Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler's Influence

Date: 13 Dec 2002


Re your comments below:

> 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.

I think we may be syaing the same things differently enough that it seems like we're disagreeing. A lot of what Chandler did had been done before. Indeed every item on the "paradigm" had been done at least once by an earlier writer. But in Marlowe, the items were combined for the first time, and my point was that this was how that particular recipe for PI characters became so standardized. Certainly it was partly Chandler's talent that made Marlowe archetypal, but it was also Chandler's knack for synthesizing what had gone before and presenting them in a new way.

Sam Spade is NOT the private eye archetype, nor is THE MALTESE FALCON the archetypal PI novel. Similarly, neither the Contintal Op (my personal favorite), nor RED HARVEST hold those positions. Philip Marlowe and THE BIG SLEEP do. Hammett was extraordinarily talented, too. I would argue that he was a better writer than Chandler (without in the least diminishing my huge admiration for Chandler). So it was more than talent.

Why Chandler became more influential than Hammett? I don't know. Talent, as you say, was part of the reason. Perhaps timing was another. Perhaps the fact that Chandler was in a position to be influenced by a decades worth of hard-boiled fiction, while Hammett was not.

But that Chandler's Marlowe set the standard that hundreds and hundreds of PI characters would alvishly follow over the succeeding decades is a fact, whatever the reason.
> 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.

What I'm suggesting is that, pre-Chandler, the PI's base as a "large US city" wasn't as cast in iron as it was post-Chandler.

For example, Raoul Whitfield wrote a series about Jo Gar, a Filipino PI in Manila. You could argue that, technically, since the Phillipines were stil US territory at that time, that Manila was a US city, and Gar a US citizen, but I think we'd both agree that, to the average BALCK MASK reader, Manila was a foreign locale, and Gar a non-American sleuth.

Off-hand I can't name any other PI characters that qualify as well as Gar does. What I CAN say is that, post-Chandler, the idea of a the hard-boiled PI being an American who worked out of (if not always in) a large American city became so iron-clad an ingredient of the PI novel that even writers who'd never set foot in the US, like James Hadley Chase, wrote about American private eyes in American cities, and characters like Jo Gar, who weren't particularly numerous to begin with, became even more rare.
> 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.

A lot of very good writers, most of them, in fact, chose the entire roster of ingredients. And, as you say, the hacks did the same thing as a matter of course.


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