RE: RARA-AVIS: How much Background?

From: Robison Michael R CNIN (
Date: 12 May 2003

Jack Bludis wrote: Just to pose a question: do we really want to get into the childhood of characters?

Do we care about the childhood of Phillp Marlowe, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, Travis McGee or even Mike Hammer?

Isn't childhood the inclusion of a character's childhood the publisher's, author's, or agent's way of getting into mainstream?

*************** Sallis did a good job of tying Lew Griffin's childhood into LONG-LEGGED FLY. It gave depth to his character. However, leaving the past out of the picture is not necessarily a negative. Sometimes it adds mystery, an unknown quantity that adds to the character. It worked for Marlowe.

More than anything, I believe it's a question of style. The old hardboiled detective writers kept it lean and mean, nose to the plot. Too great an indulgence in childhood memories would have been considered extraneous. It produced a more idealistic and less realistic character, which Gerald So and William Denton recently pointed out is simply not as fashionable as it once was.

But please recall that childhood memories are not entirely lacking in the old hardboiled. Wasn't the Con Op relishing childhood memories when he made the comment about something being funnier than when the hogs ate his baby brother? ;-)


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