RARA-AVIS: Chandler, Hammett & bravery

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 10 Dec 2003

In a message dated 12/10/03 4:03:19 AM Eastern Standard Time, owner-rara-avis@icomm.ca writes:

 Date: Tue, 9 Dec 2003 11:01:01 -0800
 From: Kevin Burton Smith < kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com>
 Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Chandler or Hammett
 Chris' friend said:
>"Chandler's atmospherics mesmerize, but Chandler's sense of evil is,
>at best, window-shopping. Dash has seen the furnace."
 Pure myth-making. If there was a hell on earth at the time, it was
 the trenches of World War I. Chandler saw that evil first hand, and
 barely managed to survive. Chasing ferris wheels -- whether it
 actually happened or not -- doesn't even come close (though living
 with Lillian Hellman probably does).
 The Op and Spade may have been taciturn, but boy, did Dash like
 talking about his Pinkerton past. Chandler, meanwhile, kept his
 private life, and particularly his war experience, private.
 Hammett's much mythologized and romanticized years as a Pinkerton
 agent made for great promo copy, but an author's experience counts
 for relatively little compared to his imagination and talent and
 style, which both Hammett and Chandler had in spades.
 - --
 Kevin Burton Smith
 The 2003 Cheap Thrill Awards are back. Vote now, vote often.
 - -- >> As I have stated before, I generally agree with Kevin that talent, style and imagination are far more important than experience in determining the worth of a writer. And before I go further, let me say that I have great admiration for both Chandler and Hammett and both have distinct strengths and weaknesses.

But I think we can fall prey to putting on the authors the sins of their admirers. While much may have been made of the Pinkerton past of Hammett by Captain Shaw and others, lets face it, this was inevitable. I do not recall
(although I have not researched this by rereading biographies) that Hammett overly harped on this. It did influence his writing and--so fucking what? He was writing about what he knew just as his contemporary in the pulps Bill Adams wrote stories about sailors and ships because he had been a sailor on ships.

Hammett served in both World Wars and certainly in the second he was of an age and health where it took great effort to serve and in either war he did not know where he would end up.

Chandler was turned down for health reasons in the US and went up to Canada to enlist--which perhaps was more suitable for this British educated fellow and it certainly earned him special credit for his crown of maple leaves. He did go out of his way to serve and he did see intense combat action in a brief period between the Spring of 1918 when he was ordered to France and June of 1918 when he was ordered back to the UK. Like a lot of soldiers in any war, he didn't refer to it much. And Kevin is certainly right about WW I, with the possible exeption of our Civil War, this was the cruelist of all combats.

As one who experienced his own relatively brief period of combat, I know that it can have a lasting impact in many ways overt and subtle. I can't say how it entered into the character of his stories but I can sense it there. And part of what I sense there is a depth that I don't feel in Hammett.

But I can also say that Chandler was at times groping for the reality of those mean streets. I am reading some of his early stories now and it is clear that his feel is second hand and at times forced. Hammett, as an experienced investigator, had the perfect touch for those details. Yes, he knew it better and it showed. But Chandler knew some darker things in the human soul and that showed as well.

So let's appreciate them for what they are and not burden them with more attitudes than they had in real life--and they had more than a sufficiency. Let's judge them by what is on the page and not what was in their background that may or may not have any significance.

I recall the many stories of Cornell Woolrich that I have enjoyed even knowing that the poor, weird old guy stayed in hotel rooms with his mother and rarely ventured forth to experience life. Yet at his best, some of that inner torture managed to get on the page and more than make up for his lack of real world experience.

Richard Moore

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