Off the Shelf, Episode 3: The Riders of the Purple Sage

In this episode of On the Shelf, Stephen shares his thoughts on Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey, and Dr. Fleming comments on it and what he considers a superior Western novel, The Virginian by Owen Wister. Join us for discussions of shootouts, Mormons, and the beguiling beauty of the American West.


Original Air Date: April 21, 2020
Show Run Time: 27 minutes
Show Guest(s): Dr. Thomas Fleming
Show Host(s): Stephen Heiner

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Off the Shelf℗ is a Production of the Fleming Foundation. Copyright 2020. All rights are reserved and any duplication without explicit written permission is forbidden.

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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Robert Reavis says:

    If a person read Don Quixote, Hamlet , The Oregon Trail and The Virginian, during the next four to eight months, he or she would have accomplished more than will ever be achieved listening any of the news fit to print in our time.

  2. Avatar Ken Rosenberger says:

    Great podcast, as always. Mark Twain had a couple of good chapters on the Mormons in Roughing It, I recall, including a description of his audience (supposedly) with Brigham Young, in which the great leader was expressing puzzlement over the young men in his sect who (again, I say supposedly) wanted to have 13, 14 wives. After remarking on the trouble of taking on so much responsibility, Young assured Twain that 8 or 9 wives were enough for anyone. Twain says he would write a scathing jeremiad excoriating the kind of selfish and lustful man who would practice polygamy, but that anyone who has seen a typical Mormon wife will know the Mormon is only committing a charitable act. Twain gives the Book of Mormon the same treatment he gave poor Fenimore Cooper. If you removed every instance of the phrase “And it came to pass” from the Book of Mormon, Twain says, it would be a pamphlet.

    I too must read The Virginian. I recently read Lady Baltimore and loved it immensely. I can’t think of anything that competes with it for the title of The Great Charleston Novel. The edition I have is from the late, lamented Southern Classics Series, whose Editor was M.E. Bradford. I have heard Dr Fleming in the past advise people to skip the modern prefaces to classic works, but the young Midwestern magazine editor who wrote the introduction to Lady Baltimore provided some keen insights.

  3. Avatar Ken Rosenberger says:

    I recall reading long ago that Salt Lake City had more bunco crime per capita than any city in the nation, by a fairly wide margin. I worked with a lot of Mormons in SoCal in the 80s and 90s. Nice enough guys (except they made you think they had a seedpod under a bush in their backyards), but they all had some side business, selling Amway or Herbalife, or some panacea engine additive, you know, one teaspoon per tankful of gas and it was like giving your car a high performance tune-up, or so the spiel went. One of these fellows knew an elderly woman from his church who’d just lost her husband and was worried about having enough financial , because her husband had taken care of the money. But she owned a house outright in one of the Beach Cities that they’d bought for $20k in the 60s. My Mormon co-worker gave her $100,000 for it and helped her move into a retirement home, and she was happy. Except of course the house was worth about a half a million on the market. My co-worker naturally flipped it, made a bundle, and told us all about it. It was a, how you say, real win-win. A real angel, that guy.

    I never understood what the deal was with the magic or cosmic underwear. The booze part is bad enough. I have to admit, though, they supposedly have a pretty good private welfare system, and encourage down-on-their-luck brethren to avoid the public dole.

  4. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    I have heard from people who dislike the LDS that the church now encourages welfare. That is certainly the case of the polygamists who live off their mistresses welfare checks. 20 years ago I knew a very fine Mormon lady, a school board member possibly chairman, and she told me she was shocked by the people in Provo who had two late model automobiles but took free lunch for the children in school. Good people who happen to be Mormons were very self-reliant but everything changes. I had a Mormon who worked for me, and he was forever taking bits of time for the church when he should have been doing his job. There’s good and bad in every group, but I have met too many Mormons it was impossible to like or respect.

  5. Thomas Fleming Thomas Fleming says:

    PS I did know one of the “Apostles” and while I could never bring myself to trust him, he never did anything, to my knowledge, discreditableh . I take a peculiar pleasure in such apparent anomalies.

  6. Avatar Kellen Buckles says:

    For what it’s worth, Grey wrote a sequel three years later – The Rainbow Trail. I read it to my family 20 years ago and have only a vague recollection of the plot but what I remember is being disappointed that it backed off from the harsh picture of Mormonism he had created in Riders. I risk committing the unpardonable sin, but wiki says “The Rainbow Trail contrasts the older Mormons with the rising generation of Mormon women who will not tolerate polygamy and Mormon men who do not seek it.” That jibes with my memory of the young Morman hero being chased by the old guys and escaping with the girl through a secret passage leading to Rainbow Bridge.

  7. Avatar James D. says:

    I can’t say enough about Wister’s two great novels. I am just appreciative that Dr. Fleming and Dr. Wilson recommended them enough times that I actually picked them up and read them. I have to say that I enjoyed each of them as much as I’ve enjoyed any book. I really wish he had focused more on novel writing, but he does have some other short stories, collections of essays and non-fiction that are also good. Unfortunately, his Lincolnian Americanism comes through in some of his work, especially his “biography” of US Grant. He basically says that he is going to skip 99% of Grant’s life and focus on the few bright spots.

  8. Avatar Steven Lakoff says:

    I lived in several western states for a while and had much more contact there with Mormons than I ever did growing up back east. My opinion is a bit more favorable towards the Mormon community than many here. I recall living in Hawaii, where a very dangerous part of day to day life was dealing with violent Samoans and Tongans. I was always aware of the danger in those Polynesian neighborhoods that were mainly Protestant. I never had anything close to that to worry about when I was in the Samoan or Tongan LDS neighborhoods.

    I found the Mormons in Colorado, Washington, and Idaho to be quite nice to live around. I never got close enough to a religious Mormon to know what they were like in private although the weirdness factor was certainly evident and that encouraged me to keep my distance. I had a strange encounter with a missionary or two that would have offended some people, but I simply found it amusing. Maybe I am a sucker for the “niceness” I found out west, coming as I do from Philadelphia, but would have to say that as long as it remains a fringe cult, that I don’t personally worry too much about the Mormon church.