MAY / JUNE 2013: BY CAITLIN HORTON
Dedicated to the memory of author Stephen Bly, the most honest and true Christian Western author I’ve ever read. The world seems far less bright since your radiance has blazed that final trail to heaven.
The exhausted boy blurted out the words to the remaining citizen of a ghost town in progress: “Nathan T. Riggins from Indiana, and I’m looking for my parents, David and Adele Riggins. Have you seen them?” The twelve year old, ninety pound Indiana born boy had traveled to northern Nevada looking for his parents following the death of his grandparents. What he found was a world of the Wild West, where dogs didn’t smile and towns went boom and bust faster than a man could draw his gun. To the outsider, Galena looked like every other mining town, filled with a few saloons, a mercantile, forty-niners and freighters, and rows of dusty tents and milled board buildings. But to those who delve into author Stephen Bly’s Nathan T. Riggins Western Adventures, Galena becomes so much more.
Children’s literature is very unique and multi-faceted, something I realized when I took a Children’s Literature course in college. True, it can be very simple and formulaic: the hero always wins and the bad guy always loses… or it can be more like what Stephen Bly writes. I first read Nathan T. Riggins as a tweenager and felt strong affinity for the civilization softened boy as he traipsed through the hard biting nature of the late 1800s west. After all, isn’t that how kids in the 12/13 age category feel, metaphorically speaking? I know that’s how I felt, like a fish out of water, close to becoming an adult but not quite there, wanting to be responsible at times but not wanting life to weigh me down with responsibility. All of this and so much more seeped out of those slim paperbacks, drawing me into the life of 12 year old Nathan and his parents David and Adele, his new friends Leah Walker and Colin Maddison Jr. (with two dd’s), and his no-smile Shoshone dog, Tona-we-a. It was like making friends with real people; you laughed at the good times and cried when things were sad, you wanted the bad guys to be caught and for Nathan to find the loving arms of his folks.
Stephen Bly wrote 6 books for the series: The Dog Who Would Not Smile, Coyote True, You Can Always Trust A Spotted Horse, The Last Stubborn Buffalo In Nevada, Never Dance With A Bobcat, and Hawks Don’t Say Goodbye. In each one, Nathan learns or realizes an important truth about life, but the stories are far from formulaic. Sometimes there are no happy endings, just as real life dictates, and Nathan finds this out the hard way. Yet the stories are warm and true at heart. In the first novel Nathan finds friends (and enemies) on the path to locating his parents and discovers the dime novelists weren’t lying when they called it The Wild West.
In Coyote True, the lesson is honest: just as an animal is true to its own nature, be true to yours and God’s higher calling. Nathan discovers in the 3rd book that while you can always trust a spotted horse, you can’t say the same about people, particularly strangers. And in The Last Stubborn Buffalo in Nevada, Nathan accepts responsibility of the famous buffalo Thunder without realizing what caring for a 2,500 pound semi-wild animal entails. Nathan and Tona discover, quite painfully, why you shouldn’t dance with bobcats in the 5th book and when you need to turn your problems over to the Lord. And in the grand finale, Nathan looks around at the bust cycle of Galena and realizes that while Hawks Don’t Say Goodbye, he’ll soon have to. Will God give him the strength to do so? Will Nathan lose all his newly found friends? What will happen to Galena?
Thankfully, Stephen Bly didn’t have a habit of leaving things unsaid. He always concluded his stories with a little epilogue that answers all questions satisfactorily. But no cheating and jumping to the end of the series to see what happens to whom! It is well worth the journey through dusty Nevada, riding alongside Nathan on his spotted horse Onepenny, accompanied by Tona, Leah, and Colin as they test outlaws, the weather, wild animals, and on occasion, each other’s and their parents patience. These are perfect stories for those tweenage and teenage kids in your life and as an adult I continue to reread and enjoy them. They’re not like some children’s stories: forgettable in their simplistic plots and written just to get a paycheck for the author. Mr. Bly carefully plots out the stories so each book is an adventure of its own, yet as a whole series you can see the growth and maturing of the characters. And they contain side-splitting humor, a motif carried through most, if not all, of the author’s other books, including those for adults.
This is why the Nathan T. Riggins series needs to be written about, so that the stories can be shared with others. They’ll lend joy and companionship to readers of all ages, just like they did for me, I guarantee it. So don’t wait any longer! Hop on the stagecoach and let it roll you onto those dusty streets of Galena in the old Wild West with these first words of the series:
“Nathan felt the stagecoach hit something hard and suddenly jerk to the left. Then it settled down to a steady bounce…” ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caitlin Horton is a 20-something reader, seamstress, and history buff. She lives a life blessed in the knowledge that she is God’s child, and her life has a purpose within the scope of His plan. She encourages her readers to remember, every day can be like Bilbo’s “adventure” if you’re willing to take the “ordinary” and add some “extra” in front of it! She also blogs about her crafts!