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

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 03 Dec 2003

----- Original Message ----- From: "Al Guthrie" <> To: <> Sent: Wednesday, December 03, 2003 12:30 AM Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler or Hammett? -- Plus A Glance At John Morgan Wilson

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "JIM DOHERTY" <>
> > And please understand, I'm not saying Chandler's
> > BETTER than Hammett. I'm saying he's more
> > influential.
> Within the PI sub-genre, perhaps. Hammett's influence has spread over the
> whole of crime/detective fiction and frequently beyond.

I have to agree with Al, here, and with Mr. T.'s earlier statement about Ross MacDonald eventually replacing Chandler as the major writer most easily copied (and parodied) by other writers. After all, I could write a paragraph that read like a bad copy or a successful parody of Chandler or MacDonald. Something that would begin with a couple of sentences like this:
"The rain came down like a junkie the day after a good fix, hard and fast. I was walking into that dark alley with my fedora pulled down low as a snake's belly, and my collar turned up like the heat in an old woman's apartment."

No one is going to read that and say, "Wow, that's a Hammett parody/rip-off!" They'll either say that it sounds like bad Chandler or or worse MacDonald. Chandler (and MacDonald, both of whom I like very much) was indeed a stylist, and is easily recognizable as such. I think it's a mistake to dismiss Hammett as anything other than an equally dilligent stylist. Think of it this way: the first time Michael Jordan was interviewed about what it was like to dunk from the top of the key, he was asked what was the toughest thing about it. His reply was telling: "Making it look effortless."

Speaking as the author of one unpublished novel, one soon-to-be-published short story, a number of yet-to-be-published shorts, and a bunch of non-fiction pieces, I must agree with that statement, and express my open admiration for a guy like Hammett, who worked so hard to make it look so easy. Don't just take my word for it though: I have it from no less an authority than Joe Gores and the two other fellows (whose names escape me at the moment) at the Bouchercon panel on Hammett and Chandler that Crider and I (and I'm sure others here that I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting) attended back in October, in Vegas. As I recall, Gores mentioned Hammett's work ethic and the fellow who's done so much biographical work on Hammett
(the one who so intensely dislikes the memory of Lillian Hellman) mentioned that he'd discussed this with Hammett's daughter, who remembers how seriously Hammett took his work, and how he was aware that he was writing good fiction, in a new voice (one that was kindred of the new one being sounded by Ernest Hemingway at the exact same time).

So I have to reiterate that I agree with Al here. Hammett wrote great fiction that was truly inimitable (in fact, it's easier to parody Hemingway than it is to parody Hammett, at least for me: "I got up in the morning and put on my coat and went down to the shop and got my shotgun and some shells and went out into the brush looking for quail. The setter was flushing chukka, but I wanted quail. It was cold that morning..." Don't get me wrong, I *LOVE* Hemingway's writing. I'm just saying that it's easier to parody than the clean, crisp prose of Dashiell Hammett). The fact that it's more difficult to parody/copy only makes its influence more difficult to track, and thus, less readily apparent. It does nothing to limit the power of said work, though.

And I doubt that Raymond Chandler would disagree with a single thing I've said.

All the Best,


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