Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: More Likable P.I.s?

Date: 30 Sep 2009

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    Likeable? No, not necessarily. In fact,in noir, maybe not even that desireable.

    But readers need to be able to identify with the protagonist in some way. They have to care about whether he/she/it will or will not achieve an objective. This can be especially difficult when clear objectives seem so artificial relative to life outside the literature, but I think that's a defining challenge for noir writers.

    Likeable dicks bumbling along and achieving very little is noir. That'd be Lew Griffin, pretty much. Superficially likeable or charming PIs revealing their own corruptions and limitations in pursuit of moral or amoral standards is Spade, I think. Likeable detectives living happily ever after through achieving their goals is romantic escapism, no matter the number of noir clichés invoked in the process. I'm not convinced that's Marlow, though Chandler's concept of a lone knight patrolling the mean streets is.

    However, characters like the sherriff in Pop. 1280 become noir icons as we understand that, no matter how charming they may be or how appealing the narratives that let them slip the complex tangle of social rules to proceed straight to single-minded success, these folks are fundamentally disagreeable. What's noir here, to some extent, is the fact that at some level we identify with them.

    While appropriate among hardboil PIs, I tend to think that notions of decency and/or strong moral codes among noir PIs, a literature that is essentially about the limitations or outright failure of objective, universal, moral codes, are merely attempts to impose ideals on characters with whom we might find an uncomfortable identity, .

    Of course, the sherriff in Pop. 1280 is not a PI, so please Kevin, if you've read this far, assume this is another of my irrelevant ramblings.

    etc. etc., Kerry

      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Kevin Burton Smith
      Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 6:12 PM
      Subject: RARA-AVIS: Re: More Likable P.I.s?

        AH, the fun you can have with forgetting to press "SEND"...

      On Sep 14, 2009, at 1:21 AM, someone (Dave? Jim?) wrote:

    > Back to your question--more than likable, readers expect PIs, at
    > least for series, to be decent people (which Lane, as much as he'd
    > like to think otherwise, is not). It's hard to think of series PIs
    > where the author doesn't attempt to make the PI at least someone
    > very decent (and sometimes bending over backwards to do so). Nero
    > Wolfe is probably as much a curmudgeon as any, but even with all his
    > idiosyncrasies, is still someone the reader develops a fondness to,
    > and of course Archie Goodwin is likable to a fault to more than
    > balance things out. I'm having a hard time thinking of a single main
    > character PI who isn't at least decent (other than Lane...). Even
    > with the Continental Op's willing to blow up a town because he's
    > pissed off, his doggedness and general professionalism makes him
    > likable (even if he is willing to steal a crutch from a cripple).

      Well, this is why I was wondering if he meant likable, as in friendly.

      Certainly, we want characters we can like as characters. But a likable
      character isn't necessarily the same as a likable person. I'd wager
      there are tons of fictional characters we'd probably not want to hang
      around with too much in real life.

      Heck, I like the Joker, but I prefer him in the pages of a comic book
      rather than next door.

      Decency is a whole other thing -- and probably even harder to pin down
      than what's likable. Naturally, any series character is going to have
      to have some sort of admirable quality to keep bringing customers
      back, but it might not necessarily be decency. It could be, as you
      suggested, doggedness or professionalism. I'd toss courage into it,
      and compassion, and resilience and some sort of solid integrity, and
      others may look for other things.

      But a strong moral code might be a better word for decency. Even
      though the solid moral code of, say a Mike Hammer or a V.I. Warshawski
      would vary greatly from that of Marlowe or a Jack Taylor or a Sam
      Spade. After all, even though he's not a P.I., Stark's Parker isn't
      exactly "decent," but his pragmatic professionalism at all costs can
      be fun to watch. and proved to be throughout the series.

      What makes a character likable might, in fact, be the gap between his
      "decency" (his admirable qualities) and his flaws. If the Op were a
      simple Boy Scout would he have been so influential?

      Kevin Burton Smith
      The Thrilling Detective Web Site
      "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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