"The term was coined . . .
". . . but it's not a thriller, because it's not the kind of novel the term was coined to describe."
Jim, leaving aside the specific words noir, hardboiled and thriller, do you really not recognize any evolution of meaning for any word? Do you really believe that ever word in the English language is used in the exact same way it was when first uttered? Isn't that one of the struggles (often well worth it) of reading, studying or teaching older literature? I'm not talking "should be used," which you obviously believe, but "is used"?
For example, those who use gunsel to simply mean a gunman are wrong, but that is what most people today take it to mean. I would say the understanding of that word has changed so much that most people would misunderstand if you used it in its original meaning.
Also, punk was originally meant, and in some contexts still means, the bottom in a prison relationship, but most people's first impression today is a guy in a leather jacket, depending on generation, either a '50s style juvenile delinquent or a '70s style rocker with a Mohawk.
I always thought one of the great things about the English language was that living quality, that there is no academy to freeze English in place so it stagnates. And I'd say slang and marketing are often in the vanguard of that change as they try to turn words to their own meaning. And if enough people accept that new meaning, start using the word that way, it becomes the new meaning. Please don't bring up Lewis Carroll again, even if you don't like it, it happens.
From: JIM DOHERTY
Sent: Friday, February 6, 2009 10:17 AM
Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: Jim D's definition of Thriller
Re your comments below:
"I don't buy that all thrillers are mysteries, even if you use the loosest definition of mystery."
Well, you don't have to buy it, but you're not buying it doesn't make it any less true. The term was coined (and, as T surmises, largely for commercial reasons, but then so was "noir," and, for that matter, "hard-boiled") to describe a particular kind of crime story, as a way of separating the Sax Rohmers and the E. Phillips Oppenheims from the Agatha Christies, Dorothy L. Sayerses, and R. Austin Freemans.
"Wouldn't Andromeda Strain, for instance, qualify as a thriller, a medical thriller, but it's not a mystery."
Which is precisely WHY it's not a thriller. It may be thrilling (I've neve read the book, but, judging from the film version, it probably IS thrilling), but it's not a thriller, because it's not the kind of novel the term was coined to describe.
And, while there ARE medical thrillers, they are mysteries that emphasize action, pace, and suspense over cerebration, that happen to have a medical background. Another of Crichton's books, the Edgar-winning A CASE OF NEED (written under the pseudonym of "Jeffrey Hudson", might, arguably, qualify as a medical thriller. Patricia Cornwell's series about forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, might also qualify as medical thrillers.
"Aren't there sci-fi thrillers?"
No. There are science fiction novels that are thrilling. Not the same thing.
However, there are mysteries with sci-fi overtones that are thrillers. The Oscar-winning film SEVEN DAYS TO NOON (which, by the way, is being shown tonight on TCM), for example, is a police procedural about Scotland Yard's efforts to track down a nuclear scientist who has absconded with a suitcase sized atomic bomb. In real life, at the time this movie was made (early '50's) technology hadn't advanced to the point where such a device was possible, but that didn't really make it science fiction in the same sense that 2001 or STAR WARS are.
"Aren't there horror thrillers?"
No. Assuming by "horror" you mean "supernatural." Although horror novels would, as a matter of course, have to be thrilling to be successful, as Wm. Peter Blatty's THE EXORCIST ably shows.
And, once more, mysteries that incorporate aspects of horror might be thrillers. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, despite that lack of supernatural elements, won a Bram Stoker award for Best Horror Novel of the Year as well as an Anthony for Best Mystery Novel of the Year.
And, arguably, some flat-out horror that incorporates certain of the tropes of crime fiction might, on that account, qualify as thrillers. Willim Hjorstberg's (did I spell than name correctly?) FALLING ANGEL, which combines supernatural horror with the hard-boiled private eye story, or films like THEM and TV series like THE X-FILES, which combine elements of the police procedural with horror, might also qualify as thrillers.
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