Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler or Hammett? -- Plus A Glance At John Morgan Wilson

Date: 02 Dec 2003


Re your question below:

> "Why is it that I usually hear
> about Chandler and his influence, and almost never
> about Hammett? Is the RC influence that much
> greater, or have I been listening to the wrong
> conversations? And, if there are writers one could
> point to as Hammett acolytes, who exactly would
> those writers be?"

Chandler's influence is talked about more because Chandler's influence was greater than Hammett's.

Let's take the surface stuff first? How many PI series are there about big agency operatives? There ARE big agencies out there, and they DO have investigators working for them. To what degree is this reflected in fiction? How many PI characters have their story told in a rigorously objective third-person style like Sam Spade.

On the other hand, how many PI series about one-man agencies are there? How many of them are told in the first person by the heroes? How many of those first-person PI's are unmarried, male, American ex-cops working out of large US cities? In other words, how many PI characters are deliberate followers of what I've called here and elsewhere "The Marlowe Paradigm."

Then there's the question of style. How many PI stories seem chockful of colorful similes and metaphors? With well-turned wisecracks? With writing that strives to be simultaneously poetic and lyrical yet tough and colloquial? All of those show the influence of Chandler.

Finally, even going beyond the PI sub-genre, how many mystery writers approach the craft of their chosen genre with care and style, believing that what they're writing is as worthwhile as any other fiction? Again that's the reflection of Chandler, who cared about the writing and said so many times.

Hammett was as good as Chandler. Arguably he was better, but for a number of reasons, the fact that Hammett wrote in a style that came naturally to him and Chandler had to develop his style (even going so far as to compile a glossary of American slang terms so he could use them in his work); the fact that so many different movies, each of them taking a different approach to the Marlowe character, were all released in such a short period of time, simultaneously keeping the character's name in the public consciousness but making him seem archetypal; and the fact that Chandler made such a point of publicly chamioning the kind of work he was doing; all combine to make him the most influential, surpassing even Hammett.


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