I know, I know. I never thought I would read Louis L’Amour. I considered his kind of writing "melodrama on a page," as Sol Stein terms it.  But I was pleasantly surprised when his "The Walking Drum" popped up on my book club’s reading list.

It was Kerbourchard who made the book. Kerbouchard…the name with a ring to it! He is in his middle-teens when we meet him, so some of the melodrama is typically teenage.

What makes this book exciting is not the plot, which sometimes had a fight scene just because there hadn’t been one in a while or a girl just because there hadn’t been one in a while, but the growth of young Kerbouchard. 

Kerbouchard goes from cocky, and knowing he was cocky, to confident and humble. This is because of his drive to educate himself. Where his love for learning drives him to make a decision, the plot is driven forward with power. His love for learning earns him some powerful enemies, which also drives the plot with power. Where the plot goes forward without that love of learning, the story sags into melodrama.

The more Kerbourchard learned, the more humble he became. Yet, he was courageous in taking action on what he had learned. We see him detonate a bomb whose recipe he had only read of and feel his determination to head to India, which he had only read of, and we see him practice medical techniques he’d only studied. This is why his love for learning drives the plot forward in non-saggy ways. We learn with him that the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know. Powerful, humbling lesson for a young man.

The problem I had with the book was the way characters would come into Kerbouchard’s life, play an important role in teaching him or leading him to make important decisions, then we’d never hear of them again. Some of this was because Kerbourchard had to move on in his journey to find his father. But I was especially bothered by the girls. He was deeply in love with–how many?– girls, yet stays with none. They spur him into an adventure or a fight, he would say they were the most (fill-in-the-blank) he’d ever seen, then he’d move on. L’Amour paints him as a very honorable, loyal young man, so why would he do that? The Christian in me wanted him to treat the women right, and I wished Kerbourchard had allowed one of the women to ride, fight, and journey with him on his quest. 

For being such a deep thinking, Kerbourchard also has a hard time with faith. He just simply takes on the religious customs of whatever part of the world he happens to be in at the time. I wanted him to come to understand Christianity on a heart level, not an intellectual level. I’m sure a Moslem reading the same book would want Kerbourchard to commit to Islam, too. However, to give L’Amour his props, Kerbourchard’s propensity to take on whatever religious practices he is surrounded by is one of the things that brought me a smile throughout the book.

So was his propensity to make enemies. 🙂 See? It made me smile. 

In the end, I wished for his father to do more than say, "thanks, Son," and move along with his life. His father hurt my feelings when he did that. But there probably isn’t room in the world for two Kerbourchards in the same place at the same time.

The history of Arab and other eastern culture that was woven in throughout the story was intensely fascinating to me, a history buff, and I thought it leant authenticity to the various settings and characters. Even if it did occasionally sag into textbook material, it was interesting, well-written textbook material. I was thinking others might not enjoy it so much, but if you’re not a history buff, you’re probably not reading this historical fiction.

So…My first Louis L’Amour rated an B+. An A for characterization, with a drop in grade for the occasional sag into melodrama or history textbook.