World Fantasy will be in San Antonio this year. This is one of my favorite conventions. It’s considered a working convention for writers and therefore it isn’t quite as packed as WorldCon, which is for fans. There will probably be less cosplay, although I’ve definitely noticed a resurgence of dressing up at conventions. For a long time literary cons didn’t encourage costumes. Now people are putting time and talent into creating beautiful costumes and I’m happy to see their creativity on display.

I will be moderating one panel:

The Old West: Not Entirely Wild but Always a Fantasy

Panelists: Tex Thompson, Joe M. McDermott, Patrice Sarath (M), Walter Jon Williams

The invention of what we think of as The Old West, complete with gunslingers and derring do and cattle and tinkling ragtime pianos in saloons, was always a myth. The violent history of the settlement of the continent by European settlers needed a mythic framework to justify the actions of the settlers and the empire-builders, as well as sell it to the next group of dissidents looking to Go West and start over. Our panelists will discuss various narrative attempts to grapple with the complex history of the West from both sides, conqueror and conquered. How do we approach the myth of the west? What do we take from it for future narratives? How do we find the truth hidden inside the myths?

I don’t think there has been mythmaking like the mythmaking that created the Old West. I think it was the confluence of photography, dime novels, the telegraph, and moving pictures that mythologized the era even as it was being lived. By the time the early moving pictures were being made, the West had mostly faded, but think about it — Wyatt Earp was still alive at the turn of the last century. Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid were either alive in Utah or dead in Bolivia (Schroedinger’s outlaws), and Quanah Parker, famed Comanche warrior chief, was living on a reservation in Oklahoma with his family (a lot of wives). There were cars. How could there be the Old West when there were cars?

Dime novels helped popularize gunslingers and invented the standoff on main street. Can’t remember which gunslinger protested at the portrayal of a gun fight, but he pointed out he’d be an idiot to just stand there — they were ducking behind trees, for heaven’s sake.

When the guy being mythologized is around to enter into the discussion, you know that some heavy story telling is going on.

I’m not convinced there is any other era like it in world history.

I’m looking forward to the discussion with my fellow panelists.

Hope to see you there.

 


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