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An investigation of the novel for the purposes
of a mini-series adaptation by
BEAU'S COMMENTS: Reilly’s Luck is one of Louis L’Amour’s most complex and personal stories. It contains significant aspects of Louis’s own history and is constructed around the contrasts between the two halves of his life and career. Up until WWII Dad lived the life of young and somewhat pretentious poet trying to charm his way into literary society. He was a man much like Will Reilly who put on a good show and, though nearly penniless and with only the vaguest beginnings of a writing career, nearly married a modestly wealthy French Countess. After the war Louis settled in to become more like Val Durrant, a practical laborer laying the ground work for a serious career and finding a woman who could help him succeed in life on his own..
The following notes, written in blue, are my ideas and thoughts as they relate to the possible adaptation of Reilly’s Luck as a television mini series. Louis’s material was often written in a single swift pass, usually within about ninety days. Often it contains a certain emotional truth but relies on the imagination of a reader to fill in the gaps. While this is the high art of prose writing, when trying to convert the material into another medium, it needs to be backed up with additional logic and more fully fleshed characterization. Identifying those truths is always my first consideration when I look at one of his stories. The rest of the job is to make the most of what is implied, to bring what Louis has suggested to greater and fuller life.The amazing thing about any novel is the amount of unconscious material that is activated in the mind of the reader. Whether any other reader would come up with exactly the sort of ideas that I have set down here is inconsequential … what is meaningful is that these stories have a life that is additional to the exact words that are set down on the page. The thoughts they inspire, perhaps even below the threshold of awareness, can turn even a run of the mill piece by any writer into a classic. In a way, we readers are co-authors, each of us bringing our own imaginations to the festival that is reading!Reilly’s Luck is essentially a Dickensian rags-to-riches story. To follow that model, the orphan child is adopted by a mentor who teaches him about life. When that mentor dies the young protagonist is forced to survive and apply those lessons completely on his own … eventually surpassing the mentor and becoming the most well formed character they have the potential to be. To that end some elements of this novel need to be shifted around. Will Reilly’s death should be postponed until around the half way point, Val’s mother, Myra Durrant/Cord, needs to be integrated more fully into the entire narrative as the primary villain and she should be connected with Hank Sonnenberg, the more physical threat, from the first. I’ve made notes to all this and more at the end of each section. These sections are not necessarily “Acts” or different episodes of a suggested script, I never got that far in my work, they are simply different areas of the story that require separate examination. Enjoy!
Our story begins in the middle of a cold Montana winter sometime during the early 1870s. A four-year-old boy huddles under the covers of his bed, listening through the thin hotel wall as his mother MYRA CORD fights with her “friend,” VAN CLEVERN, about the need to get rid of her son. Van pleads for Myra to reconsider but she snaps back with, “Get rid of him permanently or I’ll get rid of you!”
VALENTINE (Val) hears the door close and Van’s footsteps come down the hall. A key rattles in the lock and Van enters. As Val has spent his short life being moved from one foster family or caretaker to the next, Van has been a source of kindness for him. Myra, on the other hand, has supported herself through prostitution and other unsavory deeds. Her son, who she had once hoped would allow her to trap a prosperous miner, named Durrant, has become a chain that is tying her down in far too many ways.
Van, though weak to Myra’s demands, is unable to do something as terrible as killing a four year old. Instead of leaving him to die in the snow, he takes Val to the one person in town he knows can trust: WILL REILLY. Will is a gambler by profession but respected by many. Coldly handsome, he is both cultured and educated … though those qualities are more self-taught than the result of his environment. Told that Van just needs a to figure out what to do with the boy, Will allows him to spend the night in his hotel room. When Val and Will watch Myra and Van leave town in the morning, Will realizes that the boy has become his responsibility.
Val has had a difficult life, but he is now in very capable hands. Will starts to pass along telling the boy that he will have to depend on himself and to learn as much and as quickly as possible. Will sees himself in the kid, as he had to look after himself at a very young age as well.
After a few days of babysitting young Val, Will learns that the reverend of the town is planning to take the boy. He doesn’t think a gambler is fit to raise a child. Acting quickly, Will prepares to leave. As a snowstorm rolls into town, Will gathers up some last provisions into their wagon and heads out into the night with Val.
Several hours pass, the snow becomes dangerously deep and the temperature plummets. Will reassures Val that there is a cabin not too far down the road and that it is essential to always keep moving. Will explains that the cabin is a hideout for outlaws and there may be people who don’t want guests inside. It turns out that inside there are three men: TENSLEEP, an outlaw but a man who likes and respects Will Reilly, HANK SONNENBERG, a heavyset bearded man, irritable and suspicious, and TOM, a tall, lanky criminal, who is known to the Durrants (Val’s father’s family), yet has a reputation of being mentally unstable. There is a tense moment as Hank and Will face each other over whether they will be allowed to stay, but Tensleep intervenes and vouches for Will.
The next morning, Will expresses his gratitude by leaving some supplies and they head back out onto the road. Will tells Val that with the men at the hideout, Sonnenberg was the meanest and strongest, but Tom was the real danger because of his unpredictable nature. As with all of Will’s lessons, Val soaks it in. Val realizes that Will is teaching him the things that he himself values. These things include being a gentleman, being responsible, having courage, and always keeping one’s word.
Section One Adaptation Notes:
Establishing a certain knotting of fate that brings the stories of Myra, Sonnenberg, Val, and Will together at many different points will provide a structure that promises the audience a complete development and resolution of each of their stories. As the mother who orders her child to be killed, Myra is the true villain. But unless there is a strong story element connecting she and Val at the end it is hard to bring them believably together at that point. Their paths must be intercut throughout the story so that none can be forgotten.
We could establish Myra’s first attempt to better herself as a way to set this up. She sets her sights on Durrant, a prospector who owns a good deal of mining property (it needs to be property because “claims” are hard to legally maintain the rights to). In her mind having his child will lock the two of them together. Once Val is born she should discover that, though the mines are valued highly by Durrant, they do not contain gold … the only mineral that Myra, as an ignorant young woman, can appreciate. At this point Myra dumps Durrant and takes off. Val is shuffled from one caretaker to another until finally, at the start of our story, some problem sends him back to his real mother.
When she becomes older and wiser, this decision can haunt her. The claims were copper, a commodity that, as the years pass rapidly increases in value. Though marrying Durrant was her first attempt to aggressively better herself, through her ignorance, she has let the opportunity slip away.
At some point before the half way mark in the story, Durrant should die and Val should inherit those claims from Durrant’s will. This allows the early part of the story to relate to the ending when Myra tries to reclaim the mines that slipped through her clutches back when she … and Val … were young.
Myra’s next attempt at feeding her ambitions could be getting involved with Hank Sonnenberg. Sonnenberg is presented later in the novel as a well rounded criminal, not just a violent hold up man. At the time the story begins She could be given a chance to join his gang in a scout or seductress role and must soon head off to make that rendezvous. It is a step up from prostitution.
It might be that Sonnenberg has never been all that venerable to Myra’s wiles. Thus she could be all the more driven to try to seduce and control him … something that she might never quite succeed at. This makes her ready to do what it takes to get “in” with him; like give up the son who’s been a problem for her ever since she realized Durrant wasn’t rich. A son who would not be welcome as a part of the criminal gang she wants to be a part of.
Sonnenberg, in the scene at the cabin, could be on his way to the same rendezvous as Myra … somewhere that they will begin whatever arrangement they have worked out. Myra and Sonnenberg should be in their 20s at this point in the story, a very typical age for men and women active in the history of the west.
Van Clevern is a very interesting character, sort of like the soul or the morality that Myra give up somewhere along the line. I have always assumed he was gay … maybe the only gay character Louis ever wrote about.
Will might win big the first night after he takes on Val. It could seem like a sign of some sort and it inspires Will to look at Val as something like a good luck charm.
Four years pass and Val and Will travel all over the country. Val studies how to play cards and Will teaches him poetry, literature, sports, singing, mathematics, and everything that both a gentleman and a gambler needs to know. While waiting at the station for the stage to Silver City, Val encounters another boy a little older than him. The boy makes fun of him and Val makes a stand, knowing Will is observing him. Following Will’s advice to always land the first blow, Val punches the boy in the face and a second time in the stomach. As the boy falls to the ground, Will intervenes knowing the punches Val got in wouldn’t have ended the fight. Pulling Val to the side, Will tells him he should have hit him hard enough where he wouldn’t have been able to get up. The boy, being older and larger, would have easily beaten him after getting back on his feet. Will vows to teach Val more about defending himself.
As the stagecoach gets ready to leave, the boy that Val fought earlier and his mother get aboard, followed by a businessman and a miner. Val makes quick amends with the older boy, who tells him his name is DOBIE GRANT. On the second day as they make their way through a narrow section of trail called the Apache Pass, Val begins to hear rifle shots outside. All at once, the passengers of the stagecoach are in a desperate gunfight with a band of Apache Indians. PETE, the driver, is shot and killed and the stage is forced to stop. Dobie and Val help the miner, who is wounded in the arm, reload his rifle. The young boys are flush with excitement as the group begins to successfully hold off the attack. Will, an expert shot, shows off his skills hoping to impress the Indians enough into retreating. Val even gets a shot in, when the Apache’s attempt to rush them.
As night falls on the travelers, they prepare for another ambush, which comes shortly after the stars come out. After a brief battle in which the stagecoach group is victorious, they pull out, eventually limping into Silver City. In Silver City, Val and Dobie meet another young boy named BILLY. They stay for a night and then make their way to New Orleans. Will gambles along the way and arrives in Louisiana three thousand dollars richer than when he left Tucson.
Section Two Adaptation Notes
A specific moment should occur in this section that shows that Will wants to expand Val’s horizons and his own beyond their normal environment of the West, a thought that will play itself out in the next section. Reilly is a closed character, something bad has happened to him. The positive aspect is that he is very self contained, the negative is that he has limited himself severely. Val will help him open up. This “opening up” that Val causes in Reilly is the most open to the world that Reilly ever gets until the last moments of his life.
Truly, Val is “Reilly’s Luck,” he changes the man’s life in ways Will could not imagine, changes the ways Will appreciates the world, opens him to going to Europe, to meeting Louise, to envisioning a different life even as he trains Val for the hard life he is leading when they meet. It’s almost like Will needs a son before he can have a woman … someone to be a moderating influence on him.
The following years are spent in cities all throughout the East including Savannah, Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York. Will and Val then spend a year in Europe. In Innsbruck, Austria, a woman named LOUISE enters the picture. Val knows that Will has feelings for her, but it isn’t until he is tipped off by a horse hostler that he realizes Will is playing a more dangerous game than poker. He learns that Louise is from a very important Russian family and is set to marry a wealthy man. The marriage has been arranged by Louise’s cousin, PRINCE PAVEL … Pavel is desperate for money and using his beautiful cousin as a way to get it. Reilly may ruin Pavel’s chances by allowing true love to woo Louise away from this expedient marriage. Val decides to purchase a couple of horses, knowing they may need to be prepared to leave town quickly. For the first time ever, Val is afraid for Will.
The following morning, Val makes his way over to the local café and notices a few loitering men. When a couple more men enter the café, Val starts to get up to warn Will, but one of the men holds him. Will, unprepared for the ambush, is accosted by a couple of the thugs as he enters. The Russians take them in a carriage at gunpoint to a small grove outside of town where Pavel and Louise are waiting. With Louise pleading for mercy, Pavel tells his group to strip off Will’s coat. He pulls out a long whip. With the first swing, Will blocks the weapon and pulls the whip from Pavel’s grasp, turning the tables in one smooth motion. As Val trips up one of the Russians, Will lashes out with the whip at Pavel, ripping his shirt apart and drawing blood. After a few more lashings, wounding Pavel’s cheeks and forehead, one of the Russians pulls out a gun. Since they neglected to search Val, he tosses a pistol to Will, who promptly shoots the man dead.
Will apologizes to Louise for being forced to kill a man in her presence. He asks her to return to America with him. Distraught and confused, Louise tells him no. Clearly disappointed, Will curtly bids her good-bye and tells Val they need to leave. Val realizes Will has thrown in his cards, perhaps in the most important game of his life. He has lost the only woman he has ever loved.
Using the horses Val purchased the day before, the two escape. With the help of an Italian friend, they make their way through the mountains into Italy and then continue on to Zurich, Paris, London, and finally New York. During their escape, Val knows that Will has changed forever and will never quite be able to forget about Louise. He laughs less and seems colder and harder.
Adaptation Notes Act Three
Somewhere along in here we will need to reconnect with our “bad guys.” The gang that Myra and Sonnenberg are a part of will need to split up and the audience will need to be brought up to date on each, with Sonnenberg developing into an even more threatening character … perhaps even Myra has become cautious of him. Myra moves on with Van, heading east toward a series of strategic marriages. Near the beginning or the end of this section Myra and Val should nearly cross paths on the east coast, something to remind us that they are fated to interact before our tale is over.
The romance with Louise should develop over a longer period of time, possibly in different cities that they all travel to. Will and Val could fall in with a group that is sort of a 19th century “Jet Set,” the wealthy aristocracy traveling from one casino or spa town to another. This is a version the aristocratic life that Will Reilly has long aspired to be a part of, the extreme extension of the gentlemanly image he built for himself through his clothes and manners and attempts at a cultured life in the West.
But here Will is forced to confront both the idle rich, who have the wealth he is lacking, and men of true accomplishment … an aspect he is also lacking. When he points out the difference between say, a shipping magnate, and the heir to an ancient fortune, Val might ask him what “what are we?” The answer Reilly will not want to give is the ugly truth; they are like Pavel, hangers on, feeding on the scraps that these people throw away.
Realizing, or recognizing then denying, that Louise has been at least considering Pavel’s idea that she should “do her duty for the family” by finding a rich man to marry may create some conflict in Reilly … he’s never been judgmental toward the mining camp prostitutes he has known, but because of the image he has built around Louise, the pedestal he has put her on, the situation here is different. Was the role of upper class women, to “sell themselves” like a prostitute, but just a lot fewer times? We will soon see that middle and lower class women had more of a true partnership with their mates.
Confronting the social realities of these affluent people could be a gut wrenching and life changing moment for Will Reilly. Will has played at presenting himself as this sort of “gentleman of chance and leisure” without ever really understanding what that meant. Or the dirty ways some of these Jet Setters play games with each other’s lives.
Though Will has the personal respect of many in the American West, a place where the value of individual responsibility is at a premium, in Europe and the Eastern US Will is challenged by something else … having to face his lack of material substance.
As a lone wolf in a country of lone wolves, he can have financial reversals. His character, his integrity will maintain his respect and place in society. The West is a land where few have very much. Now, however, thinking of himself as a parent and, potentially, as a husband, he has to look honestly at his place in the wider world. Some in European aristocracy are without means or career. Pavel himself is a lot like Will Reilly just with a title. Back in the West, Will would have contempt for that but now he can’t ignore that he has accomplished nothing except to have lived an interesting life … this is a wonderful moment for Will to look at himself and have to come to terms with what he sees.
Some of how he does that is with a sense of hopelessness that is reflected in his inability to change … that aspect could play itself out when he chooses to whip Pavel. As a Western ‘man of honor’ he cannot stop himself from retaliation. Pavel deserves his fate in spades, but when Reilly does it in front of Louise, he realizes he has revealed what must be his ugliest side to her. That might horrify the Will Reilly who feels he must always appear a gentleman. However, to be the man that he is, Will Reilly must act against those that have wronged him, regardless. It seems to me that it may be this act more than any other that separates him from Louise in his mind. The horrified reaction that we see from Louise in the book may be more an artful way of expressing Will’s feelings for himself rather than Louise’s feelings about him. In the end, however, she does choose Pavel’s continued participation in her life for one reason or another. It is also her weakness that she has accepted the reality that she must be an appendage to a man.
In the case of Louise, Reilly has had to face his limitations and ultimately retreats back into them rather than growing and becoming a person who would let Pavel off with some more minor humiliation. Pavel trapped him into masculine anger and vengeance for trying to whip him. Pavel is scum but he is right about Will not being someone who can fit into Louise’s world and visa versa. Will has to face the fact that this world that he has pretended to be a part of, that he has seen with romantic eyes, is not the place he wanted to be and not a place that he can feel at home … he is a loner after all, a man with no home.
It has occurred to me that possibly Louise should not be there to witness this scene … that is if she is to come to the US with Pavel in the end. If she’s still Pavel’s companion years after she experiences either him whipping Reilly or Reilly whipping him does that make her too weak to be worthy of Reilly’s attention.
By bringing her to the spot where the whipping is to take place was Pavel punishing her for thwarting him? How did he get her there and who is she if she does nothing to try stop it? Does he keep her there by force? There are a lot of interesting questions in this scene, questions that can define Louise, Pavel and Reilly.
It may also make her too weak for a modern audience if she just stands by, the useless and horrified little woman … unless it is written perfectly. But, in the end, it is not her story … as a way of forcing Reilly to realize he can never be the sort of romantic and imaginary “gentleman” he has aspired to be, I might choose to keep it. It certainly does raise a lot of questions and that is usually the sign of something important.
One of the critical aspects of analyzing a story like this is trying to take everything in it seriously, even aspects that are stated in the text but about which no conclusions have been drawn by the author. The “European Section” is a good example of exploring a problematic section and finding undiscovered gold in regard to character development. Not taking Reilly’s being a “loner” for granted (just because that is a Western trope) is another. I like to take this sort of information seriously and let it tell me what the story is about.
At age fourteen, Val separates from Will for the first time. He is hired on a cattle ranch in Texas while Will operates a gambling house in New Orleans. After only six months, Will sells out and joins Val. Val learns that mysterious men are hunting his mentor. Val quits his job and they travel from San Antonio to Fredericksburg, and then to Canada, to hunt buffalo.
They meet up with a friend of Will’s named BILL HICKOCK. Bill warns them of three men hunting him, including Henry Sonnenberg. The other two are named THURSTON PECK and CHIP HARDESTY. Additionally, a man named AVERY SIMPSON has put out a ten thousand dollar reward for whoever kills Will. This greatly worries Will as he has never heard of Avery Simpson and doesn’t understand why he wants him dead. Val and Will decide to look up Avery and get to the bottom of the situation. They head to Empire, Colorado where they hear Avery last was.
They see him for the first time at dinner at the Peck House, a large hotel and restaurant. Will approaches his table, introducing himself to the tall, heavy man. Shaken and desperate, Avery confesses that the man behind the offer is Prince Pavel. Shocked, Will can hardly believe that Pavel has come back into his life after all this time. After writing the letters revoking the bounty, Avery is allowed to go, leaving Will at a loss over the sudden memories of Louise. Val can see that Will is tempted to go after her and reclaim the woman that he still loves. What bothers Will Reilly, however, is the same insecurity that plagued him in Europe; “I am a gambler, Val, and a gambler is not simply a nobody, he is worse.” Val corrects him saying that he can be whoever he wants, already he is the owner of several mining properties and many stocks, he could transform his life in many ways, be whatever he wants to be … and Prince Pavel and his beautiful cousin may be royalty but they are far from wealthy.
Will is convinced, or at least his spirits are lifted and he is set on the path that he needs to take. As he leaves the the restaurant, he is shot down without any warning. It is the trio that has been hunting him: Sonnenberg, Pike, and Hardesty.
Without ever imagining it could happen, Val has been prepared for a moment like this all his life. He immediately goes up to their room and collects their belongings, including their stake money and some personal letters from Louise. He returns to Will’s body and removes his locket and the money he kept in his vest at all times. He asks MR. PECK, the owner of the establishment, to arrange Will’s funeral for him and to invest the majority of the money he has. With that task done, Val leaves town, unsure of what to do next.
Adaptation Notes Act Four
If we can’t manage it earlier Val and Will should probably meet the Bucklins (characters that appear in the next section) before he dies … the Bucklin's troubles with the neighboring ranch can come later, at this point they could be simply moving west. This will allow us to fuse more of the Will Reilly section of the story with what comes later … it would be nice if Val could share memories of Reilly with the Bucklin family.
It is here that Will should finally get serious about actually becoming the man he has realized he could have/should have become. The trip to Europe, his relationship with Val and his love for Louise has cemented that realization. In some weird way Reilly can’t be allowed to die without recognizing that he has sold himself short, that part of him has simply been a camp follower who was putting on airs. He needs to choose to change, to stop moping and make something of himself (as in the book) before he gets killed.
We must think very hard about why he has maintained the lifestyle (a lifestyle without form or substance) that he has up until this point. We must think very hard about how he also developed the strength of character that he nevertheless had! The only thing of worth Will leaves behind is Val, though this is not an insignificant achievement. However, there is something in him that has lead to a life without achievement. Will has been a good mentor for Val until this point, but now Val must begin to discover how to move on and be a better man than Will Reilly was or could have been.
Will was rarely willing to let himself be vulnerable … the only times we see it are with Val and Louise. What is he so scared of? What event in his life made him so opposed to close relationships? What event has made him need to be rootless and infinitely mobile to the exclusion of a normal life? I don’t know if we ever actually need to know but we do need to accept it as true and let it be a character trait that Val is not burdened with. It is one area where Val is a better, more rounded, man than Will. There will be more …
It might be best if Val is not as prepared for Will’s death as he is in the book … dramatically, it’s better to see him faced with greater adversity and muddling through, than totally and coolly prepared.
When Will dies Val should be returned to the humble state Will found him in. Lost and alone in the world. It’s probably best if he doesn’t realize at first that everything he has, every connection, any trust from most others, is because of Reilly … he probably needs to be humbled in this area, with someone reminding him that it was Reilly that was their friend and not Val. Then, he can start to truly build his own life and persona. He needs to make mistakes that Reilly wouldn’t have let him make and learn from them on his own … the book has scenes where Will is shown as a great parent in allowing Val to make his own mistakes but the story is really about Val and so using that sort of material before now may not be the wisest course.
At a bar in Durango, Val experiences his first predicament without having Will there to watch his back. After dropping a gold piece on the floor, a bar tough puts his boot on it until Val intimidates him into giving it back. Departing, Val next runs into a heavily wounded Tensleep who has been left for dead in a mountainside cabin. Val begins to nurse him back to health and learns his injuries were inflicted by Sonnenberg, who was upset Tensleep wouldn’t join his gang in the hunt for Will. When Tensleep regains his strength, Val bids him goodbye but knows he has secured a friend for life.
Shortly after, Val runs into a family making their way west to some land that they have staked out. The group includes the father, PA BUCKLIN, his three sons TARDY, CODY, and DUBE, and his two beautiful daughters BETSY and BOSTON. After a few days of slow traveling, the group arrives at the ranch expecting to be greeted by the family’s Uncle, but instead find him dead with a message declaring “This land clamed by Diamond Bar. Stay off!” Despite the tragic arrival, everyone decides that they aren’t going to be frightened and are going to stay. The next day, Val even offers to invest in the ranch and give them $10,000 to purchase cattle. The Bucklins immediately accept.
The next morning, Val, Cody, and Pa ride into town and have a confrontation with a cowhand in the saloon, one who was connected with the murder of their Uncle. When the name Chip Hardesty comes up, Val tells them that the outlaw belongs to him. A couple of men, one of whom were present when Val dropped the gold piece back in Durango, decide to test them. PAUL BRANCH challenges Val to a friendly poker game. Val, confident in his poker skills, agrees. Luck quickly goes Val’s way and soon he beats a full house with four tens, cleaning Paul out. Paul, furious, begins to rise when Chip Hardesty crashes through the front door demanding Val. Nerves cool and collected, Val kills Chip with one fluid motion. Paul, shaken at the fate he himself almost received, quickly excuses himself. But Val’s victory is bittersweet. The vengeance he had been seeking isn’t as satisfying as he thought it would be. Instead, he feels sickened that he just ended another man’s life. Privately, he decides that he needs to go east.
Adaptation Notes on Act Five
With his old life crashing down around him and no one to turn to, Val flees to the people who are truly his friends, as opposed to Reilly’s, for support. That is, if we can pre-set the Bucklins to play this role.
I like it, and I believe that Reilly would also, that Val has maintained this relationship over the years. A relationship that has a depth beyond many that Reilly might have had because Val is willing to ask for help, willing to be vulnerable in a way that Reilly wouldn’t … thereby creating a bond that goes both ways.
Boston needs to be established as a young woman who can be interested in Val. My father rarely showed the process of people falling in love and why they might be right for, or deserve, one and other. They tend to fall in love at first sight. I think it’s more interesting to see it happening, have the characters see or learn the value in one another. In movies men and women often seem to fall in love because they are movie stars rather than for legitimate reasons.
At every point we need to remember to support Val’s development as a character, how he learns and grows to be the man he needs to be. More on this later …
Val is knocked unconscious, robbed, and dumped in a train car headed to Missouri. Broke and battered, Val sells his spurs to a young farmhand, and the cash buys him passage to St. Louis. Employment opportunities there are even more dismal. Along the bank of the river, Val meets OLD MAN PETERSON. When Val learns of a sunken steamboat carrying flour, Val concocts a plan to salvage the barrels for some quick cash. Together, they sort out the details of pulling the barrels of flour out of the water. Val and Peterson recruit another hand, PADDY LAHEY, to help them pull off the job.
By nightfall, Val has salvaged many barrels of flour and some other odds and ends, including a polished box, which he recognizes as a gun case. Like they suspected, the outer layer of flour had turned to hard crust, leaving the majority of the flour protected and undamaged. Val seeks out the owner of the gun case, whose name was engraved on the outside: STEPHEN BRICKER.
Bricker offers Val a reward, which Val politely declines. Moved by Val’s kindness, Bricker helps him with the legal aspects of recovering the barrels of flour. Unfortunately, the most dangerous part of the job isn’t over. Val, Paddy, and Peterson still need to protect the flour from the river rats hired by the insurers. That evening, Val camps out by the pilot house to protect their goods. When a boat arrives with men set on taking over. There is a standoff that lasts until morning, leaving Val victorious. The whole ordeal pays Val a hefty four thousand dollars. Using his wits and his skill with a gun, Val is back to where he was before his incident in Dodge.
Adaptation Notes Act Six
The steamboat salvage is Val’s first true success on his own. We might need to establish earlier in the story as to how he knows that the flour is salvageable.
Myra needs to hear that her old compadre/lover Sonnenberg has killed Reilly. Once she does she can investigate Pavel, the man who ordered it. This could bring the two of them, Myra and Pavel into contact earlier in the story. It will also bring Sonnenberg back into Myra’s frame of reference after all the intervening years.
Is she initially thinking of using Pavel against Sonnenberg? If she still has a business relationship with Sonnenberg then it might be in character for her to want something to blackmail him with, to use to keep him in line. In the same way she can control Pavel with Sonnenberg? She has wised up since the days when she let Durrant’s copper claims slip away, she plans carefully now. She might have used Sonnenberg as muscle in business deals over the years, or to kill one of her husbands. If we are going to use these two as the villains in the end, and they can not play a constant role in Val’s life through the middle, then we must follow their story as a separate thread … always building toward the finish.
Could Myra be using Sonnenberg to cover up her past as a prostitute by killing people like Dawson? Should she hear about “some kid” who was with Reilly?
If copper prices are rising, as they would with telephone and telegraph being more and more important, she might start to realize how she blew it with Durrant and check into whatever happened to his properties hoping his heirs are ignorant of it’s value. She might end up on the trail of the child she thought was dead without even knowing it!
During the next few years, Val works to educate himself. He works in an attorney’s office in New York reading law and trains as a boxer at a local gym. By his early twenties he is just short of 200 pounds and six feet and two inches tall. He has worked as Steven Bricker’s secretary in the booming industries of mining and railroads. On his return to New York, he is, one day, asked for money by a drifter whom he immediately recognizes: Van Clevern. Offering to take him to dinner, Van is surprised at the kindness of this stranger. Over their meal, Val reveals his identity and they discuss the years that have gone by since Van left him with Will Reilly. Van tells him that he has since left Myra, but that Myra has become the multi-millionaire Myra Fossett, a well known widow and business woman who Val has heard of through his work. Van confesses that she is as evil a woman as she was before, if not worse. After countless immoral deeds, Van finally was able to break himself away from her but has succumbed to his drinking and unemployment. Val takes pity on the man that saved his life as a child and offers him some money and the advice to clean himself up and return to the family he left behind years ago. Van thankfully accepts and they part ways.
Not long after, Val’s mother, Myra Fossett is busy in a meeting with the head of the Pinkerton detective agency. Pinkerton has finally tracked down Van and learned that he mysteriously came upon some money and moved back home. Myra is annoyed, as Van is one of the only men that has ever successfully gotten away from her. Van is also a major liability, as he knows all the crimes Myra has committed in her rise to the top. Learning that Van had met with a young man named Val prior to his departure, Myra becomes increasingly worried, thinking that her son might still be alive. She orders Pinkerton to find out everything he can about him.
Unfortunately, Van’s return to his family is short lived. Despite being welcomed back and landing a job as a consultant to an investment firm, he suspiciously is found dead. His skull was badly shattered, apparently from being thrown from his horse. When Val hears the news he suspects that Myra Fossett had a hand in the death as Van had always been an excellent horseman.
Adaptation Notes Act Seven
We need to keep up with Sonnenberg too. Do he and Tensleep interact? Could Tensleep already be employed at the Bucklin ranch? That would keep him in play more evenly from start to finish.
Val’s showing up on the scene, and then Van’s disappearance, should make Myra more paranoid that ever … this starts her downward spiral. She becomes more and more convinced that the trail she has left, from the time she was a one time gold camp prostitute to black widow inheritor of the fortunes of rich husbands, is too obvious. Something must be done to clean up that back trail. She should probably start getting rid of people who know too much about her, not just in the East but out West too. Sonnenberg could be used for that. And that will keep him in play more evenly from start to finish and show that Myra will eventually be faced with the loose end that is her son.
Back in the saddle, Val ventures west again. On the road to his ranch near Tascosa, he bumps into a stranger on the road who he recognizes as Billy Antrim, one of the young boys from his childhood. Billy reveals to Val that he is now actually Billy the Kid, the renowned outlaw. After briefly catching up and stopping at a ranch for food, they part ways again. Val re-evaluates his drifting nature, feeling a longing for something more. Billy provides an image of the man he is slowly becoming, particularly if he continues to feel like he needs to kill Sonnenberg and Pike to avenge Will.
Stopping at a bar in Lincoln, Val eats his dinner amidst a group of toughs gossiping about Billy the Kid. When one of them addresses Val, asking him where he thinks Billy is going, Val makes a smart comment, upsetting the man. Val offers to do a magic trick where two of the men have to hold buckets of water up with broomsticks. Val draws his pistol on them and declares he will shoot them if they drop the buckets. A crowd begins to gather as he sits there drinking his coffee, watching the men straining to hold the buckets up. As he leaves, he disarms the men and bids them goodbye. This is a Valentine Darrant that the world hasn’t seen yet, one that is confident and a force to be reckoned with, one that is more and more like Will Reilly.
In Tascosa Val runs into EGAN CATES, the miner who helped fight off the Apache Indians when he was a young boy. Cates tells Val that there are people in Colorado searching for him about the money he invested with Mr. Peck immediately after Will’s death. As they are talking, Val notices Thurston Pike enter the room. With the devil rising up in him, Val begins loudly telling Cates about Will Reilly and the story of his murder. Pike, immediately uneasy, lurches to his feet and exits. Cates warns Val about Henry Sonnenberg. To persuade him to give up his vendetta, he offers him a partnership in some real estate ventures. Val tells him he will think it over, and exits through the kitchen to be safe. That too was like Will Reilly but Val is not so sure he wants to live as a man defined by a vendetta.
Val makes his way back towards the ranch he owns with the Bucklin family. Still some distance away he is struck by a bullet. Falling off of his horse, he crawls behind a rock by the cliff face, soon he hears footsteps coming his way. He is surprised when he is addressed by Boston Bucklin.
At once startled by her beauty, Val asks her about who the attacker could have been. She tells him that she saw a man in the distance, but he rode off when she came into view. They decide to head back to the ranch before nightfall.
Adaptation Notes Act Eight
Here we are more fully exploring the revenge aspects of the plot. I’m thinking that perhaps Val should hunt down one of the men prior to this and kill or cripple him … thus he learns that this is not the person he wants to be. However, it sets in motion the fact that the others now intend to get him before he can find them. Possibly, this first act of revenge (maybe this is not a gunfight but knives or something less common in a “western story” yet actually common in the actual west) could happen prior to Myra’s seeing him in New York. Possibly she first learns about someone who was with Reilly who is now hunting his killers.
It is appropriate that, as we near the end of the story, Sonnenberg is the only one left.
As they approach the ranch, Val notices how much it has expanded. There is now a two-story ranch house, two large barns, and several corrals and a bunkhouse. Val is greeted by Pa, Cody, and the other members of the family who have grown to be like his family. For the first time in a long while, Val feels at home. Good, honest, strong people surround him, a stark contrast to the people he has met on the road.
Val also learns that Tensleep is there, working as one of the cowhands. Tensleep, older but seemingly tougher, tells Val that the Pinks (Pinkerton’s detective agency) are searching for him. Val thinks it must by Myra trying to track him down. Tensleep agrees, and suggests that Van’s death was likely not an accident at all. The following morning, Boston rides to her friend Melissa Winslow’s place, asking to be taught how to be a lady. She thinks that Val only sees her as a tomboy and she wants to show him that she has a feminine side as well.
After a hard day of work, Betsy pulls him away and gives him a tour of the ranch house they built for him. The Bucklins, knowing how much Val valued books as a child, built a small library for him full of the books he used to read with Will. Browsing through the books, Val is too taken with the kind gesture that he isn’t prepared when he finds Thurston Pike walking through the outside door, gun in hand. Thurston fires, the impact knocking Val back into the bookcase. Val draws and shoots from his hip as Thurston shoots another time. As he feels the impact of the second bullet, he fires again noticing Pike going down. As Betsy walks in, rifle in hand, Val watches Pike sink to the floor and then turns his attention to the book he had taken from the shelf. The leather bound book, Anatomy of Melancholy, had taken both bullets, which had been aimed directly at his heart. Neither of the bullets had gone more than two thirds of the way through. Val quips that he never had been able to get through the book either.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Myra is informed by Pinkerton of the failed attempt on Val’s life by Pike. She also learns that Will Reilly was the one who reared her son. She remembers Will as the one man who had really interested her. She recalls that Will had never even given her the time of day. Pinkerton tells Myra the details of Will’s death by the three outlaws Sonnenberg, Pike and Hardesty, ordered by another man, Avery Simpson. She isn’t surprised when Pinkerton tells her of Van’s death. However, she is interested to learn that Van sent Val a box before he died. This worries her, as Van knew all the dirty deeds she had done over the years and that knowledge could be used against her in court. She resolves to intercept the box before it reaches him. She also brings in Avery Simpson to learn more about Will Reilly’s murder. After initially being stubborn, Avery folds when realizes the extent of Myra’s knowledge about his dirty laundry and confesses that it was Prince Pavel who paid for Will’s death. After grasping the situation that Will had found himself in years ago, Myra decides to write to Pavel and invite him to come to the states. When the letter arrives in Europe, Pavel is curious as to who Myra Fossett is. Since his finances haven’t been in great shape and the letter implies he might be compensated, he agrees to visit.
A few weeks pass for Val on the ranch. In between hard work and his shoulder healing, he knows he must soon head to Colorado to meet with Peck and see what has happened with the money he invested. When Boston returns and tells him she is coming to Colorado with him, as well as Dube and Tensleep, the trip is quickly planned. When they arrive at the station to catch the train to Colorado, Val receives a letter from Van Clevern’s sister, informing him of the box that was shipped to him. It also awaits him at Peck’s in Colorado. He remembers that he was told Sonnenberg had recently recruited a safecracker, Val puts two and two together and suspects that Henry may be going to Colorado for this box. After recently deciding that he was going to give up his vendetta against Sonnenberg, Val begins to see that fate is still pulling the strings.
When Pavel arrives in New York with his sister Louise, he visits Myra Fossett’s office and meets her for the first time. He is unprepared for Myra’s impertinent personality, who immediately lists off the debts that he owes. Flabbergasted and impressed, Pavel realizes he needs to deal with this carefully. Myra offers him a deal. In exchange for not blackmailing him, he must accompany her to social gatherings. She believes that his title and foreign appeal will help her with business and simultaneously help her deal with her son and Henry Sonnenberg. Pavel has little choice and accepts.
Adaptation Notes Act Nine
Okay, I’ve touched on this before but excuse me … what kind of sick relationship does Louise have with Pavel? Sorry, but it’s like a wife and an abusive husband. It makes me want to have her die of a broken heart. I love some aspects of having her around at the ending but their relationship is very strange ... and mysterious enough to be really interesting. Whatever: it's creepy.
Pavel is always trying to pimp her off to some guy, he tried to whip the man she loves, she’s been married and supposedly independent of him, yet now she’s back in this dysfunctional relationship. Her European scenes will work okay, she probably couldn’t avoid Pavel at the time. But when she travels with him to the US, even to see Will Reilly’s grave … especially to see Will Reilly’s grave … it’s really a bit much.
When Val and his group arrive in Denver, they get rooms at the Windsor, the premier luxury hotel of its day. Peck is on his way down from Empire to meet with Val, and in the meantime, he is going to stay out of the spotlight. While alone in his room, a knock on the door makes Val alert, but it turns out it is just Stephen Bricker who had heard Val was in town. Bricker explains that they have been trying to get a hold of him for weeks. He tells him that the money Val gave Peck was invested in mining land. Through fortuitous circumstances, that particular piece of land lies in the way of the railroad’s new branch and is extremely valuable. As it sinks in that Val is about to be a very wealthy man, he realizes that he has not made a will. If he should die, in battle with perhaps Sonnenberg, the money would go to his next of kin. This ultimately means that if anything should happen to him, his mother Myra would inherit the land. Things are beginning to fall into place for Val.
An idea occurs to him: Why not marry Boston? He asks Dube, who has been waiting for this a while. Dube does not think it would be correct for a quick wedding though, as he knows Pa and the rest of the family would want to be there. Instead, he suggest to Val that he should cut and run. Laying low at a time like this would be a smart thing to do, while having Bricker arrange the sale of the land for him. Just before their discussion is over, Boston joins them. Wearing a stunning dress, in stark contrast to her usual masculine wardrobe, Val is blown away by her beauty again. To his dismay though, she brings along another woman that she has just met: his mother.
This is the first time Val has seen his mother since his childhood, and he is immediately wary. She is traveling with Pavel, who Val also recognizes. Boston, oblivious to the tension, invites Myra and Pavel to join their table. Myra skips all the formalities and an explanation of why she gave him up so many years ago and immediately begins discussing business. She makes a cash offer of $100,000 for the land that Val owns. Val tells her it is a nice sum, but flatly refuses, saying the land is worth in excess of a million dollars. He also carries on a conversation with Pavel, who doesn’t recognize him from Austria, with thinly veiled insults aimed at the Prince. Myra, frustrated she is not making any progress, asks Val why he won’t sell the land to her. He replies that he will have to think it over. While leaving, he invites Pavel to poker at the hotel later in the evening. Val knows that Pavel is an ambitious player but with weak skills, and he decides he is going to not only beat him, but break him. Outside, Dube warns him that Sonnenberg is in town now and he has three men with him. Two of them he doesn’t recognize, but the third is Tom, the unstable outlaw he met at the cabin when he was four years old. Val, never a man who hunted trouble, was now in the midst of an all out war.
Meanwhile, Myra searches Val’s room for the box from Van, but realizes it isn’t there. Deciding that he either doesn’t have it or it is in Boston’s room, she sends out a note to one of her unsavory contacts in Denver. CHEYENNE DAWSON, a middleman for all sorts of criminal behavior, receives the note. While reading it, realizing this could be the big payday he has been waiting for, one of the prostitutes he is with recognizes the handwriting as the same as Myra Cord. She used to work with Myra when she was younger and tells him the handwriting is identical. This bothers Cheyenne, as he has heard of Myra Cord and her spotty reputation. Cheyenne is able to put two and two together to realize Myra Cord and Myra Fossett are the same person. When Myra hears that someone has been making inquiries about her, she loses her composure. The reason she moved was in the first place was to avoid running into people that knew her and her past. Now she was in real trouble.
As evening comes, Val prepares himself for poker game with Pavel. Looking in the mirror before he goes downstairs, he notices the striking similarities between himself and Will Reilly. But as much as he feels like he needs to settle the score with Pavel and Sonnenberg, the sensation of being caught in a web is very real. He was an excellent gunfighter, but even the best lost in the end.
Stepping out into the hallways, Val sees a woman that he hasn’t seen in many years: Louise. Rushing back into his room, he grabs a book that he has always kept with him. Down in the lobby, he asks a waiter to bring the copy of Goethe’s Faust to her. When she receives it, she instantly knows who gave her the book as she had given it to Val when he was a young boy. They have a brief but happy reunion and Val explains the circumstances of Will’s death. He explains he is going to play her cousin Pavel in poker to repay him. She warns him to be careful, but he is steady in his decision. He offers to take her to Will’s grave in Empire when everything is finished.
When Val arrives at the poker game, Pavel was already winning. Bricker is also in the game, but Val doesn’t recognize the other players. Taught from one of the best, Val plays very well but only challenges when Pavel is still in the hand. Soon, he has an opportunity to make Pavel go all in against his four nines. Pavel, confident in his full house, calls. Val rakes in the pot and comments how Pavel has always been a poor loser. To Pavel’s further dismay, Val explains to the other players the Prince’s involvement in Will Reilly’s death. Val tells the businessmen at the table to meet him in Durango to discuss the sale of his land, and abruptly exits. Pavel, stumbling back to his room, learns that Louise has checked out. He realizes the true extent of his situation. He is penniless, alone, socially ruined and in the middle of a dangerous, wild foreign country. Val had spared him, if only because he knew death would be a kinder fate.
Nearby, Cheyenne encounters Henry Sonnenberg, a man he has done business with in the past. Sonnenberg tells him that he is currently being paid to kill Val. Cheyenne begins to tell Sonnenberg that he also has a job for him, one that could pay a lot of money, but he is interrupted when Sonnenberg tells him that Val isn’t the only one on his list. Naïve, Cheyenne asks who that might be. Sonnenberg replies that it is him, and Myra is paying him a thousand bucks for his death. Cheyenne hastily tries to change his mind, but Sonnenberg doesn’t let him finish and shoots him fatally in the stomach.
Meanwhile, Val arrives in Durango with Dube at his side. They meet up with Boston and Tensleep, who arrived earlier, and then seek out Cates who has Val’s box. All the while, Val is being very careful. He knows from firsthand experience that Sonnenberg will stoop to any level of cowardice to kill him. Tensleep reports that Sonnenberg’s gang is indeed in town. The group includes Tom, the unstable outlaw from Val’s childhood, and two strangers, PAGOSA AND KILEY. Val instructs him to get the box from Cates and have Boston keep an eye on it. The atmosphere is tense. There are people that will pay handsomely for Val’s land and for the box, but there are also people that want him dead. In this small, wild western outpost, Val is in the middle of it all. He notices a man outside leaning on a horse, but strategically behind it. This is a trick Val learned at a young age and knows that the moment he steps out the door, a rifle will appear over the horse’s back. He instructs Dube to go upstairs to get a better angle and to shoot at the man’s feet. When he does, the horse jumps away and exposes Pagosa. Dube shoots again and this time hits his boot, sending the man sprawling. Val races over to the saloon and finds Sonnenberg, Kiley and Tom before him. He greets them, giving special attention to Tom. The outlaw had known Val’s grandparents, and Val tries to exploit the connection telling him how much he appreciated his kindness when he was a child. Sonnenberg is impatient and asks what he is trying to do. Val just says that he wanted Tom to know he wasn’t going to shoot him and then draws. The speed with which his gun is drawn shocks Sonnenberg, who feels the impact of three quick bullets hit him. Henry gets a couple shots in, one which hits Val, but he is unable to defend himself when the younger gunslinger jumps on him and shoots him one last time in the stomach. As quickly as that, the gunfight is over. Tom had turned on his partner, Kiley, upset that they were being paid by Myra, and both of them die from the gun wounds they sustain. Tensleep and Dube burst in and see the carnage that has occurred. Boston follows right behind, and tells them there is a train going their way the next day.
Before sundown, Val closes the deal on his land with Cates and learns that his mother has left town, headed east. Cates comments that Val has a great group of friends surrounding him. Val replies that he hopes to be as good of a friend to them as they have been to him. He is optimistic he will be able to. After all, he had a man that taught him how.
- THE END -
Adaptation Notes Act Ten
There is WAY too much running around in this act. We have to simplify, simplify, simplify. Work it all out in ONE town. No movie project can afford this much movement and, dramatically, it is not necessary at all.
Everyone has to get what they truly deserve. Myra needs to be exposed to the world for what she is and she must have taken the chance of exposure for nothing but tragic paranoia and greed. Pavel needs to get trapped in a world (the West) with no luxuries where no one respects him and where he can’t escape … stealing a scene form Rio Bravo I’d love to see someone toss a coin into a spittoon for him to dig out. Sonnenberg has to be shot by Val. Val has to transcend his mother while being totally honorable. Val and Boston have to live happily ever after. Respects need to be paid to Reilly.
Val and Boston need to go through some kind of final test together.
Myra believes that she is owed the mining claims that Val has inherited … she has possessed them in her imagination. She is pursuing Val for the very thing that his real father was pursued but then rejected for.
The mining property can be a windfall to Val but he should already have all the success he needs to be without it. At the end of the act he is a complete man with or without it.
We really never get an answer as to what is in Van’s box. I think that Myra’s fate can be much more tragic if she has exposed herself, not for a box actually full of blackmail goods … which I think Van knows Val wouldn’t use anyway … but the last few keepsakes of Val’s childhood or something. It’s her paranoia that is in the box.
I’ve always imagined a scene between Myra and Boston where Myra starts to bitch her out, “You see my dear …” and Boston just hauls off and punches her lights out. Boston doesn’t bring a barbed tongue to a fist fight.
The story is about Val overcoming his past. If you overcome your past you control the future.
Notes on Will Reilly –
Will has been hurt methinks … we shouldn’t ever say what it was but it’s there, looming in the background. It makes the character … it’s why he needs Val so much.
Will wants Val to surpass him … this needs to come out in more ways than just Will’s sending Val to school. Or not … maybe this is Will’s blind spot until just before he dies.
If Val is Reilly’s “luck,” the kid who opens up Will as a person as much as Will opens Val’s life with his care and teaching and travel, then what are the lessons, what is the process that is being created during their scenes together? Once we have the answer to that we can insert that process into scenes that we create for the European settings making them as effective in telling the story as anything that takes place in the American west.
Will’s becoming a parent is the beginning of a fundamental change in him. His rootless life as a professional gambler is the exact opposite of what a good parent might be.
Notes on Myra Cord –
Her story needs to be structured like a tragedy (classically meaning: a story in which the villain is the character that you follow). In the book she comes from a good family but I think that is, given the short-hand nature of film, a mistake. Instead she should be trying to overcome ugly beginnings, dirt poor and abused. Overcoming those things is admirable but she takes the wrong path. She is beautiful, and smart, she could attract a good husband, but too much damage has been done to her for her to see that as an option. Working as a prostitute is one step toward independence from her family, abusive father, or whatever … she’s now getting paid for what has previously simply been taken from her.
To take the next step up means trapping Durrant in marriage and fatherhood … but she hates men and the mining claims she thought were so valuable she suddenly learns aren’t gold and, in her naïve view, that’s the only thing that has value. SO she tries to poison him but he gets away
Her next attempt to move up means a job with Sonnenberg as a criminal but it means selling her soul; getting rid of her son. It should be for a concrete reason, not just on general principals. Sonnenberg lays down the law, “no kids.” Once she has sold her soul things go her way, she is on a path that gets her everything she wants, money, power, status … but she can’t forget how she got there. By the end of the story, she’s jumping at shadows, covering her tracks, fighting a war that she never realizes is actually with herself.
Myra and Van … I always saw him as gay and attracted, virtually in love, with the power she projects as a woman. In many ways she’s a man in a woman’s body … he finally realizes that she’s a very poor excuse for a man in a woman’s body.
Myra and Pavel … she’s a woman with a devious, treacherous man inside and he’s a man with a devious treacherous woman inside. She’s contemptuous of him but he is fascinated and horrified by her … it’s like looking into some kind of twisted fun house mirror.
Myra and Sonenberg … possibly he is so overpoweringly dominant that he’s the only man she has ever felt like a real woman around. She’s not the least bit in love with him … but he was a way of releasing sexual pressures, and of defining her as a woman that she hadn’t found elsewhere.
Myra and Boston … For a long time Myra’s primary tool is that she is not as bound by convention as other women, ie. She can kill her husbands and be as bad as she needs to be. Boston is also not bound by convention … but Boston actually has control of her power as a rule breaker. She is not defined by the role she’s trying to break out of … she simply is. No baggage.
As I said, I don’t like Myra coming from a good eastern family … it’s interesting but the symbolism is wrong and it’s more complicated than we’ll have time for. The west is the place she needs to deny, the place she wants to wipe out of her life and the place she will only return to under the most extreme circumstances. The west is also a place of complete honesty that eventually claims her and reveals who she will always be to the world. She never grew up or truly transcended her unfortunate origins, as Val has, and so the west will bring her down. I think it would be wonderful to see her somehow trapped or revealed by one of her old contemporaries … some toothless hag who is like the Picture of Dorian Gray to her! This is almost in the book … it could be used to a greater extent.
Above all Myra needs control. She’ll go out of control fighting for more control. She must have come from a childhood of no control.
Notes on Val Durrant –
In the west people admire Reilly, consider him a needed type because they are looking at the only one level of his character. It’s all true, but he is also too cynical to grow past a certain point. He is too set in what is comfortable, too locked in his limitations. Val needs to become the complete version of what westerners saw in Reilly, inside and outside. He is the end product of which Reilly was the prototype.
Will was never quite ambitious enough, or accomplished enough, to “get” his woman, Louise. He was still a camp follower, like Myra. Even Myra evolved, though badly, but Will, the best of the lot in the beginning, did not. Pavel points out Will’s actual failings, though he’s considerably worse as a man; Will has no real foundations, nothing but luck and skill to carry him through tomorrow’s needs. He never really helped build anything specific.
Val must see all that and evolve beyond it. He must see beyond himself, support a community like the Bucklins do rather than feed off of it like Myra and Will. Is his relationship with the Bucklins where this happens? Interesting if while both he and Reilly get know them that the family is always his relationship. Val needs to grow up to have greater generosity than Reilly, who is generous but in a guarded, cynical way.
Life is about learning the difference between being tough and being brave. Basically, between protection and growth. Will is a step in the right direction from Myra, but he is still tough … he is still all about control, like she is. The primary way that Val transcends Will is that where Will is tough, Val learns to be brave.
At his last moment, just before he dies, Will has a moment, the dream of finding a way to recreate his life, that is truly brave. Being tough is occasionally necessary in life but it is all too often addicting because it’s about being safe. Toughness is essentially defensive, about holding on to what you have. Brave is all about the winning future and having hope. In fundamental terms there’s only one story in the world; it is the story of the journey from darkness and toughness to light and bravery.
Val has to face being the son of a whore and raised by a gambler … and learn to prove himself accordingly. Not with big actions but he must turn out to be, in every way, honest, moral and true to himself.
He may need to be identified as “Myra’s boy” and looked down upon because of that at some point after Reilly dies. His learning to be a complete man is the final development of his character in the end. Boston is strong enough to help Val in ways that Louise could never help Reilly.
In the second half of the story Val’s relationship with Boston evolves … they discover the kind of deep connection, of being partners, that Will and Louise never had. Will and Louise’s relationship was based on romantic fantasies ... it was love but not founded in the practical world.
The fact is that we have a story where a boy is abandoned by his mother and where she is also the final villain he must overcome means that we have a story about a boy/man needing to resolve the relationship with his mother … learn and grow and define himself in relationship to women. It’s the unspoken fundamental of the story so it has to play a role.
Reilly, initially is a better balance between masculine and feminine values (strength and caring) than Myra (in her ambition and ruthlessness she is a “masculine” version of feminine), Sonnenberg (overly masculine), Van (a male version of feminine), Pavel (a feminine version of masculine) or Louise (overly feminine) … But Reilly is still not the more perfect balance of masculine and feminine values that Val and Boston turn out to be.
Boston is well balanced from growing up in a family with a lot of men but she appreciated by them and respected as a woman. Because of Myra, Val can have some exposure to prostitutes at their best and worst, then Louise and whatever other women are interested in the very sexy Reilly. Through these experiences he can easily become a man who learns to be comfortable enough around women to be focused on the right one … Boston. He can certainly have learned the lesson that women will respect you, and you will only have real relationships with them, if you don’t compromise yourself as a man.
He should really be facing Myra in many guises all along. In Europe it’s actually Pavel that is the stand in for Myra.
If Sonnenberg is the only man who is really allowed to be a man around Myra and he says no to her keeping Val …then it’s both of them that Val has to face in many guises throughout the story. Myra is the evil mother and Sonnenberg is sort of the evil father. When he was first abandoned it would be kind of like both of them tried to kill him.
Myra, and Val … and Sonnenberg and Val need to be on a very slow collision course throughout the story.
Myra and Louise are both trapped in a certain definition of being female …a definition where appearances are monumentally important … Boston is not. She is strong enough, free enough of the need for approval, that she can be herself with no position, no masks, no worries about “what people will think.”
Until Boston enters the story as a full-blown romantic character, Val may need to deal with and learn about an assortment of “inferior” women … with Myra as Val’s last obstacle. Should Val face a series of tests with “temptress” figures who stand in for Myra so that he can practice knowing where he stands when he has to face her? It seems to me that a true temptress is someone who, if you do what she wants, it will leave you too stunted to continue on your path.
What woman teaches Val about good women? It seems like this is Louise’s job … the “good” mother figure.
Sheesh! This is one INTENSE story!!!
Playing with the theme of relationships between men and women and the fact that Myra keeps in contact with Sonnenberg over the years, it’s my thought that Sonnenberg is one of the few men Mrya cannot completely seduce. He’s as ready to use her as she is to use him. Winning him over, under those circumstances would be a challenge to her. Perhaps just winning in their battle of the sexes would be something she desires.
Sonnenberg needs to continue to develop into an exceedingly bad dude while Myra and Van move on to her next plan. This would be her moving East and marrying well. Each time she marries she moves up a notch (more legitimate and wealthy men) and each time she becomes more directly involved in the husband’s business. At first she should probably just be attempting to involve herself in some minor way … once the husband thwarts this and won’t make the move she wants him to make on his own, she kills him. These scenes are not in the book but we might show them both to show her as seductress and an intelligent, if dishonest, business woman and to keep her current and part of the over-all plot of the story.
Should we continue to follow our Russian characters with some regularity after Will and Val have gone back to the USA? They appear again in the ending so to touch base and track their relationship is probably needed. There are issues in the ending that suggest we should continue to learn about them rather than suddenly catching up as we get to the climax.
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