The Western Lands

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The Western Lands
Cover of the 1987 Viking Press hardcover edition.
Author William S. Burroughs
Country United States
Language English
Series Cities of the Red Night trilogy
Genre Novel
Publisher Viking Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 258 pp
ISBN 0-670-81352-4
OCLC 15790818
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3552.U75 W47 1987
Preceded by The Place of Dead Roads

The Western Lands is a 1987 novel by William S. Burroughs, the final book of the trilogy that begins with Cities of the Red Night (1981) and continues with The Place of Dead Roads (1983). The title refers to the western bank of the Nile River, which in Egyptian mythology is the Land of the Dead. Inspired by the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Burroughs explores the after-death state by means of dream scenarios, hallucinatory passages, talismanic magic, occultism, superstition, and his characteristic view of the nature of reality.

The prose is notable in that it shifts back and forth between Burroughs' characters and episodes clearly drawn from his own life. Scenes that are unmistakably auto-biographical include vignettes where Burroughs takes out evidence of amphetamine prescription bottles his mother gave him to sink with a large stone at the bottom of Lake Worth, Florida. The bottles were evidence his mother found in her grandson’s, Burroughs' own son's, bedroom. While Burroughs is ankle deep in the water, his aged mother is stalling police investigators in her home. Yet the novel also dives backwards into ancient history, giving the plot a perspective on death that attempts to transcend Christian theology. Burroughs acknowledges being inspired by Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings, an expansive novel published in 1983 about ancient Egypt set a thousand years before Christianity. Nevertheless, there are unmistakable references to contemporary culture, for instance Mick Jagger appears in some episodes.

Despite the narrative challenge of the historical framework, the novel is often regarded as Burroughs' best late work and a gratifying culminating episode of the Cities trilogy. According to The Guardian, it is his best work after Naked Lunch.[1] In his review for The New York Times, Jonathan Baumbach labels the novel as "not an easy work to like" and "offers us a vision that is viscerally unpleasant and often repellent", but yet finds the work to be a success and hold the trilogy to be "a comic meditation on death".[2] Both Baumbach and Burroughs' biographer Ted Morgan emphasize that Burroughs, in the guise of various characters, is trying to "write his way out of death".[3]


Bill Laswell's Material collaborated with Burroughs to produce the 1989 album Seven Souls, wherein Burroughs recites passages exclusively from this book to musical accompaniment. The album was reissued in 1997 with 3 bonus remixes. In 1998, an additional unreleased six remixes (plus one previously released) were introduced on the album The Road To The Western Lands.


  1. Guardian Unlimited. "Books" William S. Burroughs. The Guardian and Media Limited 2007. (Accessed 12 May 2007).
  2. Baumbach, Jonathan (January 3, 1988), "Joe the Dead Seeks Immortality", New York Times<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Morgan, Ted (1988), Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs, H. Holt, ISBN 9780712650403<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>