The Big Sky: Colter’s Hell

“They put a proper name to it, all right, callin’ it Colter’s Hell.”

Hell might lie underneath, sure enough, in the great unseen hole that echoed to the horses’ feet, in the fire that burned under all the land and sent water boiling out of the ground and jets of steam that hissed up and trailed off in clouds on either side of the elk trail they were following. A low stink hung over everything. (216)

Guthrie, A.B., Jr. The Big Sky. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

About the Book

The Big Sky

Published in 1947, The Big Sky was Guthrie’s attempt to portray a truer version of the west than had been written up to that point—starting with Boone Caudill, the story’s violent and alienated anti-hero. Guthrie may have aimed to de-romanticize life in the West but over 60 years later the title of his best known work has been used for tourism campaigns, and is plastered on ski resorts, microbreweries, and hundreds of other businesses across Montana.

The movie version of The Big Sky hit the big screen in 1952. The film was directed by Howard Hawks and starred Kirk Douglas and Elizabeth Threatt.

A few years later, A.B. Guthrie himself wrote screenplays for two iconic western films: Shane, starring Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur; and The Kentuckian, starring Burt Lancaster.

While the settings in The Big Sky clearly reference actual locales, it is understood that the book—including its places—is ultimately the product of the author’s imagination. The intent of this literary map is to enrich the reading experience by interpreting those places, not to render them literally or definitively.

About the Author

A.B. Guthrie Jr.

Born in Bedford, Indiana in 1901, Alfred Bertram Guthrie Jr. spent much of his childhood in Montana and earned a degree in journalism from The University of Montana in 1923. He later settled into a 20-year career with the Lexington Leader in Kentucky, working as a reporter and then executive editor. After retiring from the newspaper business in 1950 Guthrie spent the next forty years in Choteau, Montana until his death in 1991. Over the course of his career he wrote over a dozen novels as well as a work of autobiography, and collections of poetry and essays.

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