Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: willie or not

From: Patrick King (
Date: 09 Dec 2006

I'm speaking, for the most part, about so-called escapist entertainment. The world of escapism has become much larger for producers in the last thirty years than it was in the previous thirty. When Doyle and Christie and Edgar Wallace were writing, they expected to be writing for an English public who were familiar with English conventions. They did not expect their little works to become world popular. Likewise, Poe, who invented all these genres and a few others, was writing for a 19th Century American audience. Few writers of popular fiction take the chance of un-identifying a character by setting them up as something with which any reader might refuse to identify. It's just good business. Chesterton was successful because he was always on the Catholic Book List as "acceptable" reading entertainment. Millions of Catholics in the US & Britain followed that list. Millions more people, however, did not follow it and some Catholics were especially attracted to books on the "other" list, book that were forbidden for Catholics to read. Robert Travers' Anatomy of a Murder proved this to publishers. A of a M was banned by the Church in 1957 and became the biggest best seller of the year. "We" may be discerning reader, able to analyze and examine the bigger picture behind stories designed for entertainment. But the people who make these books and films the huge successes they become tend not to think beyond their own sloping roofs. If you want to sell millions of copies, it's better to let the reader fill in the more controversial aspects of a protagonist's life.

Patrick King
--- JIM DOHERTY <> wrote:

> Patrick,
> Again, I won't go into your long response point by
> point, but your original assertion was that religios
> beliefs were all but absolutely verboten in
> publishing
> (and, by inference, in all popular entertainment)
> until recently, and you spcifically refer to several
> famous mystery writers below:
> "Neither Chesterton nor Kemelman were anywhere near
> as
> successful as Earl Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, or
> Agatha Christie, who mention religion only in
> passing."
> to bolster thant point. I'm not sure what you mean
> by
> "only in passing," but to take each writer in turn:
> One of Gardner's early Perry Mason books was THE
> OF THE STUTTERING BISHOP, in which the central
> figure
> is an Anglican clergyman. True, Mason's own beliefs
> don't come to the forefront here, and this might
> only
> pass muster, by your lights, as a "passing
> reference,"
> but, again, that's only off the top of my head, and
> I'd be surprised if there aren't other religious
> references throughout Gardner's sizable ouvre.
> The two cousins who collaborated as Ellery Queen
> made,
> I grant you, only inferential references to their
> own
> Jewish faith, but religiosity pervades their books
> to
> a large degree.
> The central situation in THE CHINESE ORANGE MYSTERY
> is
> that everything in a crime scene has been reversed
> or
> turned upside-down. This turns out to have been a
> ploy to conceal the fact that the murder victiom is
> a
> Anglican clergyman.
> Again, I grant you, something that might be regarded
> as only a passing reference, but the whole novel
> hinges on that religious symbol.
> Regligiosity also pervades such early work as THE
> DAYS' WONDER is built around a series of ten crimes
> each meant to represent one of the Ten Commandments,
> in much the same way that the murders in SE7EN
> represented the Seven Deadly Sins. AND ON THE
> DAY is about Ellery's investigation of a crime in a
> peaceful desert religious cult.
> I'm not as familiar with Agatha Christie's work as I
> am with Gardner's or Queen's, but I do know that the
> first Miss Marple novel, MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, is
> about a murder at, well, a vicarage, and that the
> narrator who acts as Miss Marple's "Watson" is the
> local Anglican vicar, who is presented as an
> intelligent, and sincerely religious helpmate to the
> main sleuth.
> Even Conan Doyle, who you mention earlier, let some
> religious comments in. You presume, for example,
> that
> Holmes must be Anglican, but I think an argument
> could
> be made, given his French background (and given the
> religion Conan Doyle was raised in) that he was
> Cathlic, although likely not a practicing one. It
> is
> known that he undertook at least two investigations
> for His Holiness, the Pope, the affair of the
> Vatican
> cameos, and the disappearance of Cardinal Tosca.
> Religion and religious beliefs may not have been as
> central to the work of the writers you cite as it
> was
> for Chesterton, Kemelman, Holton, and others, but
> there doesn't seem to have been a conscious effort
> to
> avoid it in the hope that no one would be offended,
> and I'm not really sure what causes you to draw that
> conclusion.
> Looking outside of mystery fiction, again, consider
> that the O'Haras in GONE WITH THE WIND are all
> practicing Catholics and one of Scarlett's sisters
> becomes a nun. Consider that Gregory Peck's movie
> debut was as a Catholic missionary in China in a
> film
> adaptation of a best-selling novel, A.J Cronin's
> OF THE KINGDOM. Consider how many Oscars have been
> given to performers playing Catholic priests or nuns
> going back nearly 70 years. I honestly don't see
> any
> evidence that publishers, or their counterparts in
> other media, were making a fetish of avoiding any
> mention of specific religious belief systems in
> order
> not to offend anyone.
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> beta.

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