Zane Grey's "To the Last Man" may arguably be the finest western book ever written. Based on the Pleasant Valley War in Arizona, Grey also includes other controversy.
So enthralling, thrilling and exciting is Zane Grey’s classic To the Last Man, that it is difficult to know where to begin when discussing this amazing western/historical fiction novel of the bloody feud between sheepherders and cattlemen that raged in Pleasant Valley in Arizona’s Tonto Basin.
Love and Hate in Grey's Novel
The story is more than a fictionalized account of this war, however, it’s also a tantalizing love story between Ellen Jorth, daughter of nefarious Lee Jorth who is supposedly a sheepman, and Jean Isbel, son of Gaston Isbel who is a cattleman. Unfortunately for Ellen and Jean, the personal feud between the two fathers goes back many years to when the two men wooed the same woman in Texas.
The author also deals with the “half-breed” prejudice rampant at that time (and unfortunately probably still so to a certain extent today). Jean Isbel is half Native American and has been summoned by his father to help defend the man’s Arizona homestead and cattle empire. Isbel, fresh from the mountains of Oregon, arrives only to meet and fall in love with Ellen Jorth and then find out that her father is his father’s mortal enemy and to encounter fierce hatred and contempt for his heritage from the prejudiced, ignorant rabble who back Lee Jorth. Fortunately, this Romeo and Juliet scenario ends better than Shakespeare’s tragedy, but Grey keeps the reader hanging until the very last sentence of the book.
The Setting in Zane Grey's Writing
Besides the main story, Grey is a master at painting a portrait of his settings. Indeed, the setting in his novels is perhaps the “main character,” for his love and admiration of nature is unparalleled among writers. Many modern western authors often gloss over the descriptive narration and are often encouraged to omit “what people just skim over.” In Grey’s own words, however, he says that setting of this book was “…the wildest, most rugged, roughest and most remarkable country…visited, and the inhabitants were like the country.”
Grey's Memorable Characters
Grey does a masterful job with the characters in this story. First, he is brilliant in writing from Ellen Jorth’s point-of-view, and Ellen is no easy character to depict. Jean Isbel also is a complex character, and Grey has skillfully represented the man’s remarkable outstanding character and skills. The fact that Jean Isbel is a “half-breed” could have filled his life with self-pity and made him surly and mean, but Isbel is a man who walks with pride, dignity and grace. He truly is a man’s man in this outstanding story. He's an excellent role model for Native Americans as well as whites.
The rest of Grey’s characters are excellently well-drawn, believable and memorable: some reign dispicable, some endearing, but all are absolutely unique and unforgettable.
This is a book that can be read again and again since the first reading may be rushed due to the story’s intrigue and excitement. A closer reading will reveal even more complexity and depth.