Tag Archives: Chandler

PULP in Print: Raymond Chandler’s “The High Window”

18 Jan


Heigho. I think I’ll write an English detective story, one about Superintendent Jones and the two elderly sisters in the thatched cottage, something with Latin in it and music and period furniture and a gentleman’s gentleman: above all, one of those books where everybody goes for nice long walks.
~ A letter to Blanche Knopf, Oct. 1942

Although Raymond Chandler’s The High Window did not quite turn into a stately, tea-sipping, country house mystery, it is in many ways his most straightforward novel. There are no loose ends, unlike The Big Sleep; and there are far fewer complications than in its follow-up, Farewell, My Lovely. In the end, he believed that people would think it his worst book. All we know is that PULPable is happy to have a 1942 edition of The High Window on our bookshelves.

"The High Window" (1942)

We have previously waxed lyrical about the Brattle Book Shop (where we found both The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely), but Chandler’s third novel made its way to us via Etsy user Rabitty and via Darby O’Shea. It is somehow fitting that it was found at an estate sale.

Originally, Chandler envisioned the book as “The Brasher Doubloon”, named for the rare and valuable coin of the same name which we discover has been stolen from its wealthy owner, perhaps by a wayward family member. Philip Marlowe is hired to track down the culprit, and in the course of the novel, he runs into gangsters, moneylenders and murderers.

Plagued by anxiety and alcoholism, Chandler was deeply depressed when he began work on The High Window. He wrote to his publishers, Blanche and Alfred Knopf, in March of 1942:

I’m afraid the book is not going to be any good to you. No action, no likeable characters, no nothing. The detective does nothing. […] The thing that rather gets me down is that when I write something that is tough and fast and full of mayhem, I get panned for being tough and fast and full of mayhem, and then when I try to tone down a bit and develop the mental and emotional side of a situation, I get panned for leaving out what I was panned for putting in the first time. […] From now on, if I make mistakes, as no doubt I shall, they will not be made in a futile attempt to avoid making mistakes.

He nevertheless liked the full package once the book had been published. With the exception of the author photograph that graced the back cover, Chandler approved of the new typeface, and of the cover design, which featured both the scales of justice and the doubloon itself.

The inside back cover. Note the author photo Chandler so disliked, and the terrible blurb.

The High Window was very much the beginning of Chandler’s career as a commercial artist. Shortly after the book’s publication in 1942, he was approached to work on the screenplay for a Billy Wilder movie, Double Indemnity – based on a James M. Cain story – which in turn led to writing credits on The Blue Dahlia and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. But Chandler was no fan of Cain’s:

I hope the day will come when I won’t have to ride around on Hammett and James Cain, like an organ grinder’s monkey. Hammett is all right. I give him everything. There were a lot of things he could not do, but what he did he did superbly. But James Cain – faugh! Everything he touches smells like a billygoat. He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naif, a Proust in greasy overalls […] Hemingway with his eternal sleeping bag got to be pretty damn tiresome, but at least Hemingway sees it all, not just flies on the garbage can.

Nonetheless, Cain’s novella brought Chandler financial and commercial success, and – even better – it pointed Hollywood in his direction. By 1946, Bogart and Bacall brought Philip Marlowe to life in the film adaptation of The Big Sleep, and soon there were more Marlowes than you can shake a stick at, including 1947’s The Brasher Doubloon, which used the plot of The High Window alongside Chandler’s original title.

But what sticks with you after you finish Chandler’s third novel is not the tight plot or the acid-sharp similes. It is the wry tone of a writer who is having a good time with his genre, to the extent that he can poke fun at the ridiculous world of PIs, film noir, and Angeleno gangsters that he had helped to create. One character is “the fellow for whom they coined the term ‘ignorant as an actor’.” And there are more self-aware nods peppered throughout the book.

The man in the black shirt and yellow scarf was sneering at me over the New Republic.
“You ought to lay off the fluff and get your teeth into something solid, like a pulp magazine,” I told him, just to be friendly.
I went on out. Behind me someone said: “Hollywood’s full of them.”

Later, Marlowe even references dialogue that his soon-to-be Hollywood counterpart Humphrey Bogart uttered in Casablanca: “Skip it. I know it. Marlowe knows everything—except how to make a decent living. It doesn’t amount to beans.” Reading Chandler’s letters and articles, it’s difficult not to think that he considered movies an indecent living. But this didn’t stop him from making a small, uncredited cameo in Double Indemnity, reproduced here for film noir buffs and those of you who made it this far.

Chandler was right: The High Window isn’t his best. Nor is it his worst. But it is a book that is a lot of fun, and one that includes a mystery that runs logically from point A to point B. In that way, if in no other, it was as close to an English detective story as Raymond Chandler would ever get.

DLR, 01.18.11

PULP Paperbacks: “Farewell, My Lovely”, a 1944 edition

12 Dec

He was looking up at the dusty windows with a sort of ecstatic fixity of expression, like a hunky immigrant catching his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet away from me. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers. […] Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

It’s not hard to see where the cover artist got his inspiration for this pulp paperback classic. We have written before about the marvellous Brattle Book Shop in Boston, and many of its second-hand pulps are now on our office shelves gathering primary colour dust. Just yesterday, we hit the store again, and PULPable picked up this 1944 edition of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. The artist, credited simply ‘Hoffman’, clearly read at least a few of the sentences above before going to work that day.

Front cover of a 1946 Pocket Books edition of "Farewell, My Lovely"

His second novel, Chandler fought hard for the unusually wistful title. Published by Knopf, the company’s founders Alfred and Blanche Knopf were worried that the name Farewell, My Lovely might, instead of attracting the usual rough-and-tumble reader of detective noir, encourage romance fans to pick up the book.

During writing, Chandler’s working title had been The Second Murderer, but he had dropped the Shakespearean reference in favour of a whimsical ‘farewell’. In a 1940 letter to George Harmon Coxe, he wrote:

I didn’t know it had been announced under that name [The Second Murderer]. When I turned the manuscript in they howled like hell about the title, which is not at all a mystery title, but they gave in. We’ll see.

By October, the book had been published and sales were disappointing. Further, more conciliatory, letters to Blanche Knopf suggest that Chandler felt harried into choosing his title and had received little guidance from her or Alfred. Nevertheless, Farewell stands the test of time, and remains for many people Chandler’s best. Unlike its predecessor, The Big Sleep, it leaves no loose ends to its central mystery; and its other competitor for top noir, The Long Goodbye, can drift a little too close to melancholy and further away from the arch tone that makes his earlier novels so much more fun.

But like the cover artist, Pocket Books’ back-cover blurber must have felt the need to jazz up a slightly whimsical title with some terrible prose:

Beneath the headline “Bad Blood Flows Freely”, we have a poorly punctuated attempt at summarising Chandler’s novel in the style of Chandler.

This is a thrilling story – shockingly realistic – of a world in which viciousness is normal. In it you will find Philip Marlowe, Private Detective, and a rare rogue’s gallery of unbeautiful characters, including: a giant who did not know his own strength; a Negro who ends up with a broken neck; a gin-drinking drab with a fine new radio; a ravishingly beautiful blonde with a rich and sadly tolerant husband, but no morals; an Indian with the shoulders of a blacksmith and the legs of a chimpanzee; a charlatan who calls himself a psychic consultant; a doctor with a plug-ugly for an assistant; a gambler; and an honest cop and several crooked ones.

Who could resist these unbeautifuls?

In addition to being a wonderful pulp paperback, this books is also a testament to the US’s involvement at the time in a World War. At the bottom right-hand corner of the back cover, pulp readers are advised to “send this book to a boy in the armed forces anywhere for only 3 cents”. Pocket Books’ inside covers also

Pocket Books helps the war effort

encouraged people to recycle any paper items they had – including pulps – so that they could be donated to the war effort and converted into “a container for a quart of blood plasma that will save a GI’s life”, “an airborne container… that will drop food or medicine to liberated peoples” or, thrillingly, “it may show up as the shell case for the shell, or the bomb band for the bomb, that will be the very last explosion to finally shatter the nerve and will-to-fight of the enemy!” In short, “save every scrap and you’ll help end the scrap.” Perhaps, then, Chandler and his fellow pulp authors did have a hand in bringing the bad guys to justice in 1945.

Though original sales of Farewell, My Lovely might have been lower than hoped, these Pocket Books editions kept the title in circulation for years to come. In a 1951 letter to their Vice President, Freeman Lewis, Chandler thanked Lewis with his tongue firmly in cheek for the new Pocket Books’ edition of Farewell:

Is it permissible to wonder why the people who do illustrations and covers can’t pay some attention to the text? The bedspring shown in your cover illustration is entirely wrong, since it is a type of spring which is very light and would be useless as a weapon. If your illustrator had taken the trouble to read merely a few lines at the top of page 144 in the book, he might not have made a fool of himself and incidentally of me, since the kind of spring I was writing about would be a very efficient weapon, almost as efficient as a blackjack. The kind he illustrated would be of no use at all!

DLR, 12.12.10

PULP Fictions: Crafting the Perfect Pulp

8 Dec

he tropes and types of pulp fiction still populate our pages and screens: femmes fatales emerge from shadows, gangsters claim lone guns on mantelpieces, and gumshoes crack wise on the mean city streets. In his treatise on mystery fiction, The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler advised his correspondents:

When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.

Today, PULPable is going to teach you how to craft the perfect pulp. What you need first is:

A Title to Die For

Pulp titles fall into surprisingly few categories, and the best are a form of melodramatic poetry.

1.  A pun based on an idiom or phrase:
My Kingdom for a Hearse (reproduced below in all its glorious technicolor) provides a classic example. Rhyming puns are also popular. If you’re interested in some seasonal pulp, check out my very own guest post over at Darby O’Shea entitled Slay Bells Ring.

2. The classic formulation: The Adjective Noun
Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon are perhaps the most famous of any pulp novels, and inspired countless imitators and hangers-on. The Gentle Hangman is a personal favourite, and is featured in PULPable’s header (look up).

3. A variation on the format, The Man/Woman Who Did Something
Also spearheaded by Chandler with The Man Who Liked Dogs, this has provided some Western-style retribution in The Man Who Got Even With God as well as some variations of my own, including The Woman Whose Chihuahua Blew Away.

4. And if you’re lost as to a pun or a simple formulation, just ensure that your title includes the words “murder”, “death”, “kill”, or any other pulpable term that takes your fancy.
Try:

A Dame Called Murder
Kill Now, Pay Later

Love Me To Death, or
Suddenly A Corpse
.

My favourite might be Death Wore an Astrakhan Hat.

 

A Simile as Sharp as Paper Dart

Turning a phrase like no other, Chandler unwittingly created pulp cliches like no other. In The High Window, he crafts a perfect paragraph hooked around a simile fully aware of its cheesiness:

 

Raymond Thornton Chandler

The heart-rending dialogue of some love serial came out of the room behind her and hit me in the face like a wet dishtowel. The bright-eyed woman said: ‘You a friend of theirs?’ In her voice, suspicion was as thick as the ham in her radio.

If in doubt, make a statement and then qualify it with a simile: He was tough. As tough as nails, and half as charismatic. And yes, you can have that example free of charge. Even the best parodists have come up with some classics. On A Prairie Home Companion, one of Guy Noir’s dolls is described by Garrison Keilor:

She wore a knit sweater and jeans so tight it looked as if she’d been poured into them and forgot to say When.

So what’s left? Well, don’t forget to commission:

An Exploitative, Technicolor Pulp Cover

The great pulp artists are no longer with us. Though hipster irony might bring us McSweeney’s anthologies of Thrilling Tales, the unironic, sexually provocative pulp book cover is long gone. Last time at PULPable, we took a look at a classic, Visa To Death, that featured all the classic elements of pulpdom: gangsters, dames, and death!

The original detective novels spawned a plethora of niche pulps.  And these niche pulps have provided some of he best by way of exploitative femmes fatales and sexy gun molls. A damsel in distress evades a bullet; a square-jawed hero, comes to the rescue; and you have (drum roll, please) Romantic Detective magazine.

The angles of the language and the painted lines of the cover art have, inevitably, been lampooned and pastiched into oblivion. But some of the most melodramatic and nonetheless appealing graphic design graced the covers of the original pulp magazines and paperbacks. For all the knowing nods and winks, what pulp did best, and can still do, is pull us out of the humdrum and into the high-stakes, and in doing so, entertain and amuse.

As usual, Ray said it best in The Simple Art of Murder:

The mystery story is a kind of writing that need not dwell in the shadow of the past and owes little if any allegiance to the cult of the classics. It is a good deal more than unlikely that any writer now living will produce a better historical novel than Henry Esmond, […] a sharper social vignette than Madame Bovary, […] a wider and richer canvas than War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov. But to devise a more plausible mystery than The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Purloined Letter should not be too difficult. Nowadays it would be rather more difficult not to.

DLR 12.09.10

Why PULP? Why PULPable?

25 Oct

pulp (n.) […]
1. A soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter.

pulp (n.)
7. A publication, such as a magazine or book, containing lurid subject matter.

PULPable has written elsewhere about the original Pulp magazines and paperbacks, and about the world that gave birth to them. But why, I hear you cry, is pulp still relevant? How does it fit into daily life, and why on Earth should you read this humble blog?

These are good questions, so hold on to your fedoras.

More important than the Pulps themselves is their legacy, a legacy of 3D movies and wizarding academies, of Dragon Tattoos and vampire novels. Whether you bought a romance paperback for 25 cents, or subscribed to Black Mask magazine to read about PIs and femmes fatales, you did so because Pulps offered the comfort of familiar, escapist entertainment. And they achieved this by being generic. Put succinctly, the Pulps gave birth to genre fiction and genre film.

At their worst, detective fiction, science fiction, romance, fantasy or westerns were a “soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter” both figurativelyand literally: lacking focus or depth, they were lowest common denominator fun packaged in affordable, mass market form. But their popularity set the bar for the burgeoning entertainment industries, who recognised that, if you wanted it to be successful, it had to be generic.

For better or worse, this is still used a yardstick in the entertainment industries. Of the current top 5 hardcover and paperback books, there are arguably only a couple of titles that are not genre fiction, and half of the top ten are crime fiction. The highest grossing movies of this year tend toward fantasy, and the highest grossing movie of all time – Avatar – is a distinctly ‘soft, moist, shapeless’ heap of science fiction. But literary fiction or film doesn’t sell. To be successful, a movie or novel needs a hook, and more often than not that hook is genre.

So the Pulps gave birth to popular entertainment, and thus to pop culture. A catch-all term for a collection of modern, mass media myths and symbols – TV characters, artworks, and commercial logos, of movie quotes, video game franchises, and theme tunes – pop culture has become a short-hand for communicating about ourselves. One reference to a pop culture phenomenon immediately connects you to someone else, sets a common frame of reference, all thanks to pulp.

Why should you read PULPable? Well, because we run the gamut, from the original Pulps to politics, from art to comic books (sometimes in the same post), and from pop music to Shakespeare. If you’re new to pulp, why not check out some of our greatest hits:

And stay tuned for features on some original Pulp paperbacks, coming up later this week.

DLR

The legacy of pulp is difficult to escape: movie franchises breath new and popular life into vampires and wizards, 3D glasses return to cinemas, and bestseller lists swarm with Hornets’ Nests and Dragon Tattoos.

PULP in Print: A Nearly First Edition “The Big Sleep”

15 Mar

There is most likely an equation out there which calculates how much a first edition book is worth based on the popularity of the title in question. If you plugged in Raymond Chandler‘s The Big Sleep, this equation would turn out a rather large figure.

The Big Sleep first adorned pulp fan’s bookshelves in 1939, and first editions of Chandler’s first novel fetch absurdly high prices on an inflated, interactive marketplace such as the internet.

Forum Books 1st ed. "The Big Sleep", 1946

But with the release of the Bogart and Bacall picture in 1946, Warner Brothers and Forum Books reissued the novel, replete with a slimline dust cover featuring stills from the movie and a bold, colour-blocked pulp design. And I unearthed a 1946 first edition of this original movie tie-in this weekend in Boston’s Brattle Bookshop, which was then purchased for me, kindly and as an early birthday gift, by Darby O’Shea.

Published by Forum Books, the cover boldly proclaims it:

“The novel from which the Warner Bros. film was made, starring Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall.

The inside front cover, with black and white movie stills

Humphrey and Lauren adorn the cover as detective Philip Marlowe and femme fatale Vivian, but the inside front and back covers feature pulpy stills from the film, the edges of each image blurring into black and fading into another image beside it. The inside front cover blurbs the story in a fashion which Chandler would be proud of:

“Marlowe, the detective, – shrewd, strong, and incorruptible, the healthy force amid the shadows and whispers – is called in to break a blackmail case and ends up to his neck in a series of murders.”

The Cast of "The Big Sleep". Click to enlarge.

Being a movie tie-in series (and, no doubt, one of the first publishers to team with a studio in reissuing titles that were being filmed), the book proper begins with a list of the movie’s cast, from Bogart and Bacall all the way down to Taxicab Driver.

I shall enjoy its ruffled and discoloured pages sleeping the big sleep on my bookshelves.

DLR, 3.15.10

PULP Peculiarities: Robert B. Parker’s “Poodle Springs”

22 Feb

With the death of Robert B. Parker this January, the last of the old-school, hard-boiled detective authors may have joined his predecessors in sleeping the big sleep.

Robert B. Parker had been a fixture

Robert B. Parker

on the noir scene since his debut novel in 1973, The Godwulf Manuscript.Clipped, swift and flatly descriptive, and yet with a Chandleresque penchant for a pun, Parker’s prose was clearly influenced by both Ray and Dashiell Hammett. And beyond Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, Parker’s protagonist Spenser (immortalised in Spenser: For Hire in the ’80s) is probably the most popular PI in detective fiction.

But Parker’s most peculiar novel was destined to feature Marlowe. In 1958, Raymond Chandler was working on a tale he had named “The Poodle Springs Story”. Though his previous novel, Playback, had not been a great hit, Chandler decided that Marlowe was to pair off with Playback‘s femme fatale and marry.

The first of just two editions of "Poodle Springs"

Left unfinished at his death in 1959, Chandler’s estate approached Robert B. Parker in the 1980s to complete the book.

Poodle Springs is a strange beast. With only four chapters completed by Chandler, the remainder of the novel becomes, gradually and understandably, Parker’s. Marlowe in the 50s comes close to merging with 1970s-80s Spenser, the wisecracking Boston private eye who is dedicated, unlike most PIs, to one woman.

Yet it is not Marlowe’s uncharacteristic marriage that grates as much as it is the locale: you can take the man out of LA,

Raymond Chandler and Taki, his Persian cat

but you can’t take LA out of the man. Chandler wrote as much about Los Angeles as he did about Philip Marlowe, just as Parker’s descriptions of metro Boston are as important to the Spenser novels as his protagonist.

In the end, it is not Poodle Springs that places Parker beside Chandler in the line of noir succession, but his lean, wisecracking prose and his breathing literary life into this city. Though Ray, clearly, did not agree, saying “I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday.”

DLR 2.22.10

A PULP Preface, 2.0

24 Oct

PULPable is where the many points on the graph of cultural modernity bubble just beneath the surface of popular culture.

If you’re wondering exactly what I’m talking about, then you should go immediately and read A PULP Manifesto, but if your attention span is better suited to Lois  & Clark than to Nietzschean “Supermen” then you should keep reading.

Though one can (and I do) trace PULPable back to the original pulp magazines and even further back to the days of Penny Dreadfuls and mass production, its origins for me were in the literary and musical choices I made as a teenager. PULPable was, to me, the pop culture subtext of a record or a novel, the assumed shared knowledge of a century

A Vogue cover referencing David Bowies Aladdin Sane album

A Vogue cover referencing David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" album

of mass-produced consumables which underpinned the song you had just listened to or the sentence you had just read.

In The Velvet Underground I found Andy Warhol, and in Warhol a critique of the very culture that had created him. In William Burroughs there were drugs galore, sentences that vomited all over the bar and which were as impenetrable as those that  preceded him in Ulysses or The Wasteland. In Raymond Chandler I saw an America of surfaces and style, and in the Pulp magazines he wrote for were the beginnings of superheroes and comic book villains destined to be deconstructed within a century by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Jonathan Lethem.

More vital than any other writer, singer or artist in exploring the PULPable style was David Bowie. The list above could go on for several paragraphs, but suffice it to say that the Velvets and Burroughs, as well as Anthony Burgess (and by extension Stanley Kubrick), Christopher Isherwood, Orwell and Huxley amongst others were introduced to me indirectly through obsessive listening to Bowie’s records. He was inspired by that which was considered ‘high culture’ to create that which was considered ‘low’, and in referencing writers and artists, philosophers and bands, he mirrored more closely deconstructive authors than fellow pop musicians.

This sense of an unknown pop culture grid, something that lurked beneath the superficiality of what was ostensibly popular entertainment, piqued my curiosity. Though I read and was forcibly loaned comic books (or, as some insist, Graphic Novels), watched science-fiction movies and TV shows, I also consciously selected books that felt as though they belonged on the graph of culture modernity. If I could piece together Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man with Catch-22, or place A Clockwork Orange alongside L’Etranger then maybe, just maybe, I would be able to begin to connect the points on the graph.

Books, art, music, comics, film: they all interlaced and overlapped. The pop culture surface was immediately graspable,  a series of symbols which began to attain the status of modern myth by virtue of their being instantly recognisable and signifying something near-universal: the Coca-Cola logo, Superman’s costume or Warhol’s “Marilyns”. But beneath the surface, there existed a secondary stream of culture which fed on the popular,

The Escapist mock comic book cover, based on Michael Chabons Kavalier & CLay

The Escapist comic book cover, based on Michael Chabon's "Kavalier & Clay"

sometimes for entertainment (Bowie and Chandler), sometimes for art’s sake (Warhol strikes again), but more often than not for both.

There is no easy definition, for if there were then we would be immediately constrained, and why should we be forced to choose between Superman and Michael Chabon, between Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas? PULPable is where both live together in imperfect harmony. The mainstream will swim on, and, from time to time, those bubbling under will rise to the surface and take a breath before diving for cover once again.

DLR, October 24th, 2009