RARA-AVIS: Chandler's Influence

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 11 Dec 2002

I'm not saying Chandler wasn't influential, he obviously was. He's certainly my favourite, by a long, long shot. But I don't think we should attribute things to him which were already and are still pretty much standard items in P.I. literature, archetypes if you will. All Chandler did was popularize them, and he did it by writing very very well.

And attributing "the American setting" to Chandler, particularly by American writers, is absolutely ridiculous. Just because a few Commonwealth copycats tried to jump on the bandwagon by aping the US setting doesn't mean much. Are you suggesting that without Chandler, Ross Macdonald might have written about Buenos Aires, Leigh Brackett about Alaska or Howard Browne about Tickle Creek, Tasmania? No, they wrote about towns they lived in and knew.

The American setting is really just surface stuff, when you get down to it, just like wisecracks and fedoras and office bottles and trenchcoats, the sort of exterior stuff hacks pick up on. The real deal, and Chandler's real legacy, is much deeper (and deeper-rooted in the genre) than that -- the zip and poetry of Marlowe's "rude wit;" his tattered code of chivalry -- frequently corrupted -- that he clings to because it's all that keeps him going; his bruised romanticism; his unerring sense of what's right; why he made those wisecracks; his disgust for corruption and pettiness and sham and all that. His age, his genre (gee, you forgot race and sexual preference), his nationality, his former employment history, his marital status -- none of these matter in the end -- because they're mere window dressing on the real essence of Chandler's genius.

Hacks see the clothes and mistake it for the man. Good writers see the surface stuff for what it is, and pick and choose from it.


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