Riders of the Purple Sage is a Western novel by Zane Grey, first published by Harper & Brothers in 1912. Considered by many critics[who?] to have played a significant role in shaping the formula of the popular Western genre, the novel has been called "the most popular western novel of all time." Riders of the Purple Sage tells the story of Jane Withersteen and her battle to overcome persecution by members of her polygamous Mormon fundamentalist church. A leader of the church, Elder Tull, wants to marry her. Withersteen gets help from a number of friends, including Bern Venters and Lassiter, a famous gunman and killer of Mormons. Throughout most of the novel she struggles with her "blindness" to the evil nature of her church and its leaders, and tries to keep Venters and Lassiter from killing the adversaries who are slowly ruining her. When she adopts a child, Fay, she abandons her beliefs and discovers her true love. A second plot strand tells of Venters and his escape to the wilderness with a girl named Bess, "the rustler's girl," whom he has accidentally shot. Venters falls in love with the girl while caring for her. Together they escape to the East, while Lassiter, Fay, and Jane, pursued by both Mormons and rustlers, escape into a paradise-like valley and topple a giant rock to forever close off the only way in or out. The events depicted in Riders of the Purple Sage occur in mid-spring and late summer 1871. Early in Riders of the Purple Sage, Jane Withersteen's main conflict is her right to befriend a Gentile. (The word Gentile means "non-Mormon" and is used a lot in the book). Jane Withersteen’s father wished Jane to marry Elder Tull, but Jane refused saying she did not love him, causing controversy and leading to persecution by the local Mormons. Jane’s friend, (cowboy) Bern Venters is "arrested" by Tull and his men, but is not clear under what authority. Jane defends Venters, declaring him her best rider. Her churchmen refuse to value the opinion of a woman: "Tull lifted a shaking finger toward her. 'That'll do from you. Understand, you'll not be allowed to hold this boy [Venters] to a friendship that's offensive to your bishop. Jane Withersteen, your father left you wealth and power. It has turned your head. You haven't yet come to see the place of Mormon women ...'" It is here we first hear of Lassiter. Ironically, at the moment when Venters mentions Lassiter’s name, the actual Lassiter is seen approaching in the distance by Tull’s men. Upon his arrival, Lassiter expresses his trust in the word of women, at which Tull rebukes him, telling him not to meddle in Mormon affairs. Tull’s men begin to take Venters away, and Venters realizes who he is and screams "Lassiter!" Tull understands that this is the infamous Lassiter and flees. Lassiter inquires as to the location of Millie Erne's grave, to which a transfixed Jane agrees to take him. Venters later tells Jane he must leave her. When she protests, Venters delivers this statement: " ... Tull is implacable. You ought to see from his intention today that ... but you can't see. Your blindness ... your damned religion! Jane, forgive me ... I'm sore within and something rankles. Well, I fear that invisible hand [of Mormon power in the region] will turn its hidden work to your ruin.", showing that Venters could see far into the future, and although Jane rebukes his statement, he is indeed correct. Jane’s red herd is rustled shortly afterward and Venters tracks it and returns it to Jane. Bern finds the herd, but, in his travels, wages a gun battle with two of Oldring’s rustlers, killing one and managing to wound Oldring’s notorious Masked Rider. Upon further examination, he removes the mask and shirt of the wounded rider and learns that the Masked Rider is a young woman named Bess whom he believes had been abused by Oldring. Venters experiences a large amount of guilt about shooting a girl and decides that it is his duty to save her.