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Sheriff or Outlaw? A Scottish Author in the American West

June 28, 2011 — A new name is added to the list of heroes of the American West such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Wild Bill Hickok and Pat Garrett.  It's Sir Walter Scott.

University of Wyoming English Professor Caroline McCraken-Flesher and other literary experts say Scott, author of enduring novels such as "Ivanhoe," "Rob Roy" and "The Lady of the Lake," inspired the Western novel and many of John Wayne's famous cowboy characters. 

His influence will be discussed at the ninth International Conference on Walter Scott, July 5-9 at UW. McCracken-Flesher says it marks only the third time the international conference has been held in North America.

"He was so popular that his works crossed an ocean and landed in Wyoming," say McCracken-Flesher, the conference coordinator and a published Scott scholar. "He was so influential that early settlers viewed the west through his eyes."

Jeni Calder, vice chair of Scotland's Literature Forum and conference speaker, says, "Themes rooted deep in Scottish history and in much of Scott's fiction emerge in the history of America's moving frontier and in the Western. Take Scott's ‘Old Mortality' character Balfour of Burley to the American west and he might be John Wayne in ‘The Searchers' or Clint Eastwood in ‘High Plains Drifter.'"

Adds McCracken-Flesher, "Because Scott wrote about a forgotten land and a fading culture (the Scottish Highlands), his work also became popular across Europe for its focus on national identity. When Scott scholars gather in Laramie, they will thus be focusing not just on Scott, but on the world his writings helped to make."

Recognizing Scott's enormous appeal as a popular writer, two of the conference's key speakers will discuss the author in talks that are open to the public. Calder will discuss "Frontier Scots" at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 5, in the UW Art Museum, in conjunction with the exhibition "From the Scottish Sublime to the American West."

Keynote speaker Diana Gabaldon, author of the "Outlander" novels, will explain how stories of kilted highlanders have come to dominate romance shelves and move off them once again into the classics section. Her talk is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 6, in the Wyoming Union Ballroom, and will be followed by a book signing. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Visit the conference website for details:

Scholars from around the world will examine the works and influence of Sir Walter Scott during a conference July 5-9 at the University of Wyoming. (Christine Stebbins)

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