Friday, September 16, 2016
BLB: The Lone Ranger & Tonto
Here is another in my ongoing series of reviews on the 1968 Big Little Book series. You can find others by clicking on "BLB" at the bottom of this post.
This time, to help celebrate the 67th anniversary of the debut of The Lone Ranger on TV (Sept 15, 1949) I want to talk about The Lone Ranger & Tonto in Outwits Crazy Cougar, written by George S. Elrick and published in 1968. It is number 13 in the 1968 Big Little Book series. It follows Bonanza and The Man From UNCLE, but is before Space Ghost, Daktari, and Aquaman.
Big Little Books were a series of story-books published by Whitman Publishers from the 1920s thru the 1980s. The books I have are 250 pages but very compact, only 10 cm x 13 cm x 2 cm (approx 4 inches x 5 3/4 inches x 1 inch). There is text on one page and an illustration on the other. Although the writers were always credited, the artist never was. From 1967 thru the early 1970s such TV and Saturday cartoon luminaries as Lassie, Flipper, the Lone Ranger, Bonanza, Shazzan, Space Ghost, Tarzan, and, yes, Aquaman, were featured. Eventually the TV series' stars fell by the way-side and were replaced with perennial favorites like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Woody Woodpecker.
The next day, the Lone Ranger gets up early to visit the Sioux. He wants to try again to negotiate peace. Tonto wants to sleep in, but moments after the Ranger leaves Tonto is attacked by a band of Sioux teen-agers.
The Lone Ranger heads off to the fort to warn them that the Sioux are getting ready for war. On the way, however, he decides to go back to the camp to get Tonto. He finds the evidence of the fight, and is then attacked himself by seven young Sioux braves. Although he fights back with all his might, eventually the numbers overwhelm him, and he, too, is captured.
Crazy Cougar has to keep up his medicine man act to placate the tribal elders. But then, in a much quieter voice that only the two crime-fighters can hear, Crazy Cougar tells them his origin story. He tells them that he was a Cavalry trooper who fell asleep on duty the night that Sioux attacked his fort. Because of his negligence, three women and five children, plus a sergeant and their bugler, were all killed. He admits that he cannot stand to listen to bugles now. He was drummed out of the Cavalry after the attack, so he wanted his revenge on the cavalry and on the Sioux. He decided to kill buffalo to anger the Sioux, then he used his ability to speak the Sioux language to become Crazy Cougar. This way, he plays both sides against each other.
As they are listening to his story, both of our heroes are trying to loosen their bonds. However, they are tied too tightly. Crazy Cougar puts his mask back on and departs dramatically. As soon as he leaves, however, the little boy from before comes back and frees Tonto, who frees his friend.
At the fort, the Lone Ranger warns the army about the buffalo stampede Crazy Cougar plans to instigate that day. Much to the soldier's confusion, he also asks to borrows a bugle.
As I have talked about before, when I was a kid my father would read bed-time stories to my brother and I. I loved these Big Little Books because I could listen to the story while also enjoying the illustrations. I have a huge nostalgic love for these books, and its gratifying as I re-acquire them or re-read them to find that some of the stories actually hold up!
I think I can trace my love of the Lone Ranger and Tonto specifically to this book. I was never a big "cowboy" guy (I was of the space-man generation, Daddio!) but I always watched The Lone Ranger on TV. And then to read and re-read this adventure, where he doesn't shoot any of the Native Americans, and where they are shown more as "noble savages" than as blood-thirsty killers. The friendship of the Lone Ranger and Tonto was representative of what I wanted, too, growing up in a bi-racial city with a heavy Jewish population. I knew that we couldn't just be the white guys or the black guys or the Native American guys or whatever: we had to all get along! Yes, I was a fan of the Lone Ranger universe.
So I liked how this story made the cowardly and jealous white guy the actual bad guy. I didn't take it personally, because, duh, the Lone Ranger was a white guy, too! Clearly the book wasn't saying that all white guys were bad guys. This was nice to see over another war-crazy Native American wanting to scalp all the "pale-faces." I also liked how there was no massacre at all in this story, and how cooler heads prevail at the end.
I do have some questions, though.
I always thought that the Lone Ranger suit was light blue, and I think that is because of this book, too. On the cover of this book he's all in white, though; it's only on the inside that he is wearing blue. Was it not ever officially established, or did he change his clothes from time to time?
When the Lone Ranger first comes across the buffalo hunters, why didn't they just shoot the Lone Ranger? They were going to, weren't they? So why didn't they just do it?
I had no idea what pemmican, the food that the Ranger and Tonto eat for dinner, was. I had to look it up. I wonder if kids of the time (1967) would know that vocabulary word from all the Westerns they watched on TV. By the way, the answer is that it's a food similar to beef jerky that can last a long time on camping or hiking trips.
And this one in particular bothers me because I'm a bi-lingual guy. If the Lone Ranger, and Tonto, and Crazy Cougar are all speaking Sioux to each other, why is it written as pidgin English? The omniscient narrator makes a point of saying that they are switching back and forth between Sioux and English so that the warriors and elder statesmen can't understand them. If that is the case, the Sioux should be written as perfectly fine (translated) English. Hmmph.
If you are a fan of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Western stories in general, I would recommend this book. It's fun, with just enough action and suspense to keep you reading to the end.