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Camilo José Cela Tells The Story Of The Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
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Camilo José Cela Tells The Story Of The Gunfight At The O.K. Corral

Picture of Stephanie Chang
Updated: 6 December 2016
Spanish novelist Camilo José Cela‘s novel tells the story of the 30-second Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in a single sentence. For brevity’s sake? Not quite, for Cela’s sentence spans over 200 pages.

Christ versus Arizona is a highly experimental novel by Cela, the winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Literature. In this novel, Cela defies the rules that govern sentence structure and length, creating a gargantuan monologue of a single sentence that runs for over 250 pages. Historical characters of Arizona lore and notable places are all entangled in this single sentence where the boundary between truth and fiction dissolves.

This 30-second gunfight on October 28, 1881, occurred in Tombstone, Arizona Territory, one of many mining ‘boomtowns’ that have since become dust-covered shells of their former heydays. What was essentially a blood feud between rival outlaw lawmen and outlaw gangs, the Earp and Wyatt brothers, emerged as entertainment fodder in fictionalised form with the publication of Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal in 1931. By 1946, Hollywood turned the fight into a movie titled My Darling Clementine; its current name is derived from the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. A daily reenactment of the shootout is held for the occasional tourist in Tombstone, Arizona.

Cela’s novel plays with the idea of historical fact morphing into fabricated history. In Christ Versus Arizona, Wendell Liverpool Espana, the unreliable narrator, guides the reader through the tangles of history and of the narrator’s own convoluted thoughts. Characters such as the outlaw, gambler, and gunfighter Doc Holliday, the band of outlaws called the Cowboys, and the three Earp brothers who would kill and be killed in the feud enter in and out of the narrative. Ostensibly, the novel focuses on the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But the event, like the sentence-turned-novel, has morphed from a 30-second instance into a bonanza for the entertainment and tourist industries where fact is consistently churned out as fiction, because as we all know, fiction sells.

Written in 1988, Christ versus Arizona is demonstrative of the wildly experimental turn that can be recognised in the author‘s work towards the latter part of his career. In early years he became affiliated with the generation of 1936, a literary movement brought on by the Spanish Civil War which made evident the deep connection between literature and politics that existed during this period. It was later revealed that Cela had been volunteering his services as an informant for Franco’s government, turning on fellow writers who believed he belonged to their dissident literary group. Following the collapse of the fascist regime, Cela was recognised for his notable contributions to Spanish literature, and was granted the title Marquis of Iria Flavia by King Juan Carlos I. Other significant works include La Familia de Pascual Duarte (1942) and La Colmena (1951), for which is best known.