My whole life, I’ve had to put up with entertainment’s godawful Southern characters that are nothing like me or anyone else I knew. And sure, most of this would be forgiven with an offhand “bless their heart.” Particularly the actresses that couldn’t do Southern accents to save their lives. But it does get old when people like you are repeatedly cast as gin-soaked rednecks, synonymous with bigotry, ignorance, and whatever else this week’s Two Minutes Hate is banging the drum about.
People outside the South don’t invoke the Jethro Bodenes, the Andy Griffiths, or the Gomer Pyles in casual conversation, either. No, they drop quotes from Deliverance, not Cool Hand Luke. It wasn’t always like this. Turn back the clock to before the time when publishing was run by hateful city slickers, and the biggest science fiction hero of them all turns out to be a Virginian, even a former Confederate cavalryman. And the bad guys…? It’s amazing. As xenophobic as guys like H. P. Lovecraft supposedly were, he didn’t feel the need to gin up some sort of stock Southern character to play the role of the heavy. It’s crazy, but he actually had plenty of New Englanders of Puritan stock to fill in for that…!
A. Merritt was no different. But this supporting character in Burn, Witch, Burn is especially spot on:
This man’s name, I learned, was McCann. He was Ricori’s most trusted bodyguard, apparently wholly devoted to his white-haired chief. He was an interesting character too, and quite approved of me. He was a drawling Southerner who had been, as he put it, “a cow-nurse down Arizona way, and then got too popular on the Border.”
“I’m for you, Doc,” he told me. “You’re sure good for the boss. Sort of take his mind off business. An’ when I come here I can keep my hands outa my pockets. Any time anybody’s cutting in on your cattle, let me know. I’ll ask for a day off.”
Then he remarked casually that he “could ring a quarter with six holes at a hundred foot range.”
I did not know whether this was meant humorously or seriously. At any rate, Ricori never went anywhere without him; and it showed me how much he had thought of Peters that he had left McCann to guard him.
Gosh, there’s so much there. The sketchy back story. The bravado. The combination of loyalty and expansive generosity. And it’s just so clear…! I don’t turn on the television and see characters like that. I don’t get this from contemporary fiction, either. But pick up the sort of things that fantasy and science fiction fans were reading in the twenties and thirties and bam… you can’t get away from it.
We’ve heard so much over the past few years about how important it is that people be able to read books with characters that are like them. And I get where they’re going with that and all, but I have to say… I feel exactly the same way.