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.
Outwits Crazy Cougar begins as the Lone Ranger comes across two buffalo poachers on Sioux land. They try to get the bead on him, but he disarms them and confiscates their weapons. He also makes them abandon the buffalo hides and dead buffalo carcasses. The tall, lanky man reminds the Ranger of someone, but he can't remember who.
Returning to their camp, the Lone Ranger tells Tonto what had happened. Tonto knows that the Sioux want to fight, and are itching for any reason to do so. Their new medicine man, Crazy Cougar, is being listened to by more of the braves, and calm reason is being ignored. The Sioux want to return to their past; a past without white men and with plenty of buffalo. Unfortunately, that is impossible, which is why they are so frustrated and angry.

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.
When the Lone Ranger arrives at the Sioux reservation, he sees some braves dancing a hypnotic sun dance. He is afraid that the Sioux are working themselves into a frenzy, leading to war. The Lone Ranger calls out to speak to Crazy Cougar, the medicine man, who is in his special teepee.
Crazy Cougar tells everyone around that he has conferred with the Great Spirit, Manitou, who has told him that the Lone Ranger and Tonto, who is a traitor to his race, must die. Then the Sioux will attack the nearby fort and kill all the white people The braves move forward to try to grab the Lone Ranger, but he disarms them. They think his silver bullets are magic, but he tells them he isn't magic, and neither is Crazy Cougar. He rides away, hoping that somehow the Sioux realize that he and Tonto are their friends.
Meanwhile, Tonto was over-powerved by the teen-agers, and unbeknownst to the Lone Ranger is now a prisoner in a teepee in the Sioux camp. Two young boys see him and watch him. One boy in particular recognizes him as his hero, and vows to return later that night to free him.

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.
The Lone Ranger wakes up in the same teepee as his friend, happy to be reunited with him. Before they can attempt to help each other escape from their bonds, however, Crazy Cougar enters the teepee. With all the showmanship of a true actor, Crazy Cougar removes his cougar skull mask, revealing that he is actually the buffalo hunter from the day before!
Tonto understands that it was this white man who has been killing the buffalo and leaving the carcasses where the Sioux would be sure to find them, getting angrier and angrier at the wastefulness of the white man. As the tribal leaders are waiting and listening outside the teepee, Crazy Cougar pretends to hold a séance with the great Manitou. He acts like Manitou tells him to kill the Lone Ranger and Tonto during a buffalo stampede. The Lone Ranger realizes that Crazy Cougar is a skilled actor, and possibly a hypnotist.

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.
When Crazy Cougar hears that his prisoners have escaped, he is livid. An elder tells him that because he ordered all of the braves to do the sun dance, they were too tired to hear two horses run off.

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.
The Lone Ranger rides out to where Tonto has begun planting dynamite on a ridge. They plan to cause an explosion to scare the buffalo away from the fort. The buffalo do stampede, but the explosions spook them off of their path, and they head harmlessly back onto the plains.
The elders confront Crazy Cougar, who blames the Lone Ranger. From atop the ridge, the Lone Ranger blows his borrowed bugle, which freaks out Crazy Cougar. He drops off of his horse, and in doing so his cougar skull mask falls off, revealing to the elders that he is a white man. Embarrassed at their naiveté, they turn their backs on him and ride away. Ever the optimist, the Lone Ranger rides after them, hoping to use this event as an opportunity to smoke the peace pipe with them.

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.

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