Re: RARA-AVIS: E W Hornung.

From: Patrick King (
Date: 13 Nov 2007

--- Eric Chambers <> wrote:

> Glad to hear it, Patrick. But I'm still confused.
> Does an Author need to be in print to be considered
> 'Classic'? Or to be influential? In the 21st
> Century how many 'Classic' authors ( or even good
> ones) are in print at any given time? Many of the
> authors and books discussed here are currently out
> of print. Those of us who are interested, ( A
> healthy and hopefully growing literate minority)
> will still ferret them out. And, hey, it depends on
> your definition of 'in print'. Hornung, like Doyle,
> is out of Copyright. That means that a thorough web
> search will find most of his works as ebooks just a
> click away.It also means that you or I or anybody
> else can publish him should we choose to do so.
> And just because I can't resist the symmetry,
************************************************** Hi Eric,

I do think an author needs to have books available to continue to influence the next generations of readers. All of Doyle's books are continually in print in multiple editions. I'm not aware of any current editions of Hornung's work. Most of the writers we talk about here who are out of print, are writers who worked in the 50s & 60s like Stephen Marlowe or Richard Prather. These guys are classics to us for the moment, but its unlikely that their fate will be any better than Hornung's by 2020. Its not that they're not good. Its that they worked a formula developed by writers who are already classics: Hammett & Chandler, and they brought relatively little that was new to it.

On Hornung's side, while he borrowed greatly from Doyle's formula, he did introduce the idea of the anti hero and the gentleman burgler in a way that had not been done before. Nonetheless, media has not chosen to place his star on the walk of fame. You and I may be the only people on this list who even know who we're talking about.

I'm fairly certain that Poe, Doyle, and Collins will continue to enjoy leather bound editions of their works, and the BBC will make new and better media adaptations of them to a continually interested public. I suspect that G.K. Chesterton, Graham Green, Hammett, Chandler, Christie, Cain, Thompson, LeCarre, and Forsyth, and yes, Ian Fleming, will continue to gather new audiences. Their works will remain in print, and their ideas will be the subject of new types of media entertainment. I'll be surprised if many others received better treatment than Hornung got. Patricia Highsmith may have greater shelf life than I'm giving credit for. If the BBC, for example, has the courage to put a true-to-the-book Ripley on television, that could really increase her portfolio. A true-to-the-book cold war version of the James Bond stories are crying to be done, with the supercharged Bently, the Baretta in the chamois pouch, and the gun-metal Rolex would breath new life into a tired franchise. And sooner or later the wide world has to discover Ruth Rendall.

But I'd be surprised if many others actually turned the corner to their own 100 year anniversaries. Perry Mason is a great, unscrupulous character but really very few of the stories hold up. On reading now, they seem rushed and incomplete.

To answer your question, a classic is something that endures. Those that do not endure are not classics. Because you and I read EW Hornung and enjoyed him does not allow him to be a classic. True, Poe nearly met such a fate. It seems dubious to me that Hornung, Marlowe, Prather or Spillane will be resurrected by a Beaudelaire.

But I could be wrong.

Patrick King

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