2021 Top Ten Finalist for the Locus Awards in Nonfiction Joshua Smith’s chapter “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Showdown” won the 2021 Don D. Walker Prize from the Western Literature Association
Weird Westerns is an exploration of the hybrid western genre—an increasingly popular and visible form that mixes western themes, iconography, settings, and conventions with elements drawn from other genres, such as science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Despite frequent declarations of the western’s death, the genre is now defined in part by its zombie-like ability to survive in American popular culture in weird, reanimated, and reassembled forms.
The essays in Weird Westerns analyze a wide range of texts, including those by Native American authors Stephen Graham Jones (Blackfeet) and William Sanders (Cherokee); the cult television series Firefly and The Walking Dead; the mainstream feature films Suicide Squad and Django Unchained; the avant-garde and bizarre fiction of Joe R. Lansdale; the tabletop roleplaying game Deadlands: The Weird West; and the comic book series Wynonna Earp.
The essays explore how these weird westerns challenge conventional representations by destabilizing or subverting the centrality of the heterosexual, white, male hero but also often surprisingly reinforce existing paradigms in their inability to imagine an existence outside of colonial frameworks.
Introduction: Westworld(s): Race, Gender, Genre in the Weird Western Michael K. Johnson, Rebecca M. Lush, and Sara L. Spurgeon
Part 1. The Weird West, Past and Present 1. Attack of the Monstrous Vegetable: Bret Harte’s Pioneer Nightmare and “Miscegenation” Dream Tara Penry 2. Strange Country: Sexuality and the Feminine in Robert Coover’s Ghost Town Eric Meljac and Alex Hunt 3. A Selective History: Identity and Identification in Deadlands Nicholas William Moll Part 2. Native Reclamations and Representations 4. Mongrel Transmotion: The Werewolf and the Were/Wear/Where-West in Stephen Graham Jones’s Mongrels Joshua T. Anderson 5. Indianizing the Western: Semiotic Tricksterism in William Sanders’s Journey to Fusang 000 Sara L. Spurgeon 6. Magnificence and Metas in Professional Westerns Domino Renee Perez Part 3. Surrogate indians and Other Indigenous Metaphors 7. Defamiliarizing the Western on the Extraterrestrial Frontier: Jonathan Lethem’s Girl in Landscape Johannes Fehrle 8. Shining the Light of Civilization: The Savage Other of the Frontier in Firefly and Serenity 000 Meredith Harvey 9. Racial Metaphors and Vanishing indians in Wynonna Earp, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Emma Bull’s Territory Rebecca M. Lush Part 4. The African American Presence in the Weird Western 10. The Mad Black Woman in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Jacob Burg 11. Uncle Tom’s Cabin Showdown: Stowe, Tarantino, and the Minstrelsy of the Weird West 000 Joshua D. Smith 12. Race and Gender in the Time Travel Western Michael K. Johnson Part 5. The Undead in the Weird Western 13. Go West, Old Man: Or, Buffalo Bill and the “Yellow Peril” in Zeppelins West Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper 14. amc’s The Walking Dead and the Restructuring of Gender and Race on the Neofrontier000 Scott Pearce 15. Afterword: This Is (Not) the End Stephen Graham Jones
Kerry Fine is an instructor in the Department of English at Arizona State University. Michael K. Johnson is a professor of English at the University of Maine–Farmington. Rebecca M. Lush is an associate professor at California State University, San Marcos. Sara L. Spurgeon is a professor of American literature at Texas Tech University.
Michael K. Johnson is a professor of American literature at the University of Maine–Farmington. He is the author of several books, including Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos: Conceptions of the African American West, Black Masculinity and the Frontier Myth in American Literature, and A Black Woman’s West: The Life of Rose B. Gordon.
"The rich essay anthology Weird Westerns (2020) tracks the eldritch undeath of the western across the primordially bleak cultural landscape of today, convincingly making the case that what was once a niche subgenre of horror-infused supernatural or fantastic western stories now spreads its insidious tendrils far and wide in contemporary popular media and literature."—Jerome Winter, Science Fiction Film and Television
"Weird Westerns will no doubt enrich courses on literatures of the American West, speculative fiction, film and television, and genre studies."—Travis Franks, Western American Literature
“Weird Westerns is a contemplative and compelling foray into the colorful and broad ideological vistas of the western. This compendium of smart, theoretically diverse, and intellectually insurgent essays engages the fantasy construction of the American frontier across multiple mediums of popular consumption and reads as an open-ended challenge to (re)situate and (re)imagine the western regarding race and gender.”—Adilifu Nama, author of Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes, winner of the American Book Award
This tantalizing collection addresses a wide variety of print, television, and film westerns that incorporate steampunk, zombies, time travel, alternate history, science fiction, and many more influences. Weird Westerns proves that the western continues to be a relevant genre in American popular culture.”—Victoria Lamont, author of Westerns: A Women’s History
“This comprehensive and fascinating journey through the unique landscape of the weird west analyzes texts from a fresh perspective that resonate with social issues of the present day. From Native American and African American representation to sexual and racial identity, this book will inspire further research and discussion.”—Paul Green, author of Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns
“This wide-ranging interdisciplinary collection stretches the genre boundaries of the western into the speculative and the weird and in so doing enables us to think differently and better—uncannily—about its deep history and its often unquestioned ideological assumptions.”—Neil Campbell, author of The Rhizomatic West: Representing the American West in a Transnational, Global, Media Age
“Weird Westerns is brave, original, and timely. The editors have compiled an assortment of rich, insightful, and daring scholarship that applies multiple theoretical approaches to the shifting landscapes of the (weird) western.”—Monica Montelongo Flores, assistant professor of English at California State University, Stanislaus
“This exciting volume showed me how ‘weird’ the complex western genre has always been: thankfully never living up to what so many pretend it is. With essays by established scholars and illuminating newcomers to the field, we see how the western has always played, indeed depended, upon questions of race and gender to make sense of itself and of the cultures we live in. It will be a go-to book in the thriving field of western U.S. literary and cultural studies.”—William R. Handley, coeditor of True West: Authenticity and the American West