Rediscovered: Does Continuity Matter?

For those who enjoy chewing the fat about books and writers, in email the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook and I recently got off on another little thread that might interest some of you:

Kevin: Of course the greatest story about an author forgetting his novel is when Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner, writing the movie script, called up Raymond Chandler to ask him who murdered the chauffer in The Big Sleep.

Chandler couldn’t answer. A reread of the novel shows that he never explained in the book who committed the murder!

That has to be the all-time classic, and it happened to one of the greats.

Almost as famously, Edgar Rice Burroughs has Tarzan’s son Jack “Korak” Clayton, who was an infant in 1914, show up as a World War I veteran in Tarzan the Terrible. That error has bothered Burroughs fans for a century now.

H. Bedford-Jones stopped writing John Solomon stories for three to four years in the early 1920s. When he resumed he dumped about ten novels worth of continuity.

Did those two authors simply forget? Or more likely were they just trying to write and sell another interesting story and did not care if the new one contradicted one from a few years back?

Don: The Chandler slip-up is famous, but only proves that Chandler was right. In “The Simple Art of Murder,” The Atlantic, December 1944, he wrote about the Black Mask style. If in doubt about plot movement, have someone come into a room with gun drawn. Didn’t matter if it really made sense, just mattered if it kept the pages turning. THAT was the style.

When they shot the flick afterwards in 1945 — a revamped version became the one released theatrically in 1946 — right there was proof that Chandler had not been bullshitting about How To Do It.

Who cared who killed the chauffeur? No one, really, until the film crew tried to piece together continuity.

I think most pulpsters (and most writers in general, until recent years) didn’t worry about character continuity at all.

If they got the name spelled right, they were doing pretty good (and some, like Louis L’Amour, didn’t bother with that angle too much). Jeez, Conan Doyle couldn’t remember where Watson caught a slug or got married.

Kevin: You are correct about Chandler: who cares who killed the chauffeur? The Big Sleep is a classic anyway, and that blip in the continuity does not change it one bit.

My whole point was that authors who were great story-tellers did not let the continuity details get in the way of a great story. Watson’s wounds and wives or Korak’s age don’t really matter when you are actually reading the story; it’s only afterward with too much time on your hands that you start to worry about that sort of thing.

Creative minds putting down on paper the words that will lead to the best possible story (and who cares what I wrote last year that may contradict it!).

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Rediscovered: Excerpts of Nostalgic Book Talk

Kicking the can around in email with noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook, we hit a thread of wishing we’d been alive back when, getting new stories by favorite writers hot off the press. It began as Kevin was doing a big reread of Arthur Machen, about to go to The Terror next — and I mentioned that for Machen, it was only so-so.

For those who enjoy such chatter:

Kevin: Just to note the difference, I can still distinctly remember my first readings of stories like “Queen of the Black Coast” and “Beyond the Black River.” The Wow factor was very much in evidence. It’s the same stuff we were just writing about with the initial what-happens-next reading of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” 

I will also note at this point that you were correct about The Terror, which hardly held the same sense of mystery upon rereading, when you already know what happens. It was also from Machen’s later period.

I feel a lot about him much as I do with Conan Doyle in that they both hit the high points in their careers in the 1890s. The same could, of course, also be said of Wells. What a great decade, though!

Even among forgotten authors, my favorite books by Frank Aubrey, Alfred Clark, Anthony Wall and Eugene Shade Bisbee all appeared in that decade.

Don: Yeah, The Terror — by no means peak Machen. If you love Machen, everything’s worth at least a slog thru (even Dreads & Drolls, tho it is brutal), but if you’re just hitting the high points. . . .

Can you imagine being a reader in the 1890s when all that ground-breaking stuff was popping? Or buying Weird Tales off the stands for the new HPL and CAS and REH stuff, or Black Mask for Hammett? Man.

Kevin: Think of the five-year period roughly 1924-1928 when Hammett was writing one red-hot story after another. Lovecraft published his two greatest stories, “The Colour out of Space” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” Burroughs published his last major work, the Moon series consisting of “The Moon Maid,” “The Moon Men” and “The Red Hawk.” Merritt published his masterpiece The Ship of Ishtar. Harold Lamb published the Sir Hugh stories, and major figures like Robert E. Howard got their start.

All you had to do was basically read four pulps: Argosy All-Story Weekly, Weird Tales, Adventure and Black Mask.

And I wasn’t even considering stuff published originally in book form like The Purple Sapphire by John Taine.

In the next decade you would have Howard, Chandler and Woolrich at their pulp peak. Even earlier in the US you had the peak of the Munsey scientific romances from roughly 1916-1920 with Burroughs, George Allan England and Perley Poore Sheehan leading the way for the newcomers like Merritt, Francis Stevens, Charles B. Stilson, Homer Eon Flint and Austin Hall to get started.

Still, that 1890s in the UK, hard to beat: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Time Machine and The Three Imposters alone would be hard to surpass, not even to take into consideration the cultural significance of Holmes and the whole time travel motif. 

Naturally, The Strand would be the leading magazine, but Pearson’s would not be far behind. Incredible beautiful illustrations for works like The Lost Continent  by Cutcliffe Hyne, “The Spell of the Sword” by Frank Aubrey and The War of the Worlds would mark Pearson’s late in that decade.

The other cool thing was that those British authors knew each other — along with Robert Louis Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard and Bram Stoker. Their presentation copies of books inscribed to each other are very, very expensive collectors’ items today.

All those great eras: Sword-and-Sorcery was new, supernatural horror was new, the hard-boiled detective story was new, Sword-and-Planet was new.

Everything fresh and unspoiled compared to what we have today with Cthulhu Mythos pastiches, Conan pastiches, Holmes pastiches and — best of all — new Elak and Thongor pastiche stories.

Don: Back to me — Kevin mocks with black irony any new Thongor or Elak yarns being “best of all.” Don’t think he suddenly lost his mind. Only the most bottom-feeder fanboys get aroused by that sort of thing.

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Hammett: Another Farewell Murder

Evan Lewis keeps at his exploration of digital newspaper morgues, finding the Op yarn “The Farewell Murder” (1930) reprinted in December 1939 in the Detroit Free Press. How many Op reprints? How many times? How many papers? Maybe someday Evan will have manhunted them all down for our delectation. . . .

In his little blurb Evan mentions the idea that “The Farewell Murder” probably was the last Op yarn written for Black Mask, as Hammett headed off to Hollywood — but then “Death and Company” appeared a few months later, and that title was the last gasp of Hammett’s short fat detective in those pulp pages.

If you want a deep dive into Op vs. Op, return to my ruminations of yesteryear where I pit the final two published tales against each other in a battle to see who finished last.

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Rediscovered: Padgett Powell Book Posts Willeford

Aha. Another guy has just discovered the late great Charles Willeford and covers the waterfront on the direct-to-your-inbox service Book Post. If interested, hop to the link fast — I have no idea what the archiving is like.

My book on Willeford, Willeford, gets a passing mention. Says it “sounds like a good book.” Well, yeah. (Ethan Iverson, also mentioned in the article, once hired me to give him a special Master Class in Willeford, a one-on-one tutorial — Ethan is smarter than most people you meet.)

One tidbit I found interesting is that Saul Bellow found Willeford to be “flat.” The blurb says “nicely ‘flat,'” but flat doesn’t sound flattering, does it?

(And if this marks some sort of tenuous literary dustup between the ghosts of Willeford and Bellow, remember that another of my favorite writers in The Immobilized Man genre, Floyd Salas, once had some kind of little screaming match with Bellow. Reports on that encounter vary.)

“Book Post,” they say, “is a bite-sized newsletter-based book review delivery service, 
sending well-made book reviews, by distinguished and engaging writers, direct to your inbox.” You can subscribe through Twitter, Facebook and the like.

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Rediscovered: The Unclaimed Remains of Charles Saunders

Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes pops along a news article — startling enough it provokes my jaded sensibilities.

Turns out the Sword-and-Sorcery — later Sword-and-Soul — author Charles Saunders died at some undetermined point in May of 2020, but when his body was found there was no contact info for friends or relatives.

His corpse was labeled as “unclaimed remains” and buried in an unmarked grave.

If interested in the saga of Saunders, make sure to check it out. One way or the other, it looks as if his greater or lasting rep will play out posthumously — as it did for the founder of S&S, Robert E. Howard.

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Rediscovered: Tenderloin Terry Hits the Top Ten

Not the New York Times or Publishers Weekly year-end round-ups, but for the specialized market it was written for, perhaps even better — Terry Zobeck made the Top Ten for fave books of 2020 by James Reasoner.

The Larry Block biblio covers in minute Zobeckian detail his published output — one book after another for decades, all the short stories, the works. And I think Reasoner is kind of in that league. Somewhere around 400 books by now?

(When I first met Reasoner he was hovering around 200 books. But you pile them up when you knock out over a million words a year for sixteen years, which was about how long ago I met this modern pulpster. Makes me tired just thinking about it.)

Congrats to veteran Mean Streets blogger Terry.

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Tour: Journal of the Plague Year

2020, without question, a great year for binge-watching — but taking a moment to think about it, I don’t believe I did any more bingeing than usual (which is to say I am a binge-master, the only trick is tracking down something I want to binge — and so far, so good — the Koreans jumped on the zombie genre just in time).

The notable literary endeavor for the year was doing some editing on John D. Haefele’s landmark of litcrit, Lovecraft: The Great Tales. Ought to pop any day now, the final hurdle being the Index for the 750 page plus monster. I think if the Index is longer than the book, we’ll have to trim it back to strictly HPL cites, and maybe Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and I guess Machen and Chambers and Bierce, perhaps some Young Belknapius and Robert Bloch. . . . But everything otherwise is a wrap. Formatted. Ready to roll. A nice surprise or two. The book Lovecraftians have waited their whole lives for, but didn’t know it.

On the Hammett Tour front I have spent the entire year discalced. Honest, nothing remotely like a gumshoe has grabbed me by the feet. First year since 1977 when I personally have not led hardboiled tourists on the now legendary walk. Of course, it is easier to not do the tour than to hike up and down the mean streets, and I like easy, so I don’t feel traumatized by sitting one out.

I fully expect to resume the walks at some point, when the various vax’s have done in the virus. Put a slug through the pump. If not sooner, when they’ve only plugged it in the leg.

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Hammett: More Jeopardy!

And Hammett-based clews continue to pop up on Jeopardy! as if in a noir salutation to the passing of Alex Trebek.

On December 28 the rerun episode titled “Around the World with Alex: Journey Through Israel” (originally broadcast November 23, 2009).

First round. $600 clew.

Category: Sounds That Kitties Make:

In “The Maltese Falcon,” Dashiell Hammett wrote “‘That will be excellent,’ Gutman” did this

One contestant guessed “snarled.” Nope.

Alex did the reveal: “Gutman purred. Scary.”

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Hammett: Non-Stop Jeopardy!

Holy cow. It isn’t just one Hammett clew every month or few months, it is a damn barrage.

Yesterday, Friday Dec 18 — S37 E70 — in the Double Jeopardy round.

$2000 clew.

Category: Literature:

This playwright’s “The Children’s Hour” was inspired by a real case suggested by Dashiell Hammett

Brayden, the reigning champ, rings in and asks: “Who is Hellman?”

The late, great Alex Trebek says, “Lillian Hellman. Correct.”

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Hammett: And Another Jeopardy! Clew in the Trebek Era

Man, the Jeopardy! Hammett clews are coming out fast and furious, like hot lead from a Tommy gun.

Yesterday, Wednesday 12/16/20 — S37 E68 — as the last few final episodes hosted by Alex Trebek work their way on air — they dip into the Hammett whiskey well for yet another shot.

The Double Jeopardy round. The $400 clew.

Category: Endings:

At the end of the book “The Maltese Falcon”, this private eye realizes that Brigid is a murderer & turns her in to the police

Current champion Brayden rings in with “Who is Sam Spade?”

Yep. But while I suppose we’re all willing to give the clew crew a break in formulating the wording, I think most Hammett fans realize that Spade figured out Brigid was the who that dun it much, much earlier in the action.

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