The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour

Despite the fact that Mr. L’Amour is famous for his novels of the American West, this book, The Walking Drum, is not about the West at all. It’s set in 12th century Europe and the Middle East and concerns a young man named Kerbouchard, the son of a druidic Celtic woman and a pirate father. As the novel begins, Kerbouchard’s father has been captured and sold into slavery and his mother has been murdered before his eyes by a neighboring enemy. Kerbouchard sets out to find and free his father and to avenge his mother’s death, but before long, he is himself taken captive by a band of corsairs.

I said this novel wasn’t a western, but Kerbouchard is a twelfth century cowboy adventurer by another name. His philosophy of life is summed up in these words: ” . . a strong man need wish for no more than this: a sword in the hand, a strong horse between his knees, and a woman he loves at the battle’s end.” Kerbouchard travels from Moorish Spain to Paris to Kiev to Constantinople, usually on the run from various enemies he has made in the course of his travels. He finds and leaves a girl in every port —or city. His quest is to find his father, but he takes a rather roundabout way to get there. The plot of the novel is made up of battles, daring rescues, escapes from prison, strangely chaste love scenes, and more battles. Kerbouchard is a self-proclaimed pagan, but when in Spain he takes on the outward practices of the Muslims and in Paris he taunts the Christians with their superstitious ways. The author clearly preferred medieval Islamic culture to medieval Christian culture, and he tells us again and again how refined and educated and tolerant were the Muslims of Spain and the Middle East and how superstitious and backward and intolerant the Christians of Frankish lands were. Perhaps so, although I doubt the contrast was quite so great as this book makes out.

Mr. L’Amour’s novel is full of historical references and details, and for anyone interested in twelfth century European life, it would be a wonderful beginning to a study of that century. (L’Amour in the Author’s Note at the end of the book: “One of the best means of introduction to any history is the historical novel.”) For instance, here’s a description of the course of study in the Paris universities of the time:

Hungry for learning, young men came to Paris to learn, many of them walking for days to reach the city. Only a few had sufficient money to maintain themselves. Books were scarce, paper expensive, teachers diverse in attitude. After three years a student might be received bachelier-des-arts, but two years more were required to get his master’s degree or license. To become a doctor of medicine required eight years of study, and to earn a degree of doctor theology the student had to present and defend four theses. The last of these was a challenge only the exceptional dared attempt, for the candidate was examined from six in the morning until six at night, nor was he allowed to leave his place to eat, drink, or for any other purpose. Twenty examiners, relieving each other every half hour, did their best to find flaws in the preparation of the student.

Ah! students today are such wimps; a two hour test is considered cruel and unusual punishment. And we romanticize classical education if we believe it only consisted of the delightful study of Latin and rhetoric in an open-air classroom. All educational systems and methods have their advantages and their difficulties.

L’Amour obviously planned to write a sequel to The Walking Drum; he says as much in the Author Notes. However, according to his official website, he never got around to writing the two other books in his planned trilogy about Kerbouchard and his adventures. Kerbouchard, who thinks of himself as a student and a philosopher, is not really a deep thinker (see philosophy of life above), but he’s an interesting character. It might have been fun to see what difficulties L’Amour could have dropped him into and retrieved him from in the sequels. As it is, you’ll have to make do with volume one of the life and adventures of Kerbouchard, student, merchant, pirate, soldier, and rescuer of fair maidens.

Two more nuggets from L’Amour/Kerbouchard:
“Reading without thinking is as nothing, for a book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.”
“There is no miraculous change that takes place in a boy that makes him a man. He becomes a man by being a man, acting like a man.”

Yes and amen.

18 thoughts on “The Walking Drum by Louis L’Amour

  1. I still remember the sinking feeling of disappointment I experienced when I finished The Walking Drum and learned that it was the end of the story. My Dad was smart and knew if I read it first I would try others of L’amour’s books, his favorite author.

  2. courtney

    this was the most uninteresting book on the planet. there was no point in it. in each chapter he would fall in love with a different woman and then he would not be any closer to findind his dad. this book SUCKED!!!!!!!

  3. read this book

    This is the only book I reread regularly. I think Courtney missed the point. The adventure of the book is in searching for his father, not in finding him. Kind of like real life is about the journey, not about getting to the end. Thanks to Sherry for a fantastic review. L’Amour is a master storyteller. The story is about exploring Kerbouchard’s character. The tale is intended to be a rousing adventure with the son of a sailor. L’Amour spins out the yarn like a true teller of tales. I’m not saying it is “The Perfect Book”, but I am saying it is a fun read and gives a great overview of the history of the time along the way.

  4. Scharlotte

    I’m a longtime fan of Louis L’Amour and stumbled across this book in the local library recently and was pleased to discover it was one I had not read. Having never even heard of it I was not sure what to expect. I was thrilled to discover that this book dealt with a character from 12th century Europe and not from the early period of the West. I loved the book and my only regret in having read it is that L’Amour never completed the trilogy as he intended.

  5. To have read The Walking Drum and come away with a critical, one word review makes you realize why wars occur. If nothing else, as a historical novel it vividly demonstrates that the quest for knowledge does not preclude men beating each others brains out. It appears, that, Courtney will never know the excitement of the quest for much of anything.

  6. becky

    I just finished this book and enjoyed it very much. It was one of those novels that you want to finish to see how it ends but you don’t want to finish it because you are enjoying it. It was very different from what Louis is known for writing. I am a little dissapointed though to see that the other novels were never written.

  7. Juan

    I have found this place by searching for the others novels after The Walking Drum. Now that I have the information, I am dissapointed too. I finished the book yesterday. I chose it as a way to practise english and I have read it in the train, daily from home to my job and return. I was expecting to be inside the train to get involved in a distant and excentric world, so marvelously conducted by the author´s historical vision.

  8. amanda and anne

    I completely and entirely agree with Courtney on this one. This book was boring, repetitve, and taught us bad morals. Not only did Mathurin go through the same flirting cycle with several women, he alludes to sexual relations with a woman in his past, as well as tries to get another woman to bed with him. This is incredibly inappropriate. Mathurin is not married and this sets a bad example for young men today. We were severely offended by this book. As women, we do not appreciate a main character being celebrated for his lusty tendencies. As well as being offensive and innapropriate, it was boring. We’re not going to lie, it was a struggle to read this book, and we did finish it. We do not recommend for anyone who appreciates a plot line that makes sense, as well as gripping suspense. Again, we did not like this book.

  9. Soliel DeMatin

    I received this as a gift when I was a girl of 12. I have read it at least one time for every year since then (20 years now), and it is one of my top 3 books ever.
    I was naive, I guess, because it never occurred to me that Mat actually had sexual relations with any of the women until I had had it for a good 10 years. Then I realized that he probably did with all of those mentioned for more than a page (although I still wonder at Aziza – there was too much danger for her had she not been a virgin when she wed, but then, Mat does make a comment about her being held in his arms, so is that a euphamism or was he just talking about the freight that she had had.)
    I love Mat’s search for knowledge and his honest forthrightness.

  10. Dan

    This book could have set the standard for Ken Follett. Lamour was ahead of his time. An excellent author with a flair for exposing a man’s heart. I was disappointed Louis passed before the trilogy was completed. I read too much and mix historical novels as well as raw history. The research that had to go into this novel demonstrates a gifted artists flexibility.

  11. Scott

    Courtney, Amanda and Anne, You really did miss the point. This is not literaturee. The Point is not to educate or contribute to the great scholarly works. It is brain candy, sweets for the head at a long days end. I just want to know one thing? Are you at all intrigued by Kerbochards journey through 12th century Europe? I would love to make this journey.

  12. read it

    this book made me want to be a history teacher!!!

  13. john

    courtney and amanda are entitled to have their opinion. I just find it interesting that they think he had sex with any of them. Perhaps they have never been held by a man that they were not sleeping with. On the other hand if our hero was sleeping with these women it is at least an honest and historically acurate way to have him behave. Women do sleep with cads especially handsome ones. Lets be honest a man who acts like a gentleman really IS at a disadvantage when dealing with women

  14. ._.

    Courtney, Amanda and Anne, You don’t get the point, this book was not meant to be ratted on about being innappropriate. Infact it was none of that. The story was meant to entertain not to set a “bad example” which would make no sense. OH yeah! lets be like him! ima cowboy hittin on girls! ??? does that make any sense to you? this was a great book and was very entertaining. If you can’t see that then you need to learn to appriciate a great book more, or stop reading. You completely missed the point of this book.

  15. Glen

    Upon finishing this book I was disappointed to find that the next two novels were not completed. However, this book was by far the greatest Louis L’amour novel that I have had the opportunity of reading. And believe me, I have read many of his novels. Also, I strongly disagree with Courtney, Amanda and Anne, for they obviously misunderstood the meaning of the novel, or they have no appreciation of a good book. Kerbouchard may or may not have slept with the great women that he met, but it is the fact that he had the chance to be with them and enjoy their beautiful presence. For it is not the count of women that a man has slept with, but the memory of their breathtaking charm. Louis L’amour was a gifted and extraordinary author. He could give the gift of telling a tale as if it were in plain sight.

  16. Kenny

    I’ve been stuck here in China now for a while and after going through the stack of books I brought with me I finally came to “The Walking Drum”. Wow!!! As a big fan of Mr. L’Amour, I was not expecting to read a story in this setting. It was hard for me to read the names of the characters at first but I pushed on and it got easier as I went. The story was fascinating and inspiring. Like all of the L’Amour books I have read to date the story played out as I expected with the hero of the story riding in to save the day.

    The negative reviews I have read above I question. If they did not like the story it is their right but I suspect it might have something to do with being a woman in our time period and not the quality of the writer or of the story. I really don’t care if the guy slept with the women or not. He conducted himself in a manner appropriate to his time and location. Besides if you have not figured it out yet, people sleep with people, always have and always will. The point is that he displayed many positive traits that seem to be lacking by many in our society today, like honor, courage, loyalty and the drive to be the best we can be thru education.

    I am disappointed in the fact that the trilogy was never completed but I would be even more disappointed to know that a person did not read this story because of the narrow minded views of the negative reviewers above.

    Thanks for a wonderful story Mr. L’Amour.

  17. Addison

    I’ve read this book several times and have long made Kerbouchard one of my literary role models, and after more than one reading of the book I never got the impression that he had any sexual relations with any of his “women”, aside from the one passing reference early on in the book. In looking up to Mathurin, I have made it a goal to emulate his courage, tenacity, honor, love of education, and drive to rescue his father. All of those qualities, I feel, make Mathurin Kerbouchard a worthy role model for young and old men everywhere.

  18. Francesca Thomas

    To Courtney, Amanda and Anne,

    Either you don’t like how women were treated in this book, and you choose to forget that this was set in another time and place (800 years ago)


    you just dont like the fact this book disparages christianity and brings out the best of Islam. Which means you are more likely to be christians with the usual ignorant closed off minds of that religion.

    I grew up in a christian family and whenever I tried to ask questions, I was told that I did not have enough faith. Sorry, but I dont live on faith. I live on facts. I dropped out of the church before I was 20 and have never regretted that decision.

    The Walking Drum is a great novel of enlightenment.. It really shows how the catholic christian church was unbeleivably close minded and ignorant and superstitious, while fighting numerous crusades – all of which the catholic church LOST.

    This book celebrates the equality of muslim women and the glory of Islamic science, exploration, research and education back in the 12th century.

    Yes Kerbouchard seems to have “had a woman in every port” – but he was a sailor – that is what sailors do and have always done. Even todays sailors do that.

    I only read L’Amours Sackett novels – none of his other wild west novels appealed to me at all. I did also read the Haunted Mesa – Lamours only sci-fi novel. I have not read his autobiography – Education of a Wandering Man – but I have reserved it, at my local library.

    In many ways, Louis L’Amour and James Michener were both very similar. They both wandered the world, both fought in wars, both extolled the virtues of life long learning & learning from life experiences and they both wrote numerous books.

    I too have done most of my learning in the 30 years since I left high school and have forgotten a good amount of whatever formal learning I ever had.

    Except the reading part – I have not forgotten that. But then I dont really count that as being part of school. My father taught me to read when I was 4 – before I even went to school.

    I will concede that school did teach me to write. But the typing I learned on my own after I left school.

    Learning is a life long skill but too many people shut their minds off after they leave their formal schooling and they refuse to be open to learning anything new.

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