Authors: Glendon Swarthout

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Willow Run, 1943

They Came to Cordura, 1958

Where the Boys Are, 1960

Welcome to Thebes, 1962

The Cadillac Cowboys, 1964

The Eagle and the Iron Cross, 1966

Loveland, 1968

Bless the Beasts and Children, 1970

The Tin Lizzie Troop, 1972

Luck and Pluck, 1973

The Shootist, 1975

The Melodeon, 1977

Skeletons, 1979

Cadbury’s Coffin, 1982

The Old Colts, 1985

The Homesman, 1988

Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming, 1994

Short Fiction:

Easterns and Westerns: Short Stories, 2001 (Miles Hood Swarthout, editor)


Glendon Swarthout (SWORT-owt) was educated at the University of Michigan, where he received a baccalaureate in 1939. After his graduation he served in the U.S. Army as an infantryman from 1943 to 1945, rising to the rank of sergeant. He was twice decorated for his bravery in combat during World War II. In 1940 he married Kathryn Vaughan, who survived him after his death in 1992 following a long battle with emphysema. She would be not only his wife and the mother of their only child, Miles, but also his coauthor on a number of children’s books. Miles, in turn, would share screenwriting credit with Scott Hale for the film adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s The Shootist, a story of the last days of a legendary gunfighter dying from cancer.{$I[AN]9810001613}{$I[A]Swarthout, Glendon}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Swarthout, Glendon}{$I[tim]1918;Swarthout, Glendon}

Following World War II, Swarthout returned to school on the G.I. Bill and pursued a literature curriculum. He earned a master’s degree from Michigan State University in 1946, after which he earned his living as a teaching fellow there. He received his Ph.D. in 1955 and by 1959 had risen to the position of associate professor. That year he moved his family to the Phoenix, Arizona, area. He taught intermittently afterward, primarily at nearby Arizona State University. For the remainder of his life, his first love and major endeavor would be fiction writing rather than academics.

Of all his books, Bless the Beasts and Children earned for him the greatest critical recognition, remaining in print continuously for more than a quarter of a century. Arguably his best work, it is the book in which central concerns of his writing career seem to cohere and flower: the nature of the heroic act in an unheroic age, the frail possibility of a meaningful community in an era of isolation, the longing for ordered principles with which to make sense of disordered lives, and the need for sacred experience in a secular age.

Set in and around Flagstaff, Arizona, Bless the Beasts and Children tells of a summer in which six troubled adolescents are sent west by their parents to a camp that promises to set the boys straight on the path to manhood. The promise is only a come-on meant to milk their wealthy parents, the boys soon learn. However, they also learn of a seasonal hunt underwritten by the government to “thin” herds of buffalo in the state–actually a senseless, brutal slaughter put on for the amusement of wealthy sportsmen. On their own, the boys steal away in a truck and set out to free the remaining buffalo. Of the six liberators, Cotton and Teft receive Swarthout’s fullest attention, but their stories are the others’ stories as well. None have parents up to the task of raising and guiding them. At home, each has been left to his own devices; here, among others of their own kind, each finds a family of sorts for the first time in their lives, drawing strength and support from the group as they risk their personal interests in the name of something higher.

They Came to Cordura, Swarthout’s second novel, is set near the Mexican border in 1916, following a U.S. Cavalry attempt to subdue Pancho Villa and his forces. It chronicles Major Thomas Thorne’s six-day trek from Ojos Azules to an American outpost at Cordura. Having proven himself a coward before the Mexican marauders, Thorne, now assigned the humiliating position of awards officer, is ordered to select five candidates from the battle sites for Medal of Honor recognition, then bring them to Cordura while their paperwork is being processed. Thorne can see that, whether these men are heroes, murderers, or fools, they live beyond the immediate boundaries of normal human conduct. The author’s broader concern was what heroism would mean, if anything, as the United States leaves behind its frontier mentality.

Although an acclaimed writer of popular books for many years, Swarthout probably reached the widest audience through the adaptations of his work for television and motion pictures. The Shootist was the fourth of Swarthout’s novels to be made into a film (in 1976). Preceding it were They Came to Cordura (1959), Where the Boys Are (1960), and Bless the Beasts and Children (1971). Swarthout produced more than fifteen novels, in addition to plays, short stories, and children’s books. There is much to be found in his novels that reflects his literary training and deft artistry. However, as his critics were quick to point out, Swarthout seldom sustains a high level of artistry throughout a novel. While his works are more than entertaining, marketable fiction, many critics saw Swarthout as unable or unwilling to elevate his work to their standards of literature as a higher art.

BibliographyContemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 35. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. An excellent critical work on Swarthout’s writing, which offers thoughtful reactions to his work from Willow Run through Skeletons by some of his most consistent readers.Corodimas, Peter. Best Sellers 37 (March, 1978): 325. The first article to attempt to locate Swarthout’s place in the American literary canon.Dear, Pamela S., ed. Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. Vol. 47. Detroit: Gale Research, 1995. Offers a solid, if spare, critical-biographical treatment.Schickel, Richard. Harpers 240 (April, 1970): 107. The most famous article about Swarthout, and the first to complain that Swarthout was being short-changed by the critics.
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