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Oberlin College Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Shane

By Betty Gabrielli


Oberlin College is celebrating the 50th publishing anniversary of Shane--written by alumnus Jack Schaefer, one of America's greatest western writers--with an exhibition and a film screening.

On view in the main lobby of Mudd Learning Center through September 15 are many editions of Shane; translations of the work into other languages, including Burmese, Chinese, Czech, Finnish, Thai and Urdu; Schaefer's college yearbook photo; and articles Schaefer wrote for the Oberlin student publication Shaft.

Oberlin resident Sid Comings '69 curated the exhibition.

This Friday the College will present screenings Shane at 7:30 P.M. and 10:15 P.M. in Hall Auditorium. Pat Day, professor of English, will introduce the film at the 7:30 show.

An interview with Schaefer will run continuously in the lobby of Hall Auditorium before and after the 7:30 screening. The interview took place during a visit Schaefer made to his alma mater in 1989 to receive an honorary degree.

The Oberlin College Friends of the Library and the Oberlin Public Library Friends sponsor the celebration. It is free and open to the public.

A newspaper journalist-turned-author, Schaefer (1901-1991) wrote dozens of thoroughly researched westerns and was an editor of anthologies of western stories. Eight of his books were made into movies, but it is his first novel, Shane, published in 1949, and the film made from it in 1953 starring Alan Ladd, for which he will best be remembered.

In a New York Times review of Schaefer's collected novels, Thomas Lask wrote: "Jack Schaefer is not a writer of conventional westerns," adding that his novellas, "tautly and tightly constructed," have "additional ingredients that make for complex storytelling."

Historian Marc Simmons agrees: "From the beginning, Shane was classed as a psychological western. The novel's theme is man's search for himself, of his efforts to tap his latent potentialities, and his struggle to master the chaotic inner forces that threaten him with personal disintegration."

The story, seen through the eyes of a young boy, deals with a gunfighter who tries to hang up his guns but is drawn to the side of the boy's family and other homesteaders in their struggle to keep from being forced off their land by cattlemen.

The gunman is "a heroic exemplar to the boy," and Simmons links Shane to similar models in Greek and medieval epics and in modern literature. Shane awakens the boy to the possibility "that man can become what he ought to be. At that moment of perception, Shane 'was no longer a stranger. He was a man like father in whom a boy could believe in the simple knowledge that what was beyond comprehension was still clean and solid and right.'"

Before he began researching Shane, Schaefer had been no further west than Cleveland, where he was born. He majored in English at Oberlin and received his bachelor's degree in 1929. His career included work as a reporter and editor in Virginia, Maryland, and Connecticut.

Considered one of the top three all-time great westerns, Shane began as a short story and evolved into a three-part serial in Argosy magazine in 1946 before being published by Hougton Mifflin in a revised and expanded text as a hardback novel in 1949.

Fifty years after its publication, more than 12 million copies have sold; the novel has been printed in 70 or more editions and in 30 foreign languages; and many high schools and colleges have adopted it as a student text.





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