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New Authors Who Write Books About Classic Characters

March 27, 2014
The author of this book is not really who he says he is.

The first twist in this mystery is that the author is not really who he says he is.

Somebody who is not Raymond Chandler just wrote and published a Phillip Marlowe book. Phillip Marlowe books are/were usually written by Raymond Chandler. I never got around to reading any Raymond Chandler novels. I was more of a Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane type when I was in my (brief) hardboiled detective phase. If I ever decide to read a Phillip Marlowe book, I’ll probably read one that’s written by Raymond Chandler and not one written by the new guy.

I checked out the new Phillip Marlowe book from the library, almost by accident. The reason I was attracted to The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black in the first place was because of the title and the author’s name. You rarely see a book where the author and the title have the same word in both (unless the book is about the author). Maybe the word “black” isn’t really in the title; purists might say the word is “black-eyed” instead of black, but I don’t complain about near-rhymes in poetry, so I won’t complain about the difference between “black” and “black-eyed.” Sometimes I have odd reasons for selecting books.

But then I found out that Black isn’t really the author’s last name. His real name is John Banville, and he’s written some award-winning novels (Christine Falls and Holy Orders) that I’ve never heard of. So John Banville used a pen name to write a novel about a popular classic character that he didn’t create. Now I feel cheated, even though I didn’t spend any money on the book (unless you count my tax money that pays for the libraries).

But my outrage is nothing compared to what Raymond Chandler fans probably feel. When all the Raymond Chandler fans get mad and want to vilify whoever ruined a Phillip Marlowe novel, Benjamin Black will get all the grief instead of John Banville.

From what I’ve read about John Banville (not much), he has a decent reputation as an author.  And writing a Phillip Marlowe novel is probably a good gig, as long as you know ahead of time some readers/critics are going to hate you no matter what.  Benjamin Black (I keep getting confused) may have written an outstanding whodunnit, the best in decades, and it still wouldn’t matter to Raymond Chandler fans.  Since it’s not Raymond Chandler, it will automatically suck. That’s not necessarily my opinion. I’m not a Raymond Chandler fan, so I have no biases, except I’m mad that the author’s last name isn’t really Black.

I don’t blame John Banville or Benjamin Black or the publishing company for wanting to write/publish a Phillip Marlowe book not written by Raymond Chandler.  From their point of view, this is an opportunity to increase book sales and make lots of money.  Even if the new Phillip Marlowe book isn’t very good, it will probably sell a few copies and maybe even lead to more sales of old books that Raymond Chandler actually wrote.

This isn’t the only time that a beloved character has been written by somebody other than the original author, but it doesn’t always work.  A James Bond novel written by somebody other than Ian Fleming is just a book about a spy who happens to be named James Bond.  A Godfather book written by anybody other than Mario Puzo is just a book about a bunch of gangsters who happen to have the last name Corleone.  And a Phillip Marlowe mystery written by anybody other than Raymond Chandler is just a book about a detective who happens to be named Marlowe.

A book written by John Banville/Benjamin Black isn’t going to be automatically worse than a novel written by Raymond Chandler, but The Black-Eyed Blonde will probably be compared to The Big Sleep or The Long GoodbyeThe Black-Eyed Blonde probably won’t be compared to Raymond Chandler’s worst book, (whatever it is); it will be compared to his best, and some people will hate Benjamin Black’s version, no matter what.

I don’t have a problem with this “hate it before I read it” attitude.  I’m not one of those people who thinks everybody should be open to everything.  When it comes to literature, readers should be closed-minded at times.  There are too many books out there to keep up with, and being closed-minded brings an order to a chaotic publishing industry.

I’m not going to read the Phillip Marlowe novel that’s not written by Raymond Chandler, but I don’t have a problem with it.  How about you?  Would you read a book about your favorite character if it wasn’t written by the original author? Would you write a book about your favorite character, and which classic character would you write about?  And if you do write a novel about a classic character, should you use your real name or a pen name?

DISCLAIMER:

Much of this post was plagiarized from something I wrote about six months ago, when I found out that a new Hercule Poirot novel was being written by Sophie Hannah, an author who is NOT Agatha Christie. If my self-plagiarism confused you, I apologize. If my self-plagiarism offends you, I probably won’t apologize because you might get offended too easily.

13 Comments
  1. Glad to hear you say you don’t mind being close-minded. I agree with you! I don’t like the thought of Hercule Poirot, my favourite fictional detective, being resurrected in this way.

  2. I am a big Raymond Chandler fan – and the idea that somebody else does a Phillip Marlowe novel is rather unsettling – I am probably going to ignore it!

    • I might actually read a Raymond Chandler book because of this new book. If I read only one, which should it be? The Big Sleep? Or is there a lesser known Raymond Chandler book that doesn’t get the recognition you think it deserves?

      • Always hard to say as it is subjective, The Big Sleep is a really good book, but in many ways I preferred The High Window. I found them all pretty good, but I wouldn’t recommend reading them one after another – his dry humour can wear thin.

  3. I’m not a fan of when people do that. It feels like glorified fan fiction.

  4. Eoin Colfer, who wrote the Artemis Fowl series, has written a sixth book in Douglas Admas’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. This rubs me the wrong way, because I find it quite ballsy and borderline offensive that anyone would think they could write something worthy of that series (or at least the first three in the series).

    That said, I would probably give it a go, too, if asked. But I wasn’t. So I can take a moral stance, I guess. But I would use whatever name I was already writing under. No one needs more than one pen name. That’s ridiculous. I would write my humorous sci-fi romps under the same name as my action thrillers: Dick Hercules.

  5. This is so funny! Your blog posts always make me laugh. I am no relation to Raymond Chandler, by the way (but I sometimes like to tell people that I am).

    • Do they believe you? Now you can act outraged that a publishing company has insulted your relative’s good name by allowing another author to write a Phillip Marlowe novel. I don’t know how far you could take that, though.

  6. I wonder what Frank L. Baum would think of Wicked and books like that about Oz. Also, what Shakespeare would think of all the numerous adaptations of his works. I haven’t read any Raymond Chandler books, so I can’t comment on those.

    • Did you see that Oz movie with James Franco? Ugh, that was bad. But my family liked Wicked (I didn’t go see it. I’m not wild about musicals).

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