Introduced Thomas to Raymond Chandler this morning. Or rather to Chandler’s famous essay about the private detective as archetype. We were discussing favourite characters over breakfast at Brown Dog and I was trying to explain how all characters, in the end, are the same but different. They match certain archetypes.
I googled up Chandler’s famous ‘Mean Streets’ quote:
“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. 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.
“He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a 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.
“The story is this 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. 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.”
He read it, grudgingly, and then I asked whether that description of an archetypal 1940s detective could apply to, say, Han Solo. (Spoiler, of course it can). The only point of departure is the matter of honesty. Solo would of course take a dishonest dollar from another rogue, but I don’t think he’d take one off an innocent. His need might tempt him, but his pride would not let him.
Character archetypes are much on my thoughts at the moment as I plot out not just The Cruel Stars but a couple of other projects. Chandler’s knight errant of the mean streets is not the only character type, of course. There are others. But I’ve always thought that short description captures one very particular type of hero very well.