Raymond Chandler Didn’t Care About Plot

Raymond Chandler

I’ve always found Raymond Chandler’s writing to be inspirational, sublime, and maddening. I have no idea how many times I’ve read Farewell, My Lovely, and there’s still a lot about it I just don’t get. The work is an adventure tale, a work of art, and a puzzle. Chandler broke a lot of rules. But I, and countless other fans, keep coming back.

This retrospective on Chandler’s unique approach in Literary Hub echoes my feelings toward this gifted and driven artist:

Looking at Chandler’s work in retrospect, it seems fair to say that he wasn’t really a “mystery writer”—or not first and foremost. Plots didn’t interest him much. They were just pegs on which to hang characters and language. His plots were not particularly original but that never bothered him. “Very likely Agatha Christie and Rex Stout write better mysteries. But their words don’t get up and walk. Mine do.” And: “I don’t care whether the mystery is fairly obvious but I do care about the people, about this strange, corrupt world we live in and how any man who tries to be honest looks in the end either sentimental or just plain foolish.”

Story construction and the tying up of loose ends never bothered him. When director Howard Hawks was filming The Big Sleep, he cabled Chandler: “Who killed the chauffeur?” Chandler cabled back: “No idea.”

When he himself collaborated with the young Billy Wilder on what was Chandler’s first Hollywood film, Double Indemnity, Wilder observed that “Chandler was a dilettante. He did not like the structure of a screenplay… He was a mess but he could write a beautiful sentence. ‘There is nothing as empty as an empty swimming pool.’ That is a great line.” He would later give his moody one-time partner credit for being “one of the greatest creative minds I’ve ever encountered.”

I think Chandler’s face reflects the purposeful rebellion and probing intelligence one senses behind the writer’s challenging and endlessly intriguing fiction.

Salman Rushdie on Fantasy

Rushdie

Salman Rushdie, who was knighted in 2007 for his contributions to literature, will speak here in Charlotte at Queens University tomorrow night. He’s earned his honors. Because of Rushdie’s unblinking portrayal of what he deemed religious fanaticism, both Ayatollah Khamenei and Al-Qaeda have called for his murder. In London a few years back, only dumb luck saved him from a fanatic’s book bomb (a real one, not to be confused with one of Larry Correia’s book bombs!).

This is a man who has risked his life for his art. So when Rushdie speaks, he’s worth paying attention to. His observations on fantasy fiction deserve wide circulation:

I think that magical realism is one version of a kind of literature that is found all over the world. It is much older form with, in many ways, a richer tradition than the realist tradition.

These stories are very old. I just thought one of the things I like about the old stories is while they are full of flying carpets and ogres and dragons and things like that, they are completely realistic about human beings. The people you find in the stories are beautifully drawn.

“Ogres and dragons and things like that.” Works for me. And Rushdie’s comment about the power of satire struck me as pitch-perfect: “Satire is the classic weapon that artists have always had against hypocrisy and tyranny.”

Jonathan Swift and Ambrose Bierce would be proud.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Edgar Alan Poe

Sean Fitzgerald offers a sympathetic evaluation of the great-great granddaddy of detective fiction, with revealing insights into Poe’s other work:

Edgar Allan Poe’s “great continuous convulsion” speaks very naturally and very intensely to the adolescent spirit: passion, love, hatred, murder, primal desires and fears, a desperate pursuit for meaning in a corrupt world. The tales of Edgar Allan Poe capture a universal adolescent essence, and few things deserve to be taken as seriously as adolescence. Adolescence is a search. Adulthood is dealing with the discovery.

What Fitzgerald says about Poe is also true of other works of speculative fiction. Though dismissed by some as frivolous, if not lowbrow, speculative fiction often brilliantly tackles difficult, universal issues in a way that is both entertaining and enlightening. Poe was a pioneer of the genre who blazed the trail for many others, including H.P Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Stephen King.