Re: RARA-AVIS: The definition of classics

From: Patrick King (
Date: 04 Nov 2007

--- Michael Robison <> wrote:
 I think that one of the reasons it's not
> easy is because the glass you need to look through
> to
> see writing that will become classic is fogged over
> with fashion. Right now successful violence in a
> novel is totally faux pas. Very frowned upon by
> enlightened citizenry. And yet the classics are
> filled with it. Homer's two epics are filled with
> glorious violence. So is Gilgamesh and Beowulf, The
> Green Knight, the Bible, and just an absolute
> buttload
> more. Bottom line is that those who reject
> Spillane's
> chance of making it to the classics need to make
> sure
> that their opinion is not clouded by fashion.
************************************ Man, violence is as much a part of modern literature as it is a part of television. Show me any popular novel that doesn't depict violence or graphic sex and then you'll have to show me the demographic that made it "popular." The "fashion" against "violence" is one the media: print and television news, would like people to accept as happening right now, but these forces have little effect on how real people think. Certainly, with the exception of making people aware of books and movies they might otherwise miss, media has little impact on popular taste. If one wants to read a book, one wants something a bit more substantial than going to Stop & Shop for a frozen dinner and coming home and putting it in the microwave. The biggest pit fall Mickey Spillane has to overcome on his road to "classic", and frankly so does Ian Fleming and Sax Rohmer, is the unsophistocation of their plot lines, the 2 dimentional limits of their villians, and their often racist them/us mentality. This last aspect of these writers works is their biggest hurdle. These books no longer reach only white American & British readers. Even white readers find these attitudes toward black and asian characters pragmatically non-productive in the modern world. Spillane's concept of Communists is completely passe and comical in veiw of modern circumstances. You don't have this 2 dimentional stereotype in thriller writers who are already "classics" like Green, Forsyth and LeCarre. Communist character's beliefs and predispositions are explored more often in these latter writers. They're not "bad" just because they're Communist.

Fleming, it's true, gave up the bad communist theme in favor of a terrorist organization, SPECTOR, in the later James Bond novels. But from an adult stand point, the plots are still pretty thin. James Bond, of course, is an icon due to the movie portraials. This status never got off the ground with Mike Hammer because those movies didn't have the same success the Bond films enjoyed. If Mickey Spillane becomes
"classic hard-boiled" fiction, it will be due to the books. But it's the books' attitude toward reality, not their violent content, that undermine their chances. Green, Forsyth, LeCarre, Clancy & Cussler are all just as violent. Their attitude about people tend to be more universally current.

Patrick King

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