What do private detectives, samurai, and gunslingers have in common?

by William Hohmeister

I don’t need to tell you folks I love myths. But I want to explain something peculiar about myths that make me love them. Each myth has a whole set of historical, religious, and cultural assumptions behind it.

Those things create the myth, which represents the whole set better than a simple list could; it’s why Jesus spoke in parables, why Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, and why C.S. Lewis replaced Jesus with a much more awesome lion. Myths create stories around the beliefs we already hold and communicate those beliefs to the next generation.

The lone wanderer myth has a strange history in the United States. In Japan he’s called the Samurai. In America he’s the cowboy, the gunslinger, and the private detective. Each character fulfills the mythic role, but in a different way. This leads to a strange series of homages/ripoffs between American and Japanese creators:

Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammet is adapted into Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa.

Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa is adapted into A Fistful of Dollars, by Sergio Leone.

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