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!).

This entry was posted in Film, Lit and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.