Two bits on noir news today: one that makes me cringe a bit, and one that makes me happy:
Apparently, Henry Holt has decided to publish a new Raymond Chandler novel featuring Philip Marlowe. The hitch is, this isn’t a recently discovered manuscript or unpublished work written by Chandler: it’s a new work to be written by John Banville. Now, I admit to not having read Mr. Banville’s work as of yet, so I can’t comment on his ability to pull this off. However, the Chandler fan in me cringes at the idea of someone picking up Marlowe and trying to run with him.
Chandler’s voice, especially when writing Marlowe, was unique. It was hard hitting, and along with Dashiell Hammett, helped define what we now think of as the quintessential hard boiled pulp PI. That’s not to say no one else can write in that style (heaven knows I’ve played with it myself), but there’s a difference between homage and reanimation. When you’re talking about one of the most distinct voices in early & mid 20th century American literature–a voice that arguably helped define a literary movement–not to mention one of that author’s signature characters, well, I find myself becoming more than a bit dubious when it comes to the impending effort & the choices involved.
Understand, this isn’t about Mr. Banville’s writing ability; likewise, I understand the commercial decision behind the move (after all, people are going to be talking about it, which can only help sales). Rather, it’s about taking a literary icon, putting on his suit, and walking about as if it were your own. Do we really need another Raymond Chandler novel, especially if it isn’t by Raymond Chandler? His body of work stands just fine on its own, with a clear and definite legacy. Does this taking on of a legend’s trappings do anything other than feed the bottom line and, perhaps, authorial vanity? After all, even if the book features Marlowe, it’s not going to be placed along side the rest of Chandler’s works. Even if the book is remarkable, it is still going to be Banville’s, not Chandler’s.
The thing is, I get loving an author and their world(s) so much you want to play in them. Fanfic is ample testament to that. And in some cases, especially with the author’s consent, I can even see it being made a going concern (Eric Flint’s 1632 series is a prime example). But there’s a difference between a shared world and an add-on. I, for example, would LOVE to be able to play in Corwin’s Amber; to dig deeper into Maurid Audran’s Budayeen; to help Aramis and D’artagnan dance with steel again; to walk the shady streets beside Marlowe and Spade and the Continental Op. But the creators of those worlds are dead, and the spark that made them truly shine have gone with them. Yes (ignoring for a moment the legal & artistic hurdles that would be involved, let alone the chutzpah it would take on my part to even consider attempting it), I could play there, but it would never be the same, would never be the true world I fell in love with because it would now be my world, not their creator’s. And no matter how hard I tried to hew close to the original, it would never quite fly.
I’ve often been accused of being a purist, and in this sense, I will fully claim that mantle. I love the idea of more work by Chandler and Hammett, by Dumas and Zelazny, by Effinger and Tolkien and Shakespeare and a host of others. But there isn’t going to be any more, and any effort to create it is just going to end up being a pale shadow, no matter how well done. Chandler is dead, but Marlowe still lives in the pages of his work: why must we try to create anew what was already done right the first time?
And now, since I promised you something noir that made me happy, I simply give you this without commentary, as I’ve gone on long enough: