Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder.” I know this is not an uncommon quote. It still captures the heart of the mythology he created. Happy birthday, Ray.
In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things.
He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks—that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.
The story is the man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.
I am the same man I was when I was a struggling nobody. I feel the same. I know more, it is true, break all the rules and get away with it, but that doesn’t make me important.Raymond Chandler, gone this day in 1959.
"When I left, Merle was wearing a bungalow apron and rolling pie-crust. She came to the door wiping her hands on the apron and kissed me on the mouth and began to cry and ran back into the house, leaving the doorway empty until her mother came into the space with a broad homely smile on her face to watch me drive away.
I had a funny feeling as I saw the house disappear, as though I had written a poem and it was very good and I had lost it and would never remember it again.”
– Raymond Chandler, The High Window
Writers who get written about become self-conscious. They develop a regrettable habit of looking at themselves through the eyes of other people. They are no longer alone, they have an investment in critical praise, and they think they must protect it. This leads to a diffusion of effort. The writer watches himself as he works. He grows more subtle and he pays for it by loss of organic dash.Raymond Chandler
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “Raymond Chandler Evening.”
Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.
I learned about drinking whiskey, specifically bourbon whiskey, from Raymond Chandler. Actually, I recently read in his letters that Chandler was more of a gin man. So I really learned about drinking whiskey from Chandler’s alter ego, Philip Marlowe."Raymond Chandler and the Blue Dahlia Gambit," by Michael Norris.
Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations.Raymond Chandler
1958 audio recording of Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming in conversation about writing.
Recently a couple of people have mentioned to me that they are unfamiliar with Raymond Chandler’s books or have outright asked for a recommendation on where to start. So, here’s a quick primer.
Chandler published seven novels, which are (in chronological order): The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye and Playback. Reading them in roughly that order would not be a bad course to follow. Don’t start with Playback. It’s by far the weakest. And, even though it’s my favorite, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting with The Long Goodbye, either. I think that book has more power when you’re nominally familiar with Marlowe already.
If you’ve never read any Chandler and only have time for one novel, it’s hard to go wrong with The Big Sleep.
There are also several short story collections, comprised from his early pulp work, and a couple collections of letters. If you get really involved, I would recommend all of these, because even if they are lacking as a formal body of work, there are wonderful Chandler lines and touches scattered throughout them all like gems.
Also, Chandler wrote screenplays. The most famous is Double Indemnity, which was written with director Billy Wilder, but has Chandler’s trademark wit and sharp dialogue all over it. He also wrote The Blue Dahlia, which suffers from lack of restraint and inferior production to the other film, but it’s still a good noir.
I’m honestly not a big fan of any of the film adaptations of Chandler’s books. Most of the 1940s ones are fun watches, but I don’t think any capture Chandler’s spark. Yes, even Hawks’s The Big Sleep. I like Bogey. I like Bacall, but not in this role. It’s just missing something essential the book has.
Now, go forth and read.