idealistic tales and detailed descriptions of nature have
clearly touched an impressive, worldwide audience. Grey reached
the height of his fame during the World War I years and the
1920's. In the ten-year period between 1915 and 1924, a Grey
novel was on the best-seller list every year except one.
Theme to Fame
It seems appropriate to research Zane Grey's novel themes that
accelerated him to the highest pedestal among his readers.
Critics have labeled Grey's fiction as escapist and sentimental
(Gruber). Grey affirmed that he did indeed offer idealistic
beliefs in the goodness of man, in the benevolence of nature,
and in the role of women as the conscious of the race (May).
This last facet is intriguing after reading one of his novels
published in 1924, The Call of the Canyon. After spending an
entire novel on the inner-monologue of the heroine, Carley Burch,
Grey's philosophies on women deserve exploration. The Call of
the Canyon tells the story of Glenn Killbourne and his escape to
the West to heal his spirit and health after WWI. He becomes
caught up in the lure of the mountains and canyons of Arizona and
establishes himself as a hog farmer. The main character and
fiancé, Carley Burch travels West in search of her lover with
intentions of returning with him home to their fast-paced urban
world in New York. After a several month reunion in Arizona,
Carley finally leaves him, but not before buying land in the
Arizona desert. Grey's theme of a traditional family unit is
channeled through the leading man, Glenn. This staunch lover
of work and duty and a healer of life's problems lectures his
fiancé, Carley, on his opinion of the wastes of good women to
the lazy, rich, risqué, urban world.
As a girl, before you were claimed by the world, you
were earnest at heart. You had big hopes and dreams. And
you had intellect, too. But you have wasted your talents,
Carley. Having money, and spending it, living for pleasure,
you have not realized your powers? Now, don't look hurt.
I'm not censuring you. It's just the way of modern life.
And most of your friends have been more careless, thoughtless,
use-less than you. The aim of their existence is to be
comfortable, free from work, worry, pain. They want pleasure,
luxury. And what a pity it is! The best of you girls regard
marriage as an escape, instead of responsibility. You don't
marry to get your shoulders square against the old wheel of
American progress-to help some man make good-to bring a troop
of healthy American kids into the world. You bare your
shoulders to the gaze of the multitude and like it best if
you are strung with pearls (154).
Singular passages taken out of Glenn's entire philosophy and
lifestyle imply a step backward for the feminist movement. It
seems preposterous that a writer can achieve such acclaim and
acknowledgement from a universal audience if his ideas and
lessons are retro-progressive. On the contrary, instead of an
anti-feminist view that restricts women's liberty, Zane Grey's
relationship with his wife Dolly and two main female characters,
Flo and Carley, example an egalitarian approach to the American
DOLLY; Zane Grey's wife
In his real life, Zane Grey maintained a loving and close
marriage with Lina Elise "Dolly" Roth. Dolly was the greatest
influence in Grey's life. She was instrumental as his editor and
copyist, as well as chief emotional supporter (May). In the
beginning of his career, she saw him through failure, depression,
more failure, and brief success. He sought her approval on all
his work because he highly esteemed her literary and personal
opinion (Jackson). Grey treated Dolly with the utmost respect
from a husband to a wife. He found the greatest comfort in her.
Grey may have been a traditionalist at heart, but his respect and
equal footing with his adored wife transcended into his writing.
Dolly Grey set the standard for the women of Zane's works (May).
When the heroic male characters paralleled Zane's own adventurous
travels, the devotion and love for women stemmed from his own
relationship with Dolly.
In spite of the vicissitudes of fortune, the love between
Dolly and Zane Grey was deep, passionate, and enduring.
It was unabashed, open, and ardent. He never wrote a letter
to her in which he did not express his love for her; this was
as true in 1902, three years before they were married, as it
was in the 1930's. In all their letters, even when Zane is
stung by a letter of hers, there is always the final
declaration of love, and it is virtually always more than just
a casual signature (Gruber).
Dolly's opinion and work on Grey's novels is only one example of
his trust and value of her as a person of equal weight. He split
his royalty checks with her and entrusted financial affairs to
her. Grey would take leave and travel for as long as six months
at a time, in which Dolly was the governess of her own life and
affairs (Kimball). The time apart was trying, but undaunting for
their marriage. Grey writes: "Let no man ever doubt the faith
and spirit and love of a woman" (Jackson). Several times she
traveled by herself to Europe on vacation. As much as they were
apart, the couple always managed to write long love letters to
one another almost daily. Even after a ten-hour day of fishing,
Zane would still find time for a stint of Western writing and
then a letter to Dolly. On one fishing trip in the Florida Keys,
Zane writes Dolly about his guilt of abandoning her and the
children for his work. He asks her if she minds if he visits
Arizona before he returns. She replies that she would be
disappointed if he did not (May). This strong and independent
woman commands Grey's love and devotion. She supports Grey as a
partner in life. She doesn't lean on him for life's happiness.
She draws from within her rich nature for guidance and truth in
which she can contribute to their marriage. Grey evidently sees
this virtue in his wife when he writes that women "were cursed
with lesser bodies [than men] and blessed with higher souls"
(May). In 1918, Grey moved his entire family to the southern
part of California. Over the journey, Dolly wrote Zane everyday
of her travels. In all, her letters tally more than 80 pages
(Kimball). Since most of Grey's female characters are based on
Dolly, perhaps, it's safe to assume that this exodus West to join
her lover parallels Carley in his bestseller The Call of the
Canyon. Carley faces strenuous traveling and bravely approaches
the strange, unconquered West head-on. Since she is a young
beautiful female traveling alone across the nation, she must use
extra caution and sense in each new town and situation. Dolly's
diary to her husband must reflect these sentiments. "For some
months she kept a meticulous record of the day-by-day events of
interest"(Gruber). Dolly had the money, family background, and
independence to do whatever she wanted in life. She chose to
move West to be with her famous literary husband out of love and
duty. Grey understands his wife's options and motivations and
takes effort to highlight the same decision for the fictional
Carley. Through Dolly, Grey sees women as an equal sex, capable
of enduring hardships and decisions. His traditional views in
The Call of the Canyon are not anti-feminist because of his
wife's strong influence. His characters, Flo and Carley, span
this same egalitarian theme in the novel.
FLO-whethered western beauty
Flo is the stock, honest Western girl of the novel. She has
fallen in love with the Easterner war veteran, Glenn, during the
year before Carley's arrival to Arizona. Upon meeting her,
Carley realizes the competition for her fiancé and tries to
subdue her jealous bone.
At the doorway they encountered a girl of lithe and
robust figure, quick in her movements. Carley was
swift to see the youth and grace of her; and then a
face that struck Carley as neither pretty nor beautiful,
but still wonderfully attractive.
"Oh, Carley, I'm shore happy to meet you!"
said the girl, in a voice of slow drawling richness.
"I know you. Glenn has told me all about you."
If this greeting, sweet and warm as it seemed,
was a shock to Carley, she gave no sign. But as she murmured
something in reply she looked with all a woman's keenness
into the face before her. Flo Hutter had a fair skin
generously freckled; a mouth and chin too firmly cut to
suggest a softer feminine beauty; and eyes of clear light
hazel, penetrating, frank, fearless?.Carley liked the
girl's looks and liked the sincerity of her greeting; but
instinctively she reacted antagonistically because of the
frank suggestion of intimacy with Glenn (29).
Flo Hutter epitomizes the Western girl and her unbounded actions
throughout the novel reveal what Grey believed was acceptable for
women. Flo Hutter rides horses and works just as hard as the men
do. Her decisions are respected. She will also be the heir of a
huge ranch. Although attractive and endearing, Flo can challenge
the men in physical activity since she has been reared in such
wild territory. One day as Glenn and Carley ride horseback, they
begin to speed up their pace. "Swerving back into his saddle, he
spurred his horse and called back over his shoulder: "That
mustang and Flo have beaten me many a time. Come on." Carley is
challenged to live up to Flo's strong example. The men don't
have room for a weak woman in the West. Since Flo, and
eventually Carley can physically keep up with the men, they are
treated with respect. Before Carley became accustomed and
accepting of the Western way of life, strife surmounted in the
young couples' relationship.
He took her hand in his and pressed it, and smiled at her.
"Yes, Carley, it's a beautiful, soft little hand. But
I think I'd like it better if it were strong and brown, and
coarse on the inside-from useful work."
"Like Flo Hutter's?" queried Carley.
Grey believes that the West and the desert are great equalizers
of humans. Men and women must work together to survive, thus
leaving no room for incapable whining women. Supporting the
growth of women in this manner is not 'pro' or 'anti' women; it's
pro-human and pro-life. Out West, it's not a matter of who has
more rights or who is treated equally...it's a matter of survival
and dependence on each other to work together as one unit.
This is the life lesson that Glenn must teach Carley in order for
her to give up her urban, materialistic world of the East.
First, Carley must roughen up her fragile beauty to survive out
West. During her first overnight horse ride, Carley does not
complain of her pain for sheer vanity. "Carley hated to betray
what a weakling she was, so she resigned herself to her fate, and
imagined she felt her fingers numbing into ice, and her sensitive
nose slowly and painfully freezing" (67). A few months later,
Carley's boldness is evolving; she begins to take pride in
overcoming another challenge of nature.
When the hard dusty gusts hit her, she found it absolutely
necessary to shut her eyes. She got her eyes full of dust-an
alkali dust that made them sting and smart. The fiercer
puffs of wind carried pebbles large enough to hurt severely.
Then the dust clogged her nose and sand got between her
teeth. Added to these annoyances was a heat like a blast
form a furnace. Carley perspired freely and that caked the
dust on her face. She rode on, gradually growing more
uncomfortable and miserable. Yet even then she did not
utterly lose a sort of thrilling zest in being thrown upon
her own responsibility. She could hate an obstacle, yet feel
something of pride in holding her own against it (144).
Once Carley accepts the West, she starts to reap its benefits.
She is healthy, tan, happy, and in love. She has also gained the
respect of the Western girl, Flo, and won Glenn's affections.
Grey simplifies life for this woman. She no longer needs her
pretty clothes, money, or superficial friends. Being stripped of
these luxuries does not take away the liberty or equality of
women. These challenges teach the benefits of hard work and
duty, regardless of sex. Her final admonition of the contrite
Eastern world is her chastisement of her friends:
"Nothing wrong!" cried Carley, "nothing for you women to
make right? You are blind as bats. Nothing wrong when
women with the vote might rid politics of partisanship,
greed, crookedness? Nothing wrong when prohibition is mocked
by women-when the greatest boon ever granted this country
is derided and beaten down and cheated? ??You doll women,
you parasites, you toys of men, you silken-wrapped geisha
girls, you painted, idle, purring cats, you parody of the
females of your species- find brains enough if you can to
see the doom hanging over you and revolt before it is too
Carley has finally realized Glenn's love for work and raising
children together. Perhaps, she has finally merged with Grey's
ideal of his pedestal wife, Dolly. Both women travel across the
country to find their love. Both realize that life is more
meaningful with hard work and duty to family. Grey's ideology
focuses on this traditional family bond that supports the growth
of an independent women.
Grey, Zane. The Call of the Canyon. Grosset & Dunlap: New York,
Gruber, Frank. Zane Grey, a biography. The World Publishing
Company: New York and Cleveland, 1970.
Hamilton, Cynthia. Western and Hard-boiled Detective Finstion
in America. The Macmillan Press Ltd: London, 1987.
Jackson, Carlton. Zane Grey, Revised Edition. Twayne
Publishers: Boston, 1989.
May, Stephen. Zane Grey: Romancing the West. Ohio University
Press: Ohio, 1997.
Scott, Kenneth. Zane Grey, a Reference Guide. G.K. Hall & Co.: