Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire

My husband admires Craig Johnson’s series featuring Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. He’s read many passages from the first five books to me and inspired me to read Cold Dish, the first in Johnson’s series. I too am a fan. Johnson builds characters of substance and complexity. They accept challenges, accept Fate’s blows, and endure. They are men and women who dared the vast Western unknown 100 years ago; they are also descendants of that vast, rugged West. For our purposes today and in subsequent posts, they are iconic characters that will allow us to review archetypal figures.

Sheriff Walt Longmire, the protagonist and central figure of each book in Johnson’s series, is the maverick. He may be just one of several staff members serving Absaroka County through the sheriff’s department, but he is the lead man. He is the elected sheriff, suggesting that Absaroka County’s citizens trust him. Longmire occasionally observes that some action he’s about to undertake may cost him the next election, but he’s never deterred. He trusts his own gut more. He believes in his own cause--justice--more.

Sheriff Longmire also acts alone even though he could be part of the team. When called to a crime scene, he delegates duties, reserving for himself the one requiring the least human contact. He lets others mingle and interact with forensics teams, photographers, and witnesses while he goes it alone in wild Wyoming. He lets others make calls and wait for information. He’s prefers to work and even heal alone.

A young maverick standing apart
Photo by Al Griffin
When Longmire’s heart breaks, he descends into his own circle of hell where beer becomes his solace. Naturally, as a maverick, he retreats to mourn and perhaps heal although that outcome is never certain. A maverick may rise again to fight another day, or he may remain, an outcast who’s consigned himself to the fringes of human existence. Longmire rises again because his friend, Henry Standing Bear urges him to do so.

Indeed, while mavericks face great odds, they rarely give up completely. Instead, the soldier on, willing to die if necessary in an attempt to accomplish what others cannot do alone. In Cold Dish, Longmire gives his coat to his best friend and confidante, Henry Standing Bear who has been so badly injured that he might not survive. Longmire will return for Henry, but first, he must take the wounded suspect down the mountain to turn him over for medical care. Longmire’s duty as sheriff dictates which man must be rescued first.

 Surviving the cold without proper gear requires superhuman strength, extraordinary luck, and a resolve that eludes most other men. Longmire possesses all three. He finds his friend in a blinding snowstorm. He suffers damage to his exposed ear, but retains all body parts. More important, he never wavers in his determination to find and save his friend. These are the gifts of character that Johnson grants us in the figure of Walt Longmire.

Reading Challenge:

Read Cold Dish, the first novel in Craig Johnson’s series about Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. You can also find three seasons of A & E’s Longmire. Season 4 returns later in 2015 on Netflix.

Writing Challenge:

Write a tribute to your favorite maverick in literature or film.