The Young Forester is one of the most simply constructed plots that I've read of Zane Grey's western romance novels. It has also contains something new, though, that adds to its readability: the protagonist wants to enter a career path new to America--that of the forester, of protecting and nurturing the forests rather than clear-cutting them.
To see the principles of forestry and environmental protection promoted in a western romance first published in 1910 is an education of both how far our culture has come in caring for our environment, and how far it still has to go.
"[Lumbermen] are in such a hurry to get rich that they'll leave their grandchildren a desert. They cut and slash in every direction, and then fires come and the country is ruined. Our rivers depend upon the forests for water. The trees draw the rain; the leaves break it up and let it fall in mists and drippings; it seeps into the ground, and is held by roots. If the trees are destroyed the rain rushes off on the surface and floods the rivers. The forests store up water, and they do good in other ways."The novel, though, is not a lecture on principles of forestry.
The tale follows young Ken who charges off from the east (where he does camp, hunt, fish, and enjoy the forests) to the raw wilderness of Arizona. There he meets unscrupulous lumbermen, adventure, and proves that he has, beneath his inexperienced tenderfoot ways, the steel of a man. And the principles of forestry, of course, prevail.
I enjoyed the book and was glad to see that the principles of scientific forestry prevailed in 1910, even if they are still struggling in 2011, one hundred years later.
The Mysterious Rider
The Mysterious Rider is a more complex novel about redemption. Still a western romance, the plot centers around a young woman, an orphan named Columbine, who is entrapped by her allegiances into considering marriage to the drunkard son of her adopted father.
"Hell Bent Wade" is the mysterious rider, a man with a veiled past who has spent his life helping others--usually with the business end of his pistol, to the detriment of the evil-doers.
The novel is more complex in its conflicts, though, than many of Grey's romances. Rancher Bill Belllounds is a good man who is blinded by his love for his son. Hell Bent Wade is a good man who has done bad things. Columbine is a good young woman who is conflicted between her needs and the needs of her adoptive father. Jack Belllounds is the weak son who is hot and cold on morality. The love interest, Wilson Moore, loves as only a cowboy can--silently worshipping the rancher's daughter.
If I didn't have faith that Zane Grey would work everything out in the end, I'd fear that the realists or naturalists would prevail and everything would go to hell in the end--death, grief and suffering, and waste of life. However, Grey believes in the hero, and in the end like Beowulf meeting Grendel, the warrior comes to the aid of the people.
A Note About Zane Grey:
Zane Grey wrote his stories for the people who bought them. White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, preferably male, are the protagonists. Woman are bosom-clutching individuals, more emotionally fragile than men--strong but only in their own female way. Racial and ethnic minorities are of lesser stature than the WASP main characters. Grey's romanticized vision of the wild west, unfortunately, did not include the visionary equality of gender, race, or cultural diversity. He was a man of his times--and those times had their issues.
I have written earlier of Zane Grey that I have a love/hate relationship with his writing. I choose to accept, understand, and forgive--something he and many of his time were not able to do.
At Project Gutenberg, these two novels are also available as free ebooks in a variety of formats.