20 June 2013

How I Got This Way - Literature and Life

by Eve Fisher

Fran's blog on Adolescent Sexist Swill - which was GREAT - got me thinking about the books I read as a child and young adult.  Which ones still hold up?  Which ones don't?  Which ones do I still have on my shelves?  Which ones did I get rid of under cover of darkness?  I'm going to stick to the mystery/adventure/thriller domain, and so, here's my calls:

The ones that hold up:

Sherlock Holmes - I'm up for a trip to 221B Baker Street just about any time.  Just please, don't try to make me like the modern takes on Sherlock.  I want him lean, addicted to tobacco and/or cocaine, and totally emotionally detached.  (My favorite actor in the role was Jeremy Brett, with Basil Rathbone running a close second.)

Robert Louis Stevenson & Alexandre Dumas - the two greatest adventure story writers ever, imho.  One of my first great loves was Alan Breck in "Kidnapped".  And while the sequels to "The Three Musketeers" are overwrought to the point of pain ("The Vicomte de Bragelonne" leaps to mind), the original has almost everything anyone could hope for.  The rest is in "The Count of Monte Cristo".  (Sadly, while I love 1973/74 versions of "The Three Musketeers", I have not yet seen what I consider a decent production of "The Count of Monte Cristo" - they keep wanting to happy up the ending for Mercedes...)

Nancy Drew - you've got to start somewhere, and she was independent, fun, rescued all her friends, and solved the mysteries.  Way to go, Nancy!

Shirley Jackson - I still say the scariest movie ever made was the original "The Haunting" with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom.  Check out the books:  besides the original "The Haunting of Hill House" allow me to recommend "We Have Always Lived in the Castle".  Many of us might recognize an old, old fantasy come strangely to life.

Edgar Allan Poe - "The Cask of Amontillado" - "for the love of God, Montresor!"  "Yes, for the love of God."  Wow.

The ones that hold up, with reservations:

H. P. Lovecraft - I gave away my complete set to a young nerd who came back about a week later, strangely gray, and gave them all back to me.  He couldn't sleep, couldn't eat, and might have been damaged for life.  All I know is Lovecraft scared the crap out of me, I remember some of his stories vividly, a few of them were so brilliant I am still in awe of what he did, and I have no need to ever read them again.  (Same thing with "Johnny Got His Gun" by Dalton Trumbo - book and movie - saw it once, read it for some reason after that, had nightmares both times, I am done.)

My adolescent sexist swill (Thanks for the phrase, Fran!):
  • The Saint, a/k/a Simon Templar, by Leslie Charteris
  • Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday
  • Mike Hammer by Mickey Spillane
  • James Bond by Ian Fleming
I read all of these, mainly for the sex, because where else was there any in early 1960's literature?  Violent, cathartic, sometimes funny (especially Mike Shayne), sometimes educational, and a great way to really rile up the teachers.  (Girls weren't supposed to be reading them.) 

I will say that at least the Saint had Patricia Holm, who was as much of an adventurer as he was.  But then Charteris dropped Patricia.  Sigh.  And the James Bond novels had some strong women - but most of them, in the end, all went soft and cuddly, even Pussy Galore, which I never believed for one minute...  :)  But at least the locations were fantastic. 

I haven't run across any of Brett Halliday's in a long time, so I don't know how well he holds up, but I have re-read some of all of the others, and...  for me, they don't.  I can see the line, however, leading from these to Robert Parker's Spenser and Hawk.

My adolescent forerunners:

Agatha Christie - Still the classic, especially when it comes to plotting.  

James M. Cain - Mildred Pierce (the book) gets better every year! 

Dashiell Hammett - ah.  Nick and Nora. 

Rex Stout - I am trying to collect the complete works, and I almost have.  When it comes to media presentations, I want my Nero Wolfe (like Sherlock Holmes) unblemished by Hollywoodization - overweight, misogynistic, lazy, gourmandizing, and brilliant.  (I did like the Timothy Hutton version, although he's not how I've always pictured Archie Goodwin, and Maury Chaykin was not large enough...)

Well enough for now, I'm off to re-read "Death of a Doxy"!

8 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, thanks for the compliment on my last blog. I agree with you on so many of the reads and movies you mentioned, but I want to specifically comment on two.
SHIRLEY JACKSON - I first read THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE at night, alone in the study of my house. It frightened me so much that I was too scared to go to my room and slept on the couch in there with the door closed. Never thought any of the movies came close to what I imagined reading that book.
EDGAR ALLAN POE - I taught Poe to fifth graders. No, he wasn't in their text, but if R. L. Stine was acceptable, I thought Poe was, too. Many, many of the kids got into Poe, and indeed, one of my favorites and theirs was "The Cask of Amontillado."

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, thanks for the compliment on my last blog. I agree with you on so many of the reads and movies you mentioned, but I want to specifically comment on two.
SHIRLEY JACKSON - I first read THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE at night, alone in the study of my house. It frightened me so much that I was too scared to go to my room and slept on the couch in there with the door closed. Never thought any of the movies came close to what I imagined reading that book.
EDGAR ALLAN POE - I taught Poe to fifth graders. No, he wasn't in their text, but if R. L. Stine was acceptable, I thought Poe was, too. Many, many of the kids got into Poe, and indeed, one of my favorites and theirs was "The Cask of Amontillado."

Fran Rizer said...

I only hit "Publish" once, but once again, my comment has come up doubled.

Janice Law said...

Ah, another Jeremy Brett fan!
I remember teaching Kidnapped lo these many years ago as a very young and inexperienced 9th grade English teacher,

Bill Crider said...

I couldn't agree more about THE HAUNTING and Shirley Jackson's book on which it's based. Great movie, even greater book.

Leigh Lundin said...

I find myself agreeing with all of the above, even Jeremy Brett and Rathbone, although we had not the opportunity to see Gillette in the rĂ´le. I started with the classics and still admire them.

I liked the early Saint stories better than the latter ones, but that tends to be true of several series. And I very much like the Continental Op.

Terence Faherty said...

Eve, I just downloaded THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I'm prepared to be scared.

James said...

Great post! I, too, can pick up Holmes anytime and enjoy stories I have read and re-read many times. Jeremy Brett was spot on as Doyle wrote him, and eerily similar in appearance to the old Strand illustrations.

I do say I like the BBC Holmes for two reasons: while modern, they are true to the spirit of the original stories; and it serves to introduce Holmes and Watson to a new generation in hopes that they will seek out the original works.