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ISSUE 117 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 5/7/2004

Riding, writing shotgun

By Chris Messinger
Staff Writer

Friday, May 7, 2004

In the beginning, there was "The Iliad." It was followed by many other notable literary works. Now, there is "The Way of the Gun Riders" by St. Olaf's very own Stefan Johansson `05 and his cousin Tim Johansson of Northwestern College in St. Paul. There is little in the book similar to Homer's epic hexameter. However, the Johanssons' book does provide some memorable moments about the car game of calling shotgun, clever sarcasm and a set of historical disclaimers like none other.

For those unfamiliar with the time-honored tradition of calling shotgun, "it is nothing more than the congenial competition to get the coveted front passenger seat in a vehicle." Naturally, disputes may arise in the pursuit of such a prize. The Johanssons have attempted to set the rules straight.

The Johanssons take this popular pastime and construct a humorous history of the game, complete with diagrams of the Continental U.S. and Spittoons of the Old West. The book's main contribution to the historic and literary milieu is an interpretation of The American Standard Rule Book of calling shotgun. While some may disagree with their interpretation of the rules, Stefan and his cousin provide an array of memorable quotations from notable historical figures such as Winston Churchill, Cicero, Henry David Thoreau and John F. Kennedy.

True, the book is not an accurate account of the lives and significance of the stagecoach Gun Riders from the Old West, but it is substantially better because it provides rattling good yarns of supposed Gun Riders, such as Furry Hat Ivan and Ralph Rider. For a game like shotgun calling, the Johanssons' book is the perfect companion for the imaginative mind.

The book is not for the critical reader, nor does it make any pretense of being metaphysically satisfying, but for those shotgun-calling enthusiasts it might be a fine addition to the coffee table. One might even consider encasing it in glass with a convenient mallet to break it open in case of dispute over the calling of shotgun.

For those who cannot readily accept the violent connotations of shotgun, the Johanssons offer a laudable alternative called Cactus. Obviously the book is preoccupied with America's Wild West, and one has to wonder why the East is considered so tame. For further contemplation on the differences between the Wild West and pathetic East, consider Thoreau's quotation: In the East fames are won, in the West deeds are done. Certainly the Johansson's accomplish a deed, albeit a small one, in their thoughtful consideration of the history of shotgun rules.

The Johanssons were signing copies of their books and handing out free root beer this Monday in the Viking theatre. The event boasted a hearty, if not glamorous, array of guests pining for a chance to get their copies of The Way of the Gun Riders signed by the two authors.

We knew there had to be a better way to live in regard to shotgun rules, Stefan said.

The audience was entertained with an original film by the Johanssons, which traced the development of their vaunted book.

Mostly, though, the film provided memorable outtakes and a few interviews with people on the street to gauge the popularity of the shotgun game.

At the bequest of the brothers, this writer was asked to do a dramatic reading from the book, which he accepted with gusto. Altogether, the presentation was a fitting venue for exulting this work of humor and wit.

"The Way of the Gun Riders" will have many fond remembrances among the author's circle of admirers. One might even call it a cult.

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