Saturday, November 13, 2010

Phillip Marlowe vs. Super Hero

FC Etier, talking about Jo Epstein - the protagonist of my mystery series -  on Blogcritics said:

"Can she kick your teeth in? You bet! And as she walks away, leaves an impromptu haiku to savor while you lick your wounds."

I was gratified to hear that Jo's combined literary and crime-fighting skills appeal to my readers but I'm wondering - why are so many writers creating protagonists with super powers and the gift of invincibility? Is it the challenging times we live in that make these mega-heroes appealing?

In his essay, The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler describes the ideal gumshoe as follows:

"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."

I love that last phrase - "without saying it." My vote is that we continue to create characters who embody the best qualities in all of us without bragging about it - whose "super-powers" are subtle and admirable.

What do YOU think?


  1. Reminds me of thriller writer John Connolly, whose protagonist Charlie Parker is one of my favorites in all fiction. In his book Dark Hollow, Connolly said:

    "The nature of compassion isn't coming to terms with your own suffering and applying it to others: it's knowing that other folks around you suffer and, no matter what happens to you, no matter how lucky or unlucky you are, they keep suffering. And if you can do something about that, then you do it, and you do it without whining or waving your own fuckin' cross for the world to see. You do it because it's the right thing to do.

  2. @ Laura - great quote! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love Phillip Marlowe! It's his wit, his toughness, his intelligence that make his so wonderful. No super powers necessary. Bogart at his best. Great topic!

    Ann Charles

  4. Hey Joyce,

    I think when we are all feeling beaten down and disenfranchised by life that we seek out people who can make stands and make a difference.

    I often fantasize about being a stronger woman. I wouldn't mind a superpower or two:)

    Maggie Toussaint

  5. @ Ann - So great how Bogart "became" Marlowe - not many movies being made from mystery novels these days (the the noted exception of Stieg Larsson's trilogy! - Noomi Norén is fantastic as Lisbeth Salander).

    @ Maggie - Maybe Phillip Marlowe's wit and intelligence were considered super powers in his day - I think we've upped the ante quite a bit on what qualifies as exceptional - and I agree, perhaps there's desperation in the air that makes this appealing.