Frederick Faust by Jon Tuska


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Frederick Faust

by Jon Tuska

Frederick Schiller Faust was born in Seattle, Washington, on May 29, 1892. An author of poetry, romances, fairy tales, legends, parables, allegories, fantasies, dreams, and psycho-dramas, Faust was one of the world’s greatest storytellers who by a fortuitous accident for his legions of devoted readers happened to write in addition to many other kinds of fiction over 300 Western novels and stories. Of Faust’s many pseudonyms, George Owen Baxter, David Manning, Evan Evans, and above all Max Brand are the bylines most common in his Western story appearances.

At a very early age Faust moved with his parents to the San Joaquin Valley in California. His parents were poor and, apparently to compensate for a life in which there was sometimes not enough to eat, Faust turned to medieval romantic literature and his own vivid imagination for solace. It was the extraordinary amount of physical labor Faust did as a youth that strained and enlarged his heart. Many of his protagonists would be confronted early on in his narratives with similarly brutal manual labor. When orphaned, he went to live with a distant relative, Thomas Downey, a high school principal. Faust was sixteen when Downey introduced him to a Classical education. Greek and Latin literature and mythology fired Faust’s mind and remained a lifelong frame of reference. As late in his career as “Gunman’s Bluff” in Star Western (4/34), it was not unusual for Faust to include in a description of an impending gunfight a Classical reference: “Martindale converged on Rafferty’s saloon. Not all of Martindale, for the women and children remained at home, of course, and they formed the whispering chorus against which the tragedy was enacted.” Faust’s images and even his characters would shimmer and intimate those once bright forms born in the vivid light of the lands bordering what Herodotus called hde h Qalassa and Julius Caesar mare nostrum. Years hence, when Faust found himself in that enchanted land of the Mediterranean, he commented: “Wherever there is Greece there is magic. And when mountains or islands appear blue, there is usually a silver or golden slope shining through the mist. One rarely finds a landscape that is all dark.” Faust would find the dark landscapes, though, as had Odysseus, and he would project them outward into the mountain desert of the great American West, but always there was the brilliant light in the pantheon of the firmament. Homer, Vergil, Dante, Shakespeare, Æschylus, yes, — not so much Sophocles, and never Euripedes (who dared look into the abyss and see that the universe at base was irrational and therefore incomprehensible to reason) — these were the purveyors of the worlds and the moods that preoccupied Faust and they left an eternal imprint on what he wrote.

He matriculated at the University of California at Berkeley and showed significant promise even then as a writer. His natural inclination toward poetry helped make one of the most moving experiences of his undergraduate years hearing Rupert Brooke reading aloud from his own works. Faust was too much of a maverick, his mind too questing, to be a docile student and, after four years, he was denied the right to graduate.

Faust became convinced that to die in battle was the best, most heroic kind of death, a romantic notion that presumably prompted him to try getting into the Great War by immigrating to Canada. All of his efforts, however, were of no avail and in 1917, in New York, unable to get shipped overseas even in the Ambulance Corps, Faust turned to what from then on would be his principal aim in life, to become a major poet. In a letter of protest to The New York Times, working at manual labor and voicing his outrage, Faust objected to the social injustice of his lot and, amazingly, was given assistance by Mark Twain’s sister who arranged for him to meet Robert Hobart Davis, an editor with the Munsey publications. His acumen and immense talent impressed Davis and Faust soon became a regular contributor to All-Story Weekly, a magazine Davis edited. By the time he sold his third story to Davis, he had adopted Max Brand as his byline. There was a sound reason for this beyond the desire for anonymity. The United States was at war with Germany and many Americans considered anything German anathema. What name could be more recognizable as German in origin than Faust?

Presently he felt his new career as a magazine writer sufficiently secure that he returned to California intent on marrying his college sweetheart, Dorothy Schillig. They were married that year and from this union came three children, Jane Faust born on March 29, 1918, John Faust born on November 2, 1919, and Judith Faust born on February 3, 1928.

In 1918 Faust wrote his first Western fiction for All-Story Weekly, although a mining novel from the previous year began in the then-contemporary West. First came the novelette, “Above the Law,” followed by the short story, “Bad-Eye, His Life and Letters.” It was Davis’s idea, since he had lost Zane Grey to the better-paying slick-paper magazines, that Faust should try to duplicate Grey’s success and write Western fiction in the same mode. Unquestionably THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT (Harper, 1910) was one of the Grey stories Faust read. It had run serially in The Popular Magazine. It is scarcely a coincidence that Mescal, Grey’s heroine, who rides a mare called Black Bolly with Wolf, her faithful wolf-dog, always at their side, should have been transformed by Faust into the striking images of Dan Barry, his stallion Satan, and his wolf dog Black Bart in his first Western novel to be published in book form following its serialization in All-Story Weekly. He titled it THE UNTAMED (Putnam, 1919). While both Grey and Faust would eschew realism in their finest Western fiction in preference for psycho-dramas in the realm of the dream and the archetypes of the collective unconscious, they went about it in very different ways. Grey tied his dreams to a vivid depiction of the wilderness and the vast terrain of the West as he personally experienced it. Faust plunged instead into the no less vast cavity of his soul — that expanse which is without measure, as Heraclitus said — and for him the experience must have been much as he would later describe it in 1926 for Oliver Tay in what became THE BORDER BANDIT (Harper, 1947): “...He was seeing himself for the very first time; and, just as his eye could wander through the unfathomed leagues of the stars which were strewn across the universe at night, so he could turn his glance inward and probe the vastness of new-found self. All new!” Dan Barry is not a hero, Western, traditional, or otherwise, but an archetypal projection of the shadow: “They seemed like one being rather than three. The wolf was the eyes, the horse the strong body to flee or pursue, and the man was the brain which directed, and the power which struck.” The antagonist Dan Barry battles in THE UNTAMED is Jim Silent. It is Silent who in his fistfight with Dan brings to him “this first taste of his own powers — this first taste...of blood!” Dan is more feral than human and that is how he is depicted when, as an “ominous crouched animal with the yellow eyes, the nameless thing which had been Whistling Dan before, sprang up and forward with a leap like that of a panther.” Faust continued Dan Barry’s saga through two more books, THE NIGHT HORSEMAN (Putnam, 1920) and THE SEVENTH MAN (Putnam, 1921) before Dan is dead, killed by the heroine, Kate Cumberland, in order to protect their daughter from him. It is Joan Barry’s story, narrated after her father and then her mother are dead, that concludes the saga in DAN BARRY’S DAUGHTER (Putnam, 1924).

In the early 1920s Faust took his family to live in Katonah, New York, and it was here that he raised white bull terriers that he would permit to run loose over the estate. He must have studied their habits carefully because one of his most notable, although perhaps least appreciated, books has a white bull terrier for its principal character, THE WHITE WOLF (Putnam, 1926). As Jack London who came in WHITE FANG (Macmillan, 1906) to repudiate the message of freedom with which he had concluded CALL OF THE WILD (Macmillan, 1903), Faust rejected the wilderness into which he had earlier consigned Satan and Black Bart and had White Wolf come to live a happy, domestic life with his former master. This novel also points up two peculiarities about Faust: his own ambivalence about freedom versus domesticity, a dilemma about which he never did become reconciled, and his uncanny ability to depict animals, especially dogs and horses, so that they are real characters while never becoming anthropomorphic extensions of human notions.

When Davis was over-bought for the Munsey publications, Faust changed his primary affiliation to Frank Blackwell, editor at Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine. Blackwell, for whom Faust under various pseudonyms might have as many as two serial installments and a short novel appear simultaneously in a single issue (or at least a serial and a novel), preferred the basic pursuit plot and his favorite narrative device was delayed revelation. Much of Faust’s fiction for Western Story Magazine thus falls into a variety of pursuit story but, depending on how closely his stories are read, there is often an open question as to what it is precisely that is being pursued. One of Faust’s finer efforts for Davis had been TRAILIN’ (Putnam, 1920). It is one of Faust’s strongest examples of a plot with delayed revelation prior to the Blackwell period and it combines mystery, suspenseful parallel plotting, a childish and sullen protagonist who can scarcely be viewed as a hero, and an off-beat heroine in Sally Fortune. “With deft, flying fingers she rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and sat down cross-legged. Through the first outward puff of smoke went these words: ‘The only thing that’s a woman about me is skirts. That’s straight.’” Anthony Woodbury learns that his real name may be Anthony Bard and he goes West to find out all he can about his identity. While searching a deserted house with rotted floors, Anthony is reminded of that “fabled boat of Charon which will float a thousand bodiless spirits over the Styx but which sinks to the water-line with the weight of a single human being.” When Steve Nash, William Drew’s foreman, comes to tell Drew that Bard is on his way the reader is told that Drew loomed over Nash “as the Grecian heroes loomed above the rank and file at the siege of Troy. He was like a relic of some earlier period when bigger men were needed for a greater physical labor.”

Size would become increasingly a factor in the physical make-up of Faust’s characters, particularly his protagonists, but in part this is to be viewed as an analogy to that belief Faust had that “there is a giant asleep in every man. When that giant wakes, miracles can happen.” That, too, increasingly was to happen in Faust’s fiction, something that runs counter to the basic impetus of the Western story: the encounter with the miraculous. Indeed, much of the tone of 20th-Century American fiction has been that of realism, naturalism, and materialism. The human soul, accordingly, shrank until it was often little more than an atrophied collection of quiet resentments and bitter, petty neuroses. Faust could instead, as he did in “The Garden of Eden,” a serial in All-Story Weekly (4/15/22-5/20/22), provide a Western story in which not a single shot was fired and in which the protagonist, David Eden, could confess to Ruth Manning as they leave his sequestered valley: “‘How wonderful are the ways of God!’” Leading his horse Glani with Ruth astride, David remarks: “‘Through a thief he [God] has taught me wisdom; through a horse he has taught me faith; and you, oh, my love, are the key with which he has unlocked my heart!’” In contrast to the powerful hold the Christian religion and the Christian God had upon those who did brave the perils of the frontier, it is a curiosity that in most of the fiction written about characters based on these historical prototypes faith is reduced to a banal utilitarianism. The Biblical overtones that run throughout Faust’s Western fiction are as striking and unique as his imagery from Classical literature. Indeed, Zane Grey’s avowed pantheism is wan beside the vivid evocation of the presence of God in Faust’s fiction, whether as the Great Spirit of the Plains Indians or the Christian Deity. Walt Coburn in his fiction during his Golden Age from 1926 through 1934 frequently evoked El Señor Dios, but never with quite the same conviction as Faust did in his stories, although Faust seems not to have been overtly religious in his personal life. As late as the novelette “Lawman’s Heart” in Star Western (5/34), a masterful example of Faust’s ability to clothe a psycho-drama in the trappings of supposedly realistic fiction, it is stated when Dr. Channing dies that “a bullet, mercifully straight, struck the consciousness from him, and loosed the life from the body, and sent the unharmed spirit winging on its way.” Yet, it is clearly by means of an act of grace, as it is termed, that the Deity acts upon the lives of humans and animals, for pervading Faust’s psychic world in his fiction, flickering always in the dark heavens, is the inexorable law of destiny, of fate, of rota Fortunae. It is as if, even more than Dante, Faust sought to embrace the medieval unity and yet to remain withal a pagan devoted no less to the magic and wonder of Classical Antiquity.

In 1921 Faust made the painful and, for him, tragic discovery that he had a chronic and incurable heart condition from which he might die at any moment. Different parts of his heart would beat at different rates and, sometimes, would seem not to beat at all. This may have been due in part to physical strain as a youth but an even greater factor may have been emotional in origin in Faust’s erratic, contradictory and, in truth, tormented life. After consulting a number of cardiac specialists, Faust became even more depressed over the lack of progress in his literary work than in his physical condition and sought consultation with H.G. Baynes in the United Kingdom, a Jungian analyst, and finally conversed with C.G. Jung when Jung passed through London. Jung did not take him as a patient, but he did advise Faust that his best hope was to live a simple life. This advice Faust seemingly rejected because he went to Italy where he rented a large villa, lived extravagantly, and was perpetually in debt. Faust believed that to be able to write the prose fiction he wrote he had to dream. Part of that dreaming may have been the life style he pursued in his Florentine villa. What Faust would not accept as a dream was his intention to write great poetry, even though on one occasion he had to publish his poetry himself. In MAX BRAND’S BEST POEMS: A CENTENNIAL SELECTION (Fithian Press, 1992) is found the definitive collection of that poetry Faust worked on so conscientiously for so many years.

Faust came to love the grand gesture — pretending that time, money, and courtesy were endless, while privately he was besieged and overburdened by his many debts. The bills did compel him to do one thing: to write and publish between 1,000,000 and 1,500,000 words every year in various pulp magazines. It is to the time he spent amid Jungian ideas, however, that is perhaps owed the kinds of dreams he dreamed in many of his finest stories and the nature of the psycho-dramas enacted within them. The conflict within the third and final part of THE BORDER BANDIT, for example, is the wild and free life lived by the Mexican bandits and by Yellow Wolf, the Comanche brave who befriends Oliver Tay, and its alternative. Oliver begins this narrative in three parts searching for wholeness but deserts this goal at the conclusion through his love for a woman. The struggle at the center of THE WHITE WOLF or the Dan Barry stories was now focused far more precisely but the resolution is bathed in irony. Yellow Wolf’s inner voice is the last one heard as he reflects: “To each man his own strength. To each man his own weakness. But, alas, what weakness was so great as the love of a woman? For it seemed to him that already he saw the mighty shoulders of Oliver Tay bowed to the plow.” A psycho-drama is not always resolved in this fashion because Faust knew wherein the achievement of wholeness resided even if in his personal life he chose a different direction.

This knowledge came to him most intensely in the decade of the 1930s and it is little wonder that it was during this decade that he produced some of his finest work. In “Lucky Larribee” in Western Story Magazine (4/2/32-5/7/32), Faust had all the elements in hand to realize the dream of achieving wholeness even if he himself might not be able to attain it. The protagonist is introduced in this way: “Larribee was plain no good. Larribee was low.” He is sent by his father to live with his cousin’s family where he proves lazy, shiftless, and spends most of his time in town drinking and playing cards (even upon occasion cheating). What changes all this is the appearance of Sky Blue, the magnificent stallion that has never been ridden. Dan Gurry is the owner and he hopes that one of the cowboys in the district will be able to break Sky Blue so he can race him. Larribee has a run-in with Josiah Ransome III, son of Major Ransome, a rich and very influential man in the district, and he bests him. Ransome becomes bitter about his humiliation. One cowboy after another is thrown off by Sky Blue until it is Larribee’s turn and he is able to ride him easily. Larribee, attracted to Arabelle Ransome, bets her the ring she is wearing that he will ride Sky Blue. The ring, which she surrenders reluctantly, has a special meaning and her freely giving it will mean a total commitment. There is something magical and marvelous about the entire episode and Arabelle is not so much a character as a projection of what Jung called the anima [even her very name comes from the Latin in which ara is altar as in ara maxima Herculae and means literally “beautiful altar”]. However, Larribee cannot worship at this shrine before he has achieved wholeness.

In a race against Colonel Pratt’s thoroughbred mare, Sky Blue and Larribee become as a centaur. Larribee leans forward in the saddle and “out his lips came a thin, small, sharp straining cry. Sky Blue lifted his head and pricked his ears. He thought he had heard that sound before, the scream of a hawk, half lost in a windy sky, or was it the far-distant neigh of a neighboring stallion from another hilltop? But, with pricked ears and head lifted for a moment, he listened to the cry of joy which had rushed from the throat of the man, and in that instant they were welded together, made of one flesh, of one brain, of one mighty spirit!” When they catch up to the colonel and his mare, “the colonel looked around at them as though the earth had been split and the steeds of Poseidon had risen out of the gap.” While living in Italy, Faust hired a tutor to help him learn ancient Greek so he might read Homer in the original. It was an act that brought a new dimension to his fiction and new resonance to his style.

Ransome places a burr beneath Sky Blue’s saddle and the horse bucks off Larribee at his highest moment of fulfillment and recognition, the stallion fleeing then so swiftly he cannot be caught again. With this begins the pursuit part of the story and, in terms of the psycho-drama that goes on beneath the dream-like surface, it brings about the transformation of Larribee through his ordeal until he becomes known first to the Indians and then to everyone alike as “the” Larribee. Dan Gurry, Colonel Pratt, and Larribee begin the pursuit. An encounter with Cheyenne Indians, also after the stallion, puts Larribee in the position of giving back to Shouting Thunder his life — for Larribee has the power to kill him and does not. Shouting Thunder makes Larribee a blood brother, Larribee’s first step in reconciling with the shadow, the inferior part of his nature which, as Jung once noted, is frequently projected into the dusky form of the American Indian in dreams by Americans. “‘...He gave me life, and spared my soul,’” Shouting Thunder thinks. “‘Therefore I shall spare his soul. We shall stand up together among the Sky People. If there is one horse between us, I shall run on foot and he shall sit in the saddle!’” So it becomes a quaternity, a mandala, in the pursuit of Sky Blue with the shadow also in pursuit, the mysterious white leader of the Crows. Shouting Thunder in this psycho-drama assumes the rôle of the old wise man, the one who will act as Larribee’s guide into the realm of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.

On the surface this pursuit story has Sky Blue as its objective, a stallion that refuses now to have its will broken, that once trusted a human being and was injured, and will never surrender again. One by one the quaternity drops off, Gurry dying to make room for the new member of the quadrant constellation, the Crow leader, the white man who is also an Indian and who was responsible for Sky Blue’s injury in the first place. Josiah Ransome is Larribee’s shadow, a man who went to live among the Crows after Sky Blue’s flight. When they first confront each other, Larribee is uncertain of Ransome’s identity, mistaking him for Shouting Thunder. The conflict in this novel is resolved psychologically, not physically as is so often found in more conventional Western fiction. Only when Larribee willingly sets Sky Blue free, after having captured him, does the horse follow Larribee of his own accord. In Larribee’s soul the drama has been to find the self and Sky Blue is the means by which this search is fulfilled: “His inward richness of mind would be the knowledge that the horse was free and happy....”

Larribee cannot achieve wholeness until he has overcome his estrangement to the shadow, until he has reconciled with it, at which point the fever that has driven them all, the fever to possess, to capture Sky Blue abandons him and he is free at last, whole at last, in quite the way Jung had suggested to Faust he could free himself of the demons that possessed him. Shouting Thunder as the old wise man is the source of wisdom who leads Larribee to the self, to wholeness: “He was really far beyond the realm of reason. He was in that dreamy realm of the mystic to which Shouting Thunder had introduced him. Remembering the words of the Indian, he told himself that whatever fate ruled this world, it had determined beforehand what man, if any, should ride Sky Blue.” In the event, it is not even Larribee who rides Sky Blue, but the projection of the anima, the feminine side of his soul. Once Larribee achieves wholeness, accepts the shadow as part of himself, the conflicts are resolved and Ransome and he agree that with all the dangers ahead and around them they are fortunate to have each other for company even if they do not speak to each other. Arabelle makes her decision. Sky Blue has touched the earth. He has left his wrong steps behind him, it is observed, as so too has Larribee. In the way Hermann Hesse learned from Arthur Schopenhauer, so Faust learned from the Greeks and Larribee learns from experience that fate rules life, not us. It is — as Jung had once observed — not, I think therefore I am, but the thought occurs within me. How did I make this misstep, Schopenhauer asked, and then did I really make it? How else explain the alterations in Sky Blue’s color, as when Larribee is shocked to discover that “it seemed to him that the horse of his imagining had grown larger and that it was black.” Or when Major Ransome and Larribee’s father are together watching at dusk and the major asks what color is the horse that is being led by the man? “‘Dark,’ said Larribee. ‘Black, I should say, but this light is bad.’ The major leaped from his chair. ‘Black, did you say?’ he exclaimed. ‘A big, powerful looking black horse?’ ‘No, not big. Compared to the horse the girl is riding, it’s no more than a pony.’ ‘Compared to the horse that the girl is riding?’ echoed the major, baffled, and straining his eyes vainly. ‘But Arabelle’s little mare would never — what sort of horse is she riding, then?’ ‘A high-headed demon,’ said Larribee, ‘that dances along like a racer on parade, a light-colored horse, a luminous horse. He has the head of a stallion.’” The words shimmer with subtle meanings. In fact, every story Faust ever wrote seems to have to a degree both surface action and a subtext, a story within the story that functions on the deepest level.

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