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Warlock (Legends West #1)

4.31  ·  Rating Details ·  1,576 Ratings  ·  206 Reviews
Oakley Hall's legendary Warlock revisits and reworks the traditional conventions of the Western to present a raw, funny, hypnotic, ultimately devastating picture of American unreality. First published in the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, Warlock is not only one of the most original and entertaining of modern American novels but a lasting contribution to America ...more
Paperback, 488 pages
Published November 21st 2005 by NYRB Classics (first published 1958)
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The venerable Thomas Pynchon wrote a laudatory back-cover blurb for Warlock, a book that he indirectly directed me to via his introduction to Richard Fariña's Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me, wherein he details its prominent role in the pair's Cornell days and how their own whole sick crew adopted the vernacular of the beleaguered characters making their ways through this novel. I'm not even going to pretend like I have any business treading terrain already traversed and thoroughly owne ...more
Matthew Quann
Jun 03, 2016 Matthew Quann rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb-classics

Warlock was as fine a book as any to read on vacation in the city in which I grew up. Within this daunting tome are the tensions between good and evil, right and wrong, the law and the lawless. It was appropriate to return to this subject matter in the place in which I first came to terms with my own understanding of justice, right, and wrong.

The other reason it is appropriate is that this book felt a lot like school, both the good and the bad.

The Good

Back in hig
Jul 16, 2012 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb
Feeling barfy and delirious this past weekend finally gave me the necessary downtime to finish this book—which isn't meant to imply that Warlock is a chore to read, but only that I had developed a sudden distaste for reading itself and preferred to while away my hours watching bad television with my hand down my pants. (By the way, from the mouthbreathing vantage of my sofa, all of you nerds mooning over Bolaño and Pynchon look like Urkel.) Anyway, even though this western novel has a lot of ins ...more
Dec 11, 2012 Drew rated it it was amazing
If you haven't already read Pynchon's encyclopedic blurb above, let me direct your attention to it right now.

Done? Well, let me assure you that every bold claim Pynchon makes about this book is true. And the beauty of it is that Warlock may be a novel of ideas, as he argues, but it is not primarily that. It's primarily a thinking man's Western, a history of authority, a gritty tale of revenge and strife. If that sounds roughly the same, there's a good reason for that: that all of the preaching o
Nov 22, 2013 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Thomas Pynchon

Is not the history of the world no more than a record of violence and death cut in stone?

There's a lot to love in Warlock for fans of American westward expansion, gritty Manifest Destiny narratives with well-drawn morally ambiguous characters. At every turn in the story Hall reminds the reader that frontier life was forever covered in blood and dust, and when humanity works hard to create a hero out of a human, the best that can happen is that person will fail miserably. Hall writes the story sh
Aug 12, 2009 Zach rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
An existential western, I suppose? A story of humanity forcing some meaning into (or out of) their lives, contending all the while with the madness of crowds, political reputations, and expectations both internal and external. I can't really think of a way to explain it without sounding kind of hokey, but it doesn't come across that way in the book at all.

But anyway, it IS a western, and so you have the outlaws, and the new marshal and his friend the saloon owner, and the concerned townfolk, and
Nov 21, 2015 Tony rated it it was amazing
. . . heat-hazed, blurred out of focus. That's Warlock. . . . a place where passions in all things run high, and men go armed as they wear hats against the sun, and where a large proportion of the inhabitants is of the ignorant and unwashed class, if not actual renegades from the law elsewhere. It's a place where the dust itself is a character. Where a mountain range looms off a ways, called The Dinosaurs, a constant presence. As if human struggle and the violence that men bear within them ever ...more
Sep 04, 2009 tim rated it really liked it
Recommended to tim by: Jonathan Davis
Maybe I wasn't entirely in the mood for an existential moral western, or maybe I just don't know enough about frontier history and ensuing mythologies to completely appreciate the subtleties of reference and jumping-off framework for the larger themes at play here, but nonetheless, this is a damn fine book.

The plot is as convoluted and unguessable as good vintage noir. And almost every character is constantly shown from conflicting sides, like a Janus coin flipping in the hot, dry, dusty desert
Ben Loory
Oct 04, 2009 Ben Loory rated it it was amazing
every now and then while i was reading this, i'd stop and close it and sort of look at it in my hands, first front cover, then back, then top and bottom, then side and spine, trying to figure out how so many people, places, and events could be held inside it. this book is like a world. a really small world, in that it all takes place within one tiny western frontier town, but by the time it ends it's like you know every inch of the place and every corner of every townsperson's soul and understan ...more
Jan 19, 2009 Jim rated it it was amazing
I’ve wanted to read this book since I spied Thomas Pynchon’s endorsement in his introduction to Richard Farina’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, in which he reveals that he and Farina were fond of aping the book’s peculiar dialect. “We set about getting others to read it too, and for a while had a micro-cult going," he writes. "Soon a number of us were talking in Warlock dialogue, a kind of thoughtful, stylized, Victorian Wild West diction.” Pynchon’s influences are encyclopaedic but t ...more
Apr 16, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it
Shelves: western, fiction
Nicely written but a bit drawn out; I think the book could have been 50 pages shorter and possibly been more effective. I wouldn't give Mr Hall full points for originality, however - his gunfight at the Acme corral is practically a carbon copy of the OK Corral shootout, right down to what were reported to be direct quotes from the principals involved in the latter gunfight. The Rattlesnake Canyon massacres were obviously derived from the historical Skeleton Canyon and Guadalupe Canyon massacres. ...more
Carl R.
May 16, 2012 Carl R. rated it it was amazing
I don’t know what took me so long to get around to this (probably) best-known of Oakley Hall’s works. Maybe the title put me off because I thought I might be getting into an Ann Rice world of vampires. Not a worry. Writer Working readers know my admiration for Hall (see my obit piece, May 5, 2008), and Warlock has only increased the admiration.

The premise is pretty simple--there’s a gunfight more or less modeled on the Tombstone Arizona event involving Wyatt Earp. But Hall is not writing a simpl
Laura Pergreffi
Amarezza, polvere e cieli tersi.

“La storia del mondo è forse qualcosa di più di una documentazione di violenza e morte scolpita nella pietra? È una cosa terribile, triste e crudele da capire, come lo è lo scoprire che l’unica giustificazione consiste nel tentativo, non nella conquista, giacché non vi è nessuna conquista; sapere che ogni giorno può nascere con auspici migliori del precedente e terminare in maniera altrettanto orribile, se non peggiore. Potranno mai placarsi le forze che conducono
Oct 12, 2014 Patrick rated it it was amazing
An excellent existential, noir western. The only familiarity I had with Oakley Hall was through Thomas Pynchon, who has raved about Warlock at various points. I, like many others, picked it up because of Pynchon's mentions. It was published in 1958 and apparently at that time, the literary agent Candida Donadio (Pynchon, Heller, Robert Stone) was pushing it on her friends and clients.

It is sort of an alternate take on the gunfight at the OK Corral mythology. I guess it could also be thought of a
Ryan Chapman
Mar 05, 2007 Ryan Chapman rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: McCarthy Fans
I am hesitant to give this novel four stars, as it might warrant five upon a reread. For a plot-heavy book such as this one, I've learned to be a little reticent in doling out hyperbolic praise so soon after finishing it. Certainly, this should be read in tandem to Cormac McCarthy's (anti-)western novels, which I do give that perfect rating to.

But about the book. I'd heard about it from Richard Farina and Thomas Pynchon, who both championed Hall's work as a masterpiece of 20th century fiction. T
M.L. Rudolph
Jun 04, 2011 M.L. Rudolph rated it it was amazing
1958. The 1881 shootout at the OK Corral.

I once lived in Arizona. I visited Tombstone and walked those mythic steps made memorable thanks to TV, movies, the generally accepted version of the settlement of the Wild West. Wyatt Earp. The tubercular Doc. The Clanton Gang.

As always, the physical reality of Tombstone and the Corral was a million times smaller than the version modeled on my imagination. Like Mount Rushmore: a miniature compared to what you expect.

Oakley Hall takes that mythic wester
May 23, 2007 BeerDiablo rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandonned
Unfortunately, reading this book well over 30 years past its publishing has dated it severely. Perhaps this is in part due to it influencing writers that would far outstrip this book on all facets.

Slow moving, weak prose best read by intellectual wanna-be's with too much time on their hands.
May 13, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it
Oakley Hall died this past Monday. A friend turned me on to his "Warlock" last year, a very good read. If you are even remotely a fan of HBO's "Deadwood", you'll love this book. Here's an article from the S.F. Chronicle about Hall's life:
Oakley Hall, a prolific author and influential writing teacher best known for the novels "The Downhill Racers" and "Warlock" - and as a founder of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers - died Monday night in Nevada City.
Apr 15, 2013 Joe rated it it was amazing
Warlock left me with both a profound sense of literary satisfaction, and a less definable, more visceral sense of extreme unease. What, exactly, happened here? To these people, to this place, to the idea and ideals they were all striving for and living up to? What does it mean, that anybody can change so much, and yet nobody really changes at all? There is a feeling, upon closing this book, that the story of this one wild, small town has devastating ramifications for all of us, though I am not s ...more
Aug 24, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-west
I did not know what to expect when I picked up Warlock by Oakley Hall. Suffice it to say that here was an incredibly told tale of the Old West, its gunmen, cowboys, miners, lawmen, whores, even the U.S. Cavalry and, farther off, the Indians. Instead of paying lip service to the legend of the West, Hall sees the endless violence as leading to a kind of speeded-up karma working itself out, leading to both madness, glory, and dissolution.

As storekeeper Henry Holmes Goodpasture writes among the diar
May 20, 2008 James rated it it was ok
Recommended to James by: Joel Jacobsen
Shelves: lincoln-park, nyrb
Yes, there is a book (actually there have been several over the years) that I do not like. In this case, Warlock by Oakley Hall, is a book that I found uninteresting and repetitive in spite of being otherwise well written. Amazingly, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 when it was originally published. I say amazingly although I have never been able to determine the basis for the Pulitzer judges' selections and I've found the winners (those that I have read) uneven in quality and re ...more
Oct 13, 2014 Scott rated it really liked it
Having grown up in a small Western town not very far geographically, culturally, or psychologically from Tombstone, I was struck by how close this Western felt to my lived experience, compared to other novels of the West.

What Oakley gets right is that the space of a Western is built around a community, not around lone individuals having solitary showdowns against a backdrop of stables, sunsets and desert plains. Hall shows that the myth of the heroic lone gunman is built by community perceptions
Dec 28, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fiction
Amazing. Fun and tragic and agonizing and hilarious. I have never enjoyed so thoroughly a book in which so many people are killed. The characters are simultaneously archetypes and originals; they're just the kind of people you'd expect to populate a town like Warlock, but then you begin to see through them and it's a bit sickening to know them too well. At the same time, they have convictions and reactions that I believe in but don't always understand, but my lack of understanding makes me appre ...more
Dec 06, 2009 Steve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, westerns
A great novel, and from an American Lit. point of view, it should be an important one since it's clearly one of the best Post WW 2 novels I've read. The influence on the HBO series, Deadwood, is pretty obvious. I may write some more later.

*Update. Watched the movie yesterday, just to see how badly it would be screwed up. To my surprise, it didn't fall apart until about an hour and half in. Great cast, with Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn and Richard Widmark. Up until the point I mentioned above, the
Jun 20, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
Incredible! All of these invisible threads binding Warlock together and then ripping it apart. So claustrophobic! At times it's not unlike one of those things set in an English country house.

Some bits I liked:
"He was embarrassed that he had let the subject of Billy come up. But it was big in him and there was, it seemed, no one else he could speak to like this."

"When he looked up to meet the eyes that watched him from the glass behind the bar, no longer friendly, he saw that what had been bound
Kevin Seccia
Jan 19, 2015 Kevin Seccia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my new favorite book and one of the best books I've ever read. It's everything you'd want from a western - gunfights, bravado, showdowns and great lines - plus wit, heart and dozens of perfect sentences. And then it takes the western and turns it upside down, examining it and ruthlessly taking it apart while highlighting the ridiculousness (and consequences) of a "good" guy deciding to take the life of a "bad" guy. Somehow it also manages to be an indictment of our entire bullshit modern ...more
Phillip Ramm
Feb 15, 2015 Phillip Ramm rated it it was amazing
Good lord this is good. Who'd've thought I'd read a western and love it so much. The laconic drawl and unsaid conversations. The broken people, all both heroes and villians (well, most if not all). The moral and existential dilemmas and cinematic violence. There was a something of a bromance in the movie - also excellent, starred Henry Fonda whose quiet delivery is Clay Blaisdale to a tee - not so evident here.

One question before Westerns become my next obsession: Does Zane Grey write like this?
Oct 04, 2007 Alex rated it really liked it
An interesting portrait of the Wild West, this book places classic Tombstone-esque drama in a wider context of order, chaos, violence, and justice. Ostensibly composed in three major plot arcs, it starts off like any other Western, and gradually reveals more and more of a burgeoning American ethos of blood and fire. By the end, I realized I was reading a piece of high-end moral drama, and the trappings of the genre had fallen almost entirely by the way-side. Yee-haw.
May 13, 2011 wally rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hall
Oakley Hall, born 1920, Marine Corps WWII Pacific, 1st book, Murder City in 1949.
Warlock, copyright 1958,divided into 3 “Books”, further divided into chapters 1-68, w/the Afterword this version is 471 pages long.
Introduction by Robert Stone.

A portion of Oakley Hall's note at the start: "the fabric of the story, too, is made up of actual events interwoven w/invented ones; by combining what did happen w/what might have happened, I have tried to show what should have happened.....the pursuit of tr
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NYRB Classics: Warlock, by Oakley Hall 1 15 Oct 30, 2013 10:04PM  
Connections 1 21 Feb 26, 2010 03:09PM  
  • Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself
  • Butcher's Crossing
  • Hard Rain Falling
  • The Book of Ebenezer Le Page
  • The Judges of the Secret Court
  • Novels in Three Lines
  • A Meaningful Life
  • Clark Gifford's Body
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll
  • The Stories of J.F. Powers
  • On the Yard
  • Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me
  • Blood on the Forge
  • The Drop Edge of Yonder
  • The Pilgrim Hawk
  • Nightmare Alley
  • Moravagine
  • Chaos and Night
Oakley Hall also wrote under the nom de plume of O.M. Hall and Jason Manor.

Oakley Maxwell Hall was an American novelist. He was born in San Diego, California, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and served in the Marines during World War II. Some of his mysteries were published under the pen names "O.M. Hall" and "Jason Manor." Hall received his Master of Fine Arts in English fr
More about Oakley Hall...

Other Books in the Series

Legends West (3 books)
  • The Bad Lands (Legends West, #2)
  • Apaches (Legends West, #3)

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“The pursuit of truth, not of facts, is the business of fiction.” 11 likes
“Any man who has got himself set over others and don't have any responsibility to something bigger than him is a son of a bitch.” 10 likes
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