Thursday, December 3, 2009

Scott D. Parker Comments

Scott D. Parker left a comment on my Rex Stout post that was so damn good I couldn’t see leaving it marooned there. So, with his permission, I’ve reposted his thoughts below. But first, the Stout quote:

"I really mean what I say. A Dickens character to me is a theatrical projection of a character. Not that it isn't real. It's real, but in that removed sense. But Sherlock Holmes is simply there. I would be astonished if I went to 221½ B Baker Street and didn't find him."

Scott, an aficionado of both Doyle and Dickens, had this to say:
Starting last year when I read The Man Who Invented Christmas (about how Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol), I've been in a Dickens mood all year. I read Dan Simmons' Drood and, recently, Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens, both dealing with Boz's last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I'm going to read the actual Drood in January. Anyway, most books written more than a century ago about a foreign land is, by my mind, removed. What matters is how well the author can speak to a reader a century or more removed.

Dickens, to me, speaks both to his contemporary readership (with his social concerns) but also to us 21st-Century readers (with his timeless tales). His characters are vivid, to be sure, but there is an obvious over-the-topness to many of them. That's why they are so memorable and why words like "Fagin" have become shorthand. Moreover, Dickens' writing style is purposefully fancy in many places. You know you are reading a great writer and he shows off a lot.

Doyle and Holmes, on the other hand, seem to be somewhat more real. True, they both write in the same era but the characters in the Holmes stories are largely nameless. Other than the big names (Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, Irene Adler, Prof. Moriarty, Mycroft, Sir Henry Baskerville), how many other Holmes characters can you name? Quick: name the guy who steals the carbuncle? Who owns Silver Blaze? Because Doyle's characters are "regular" joes, there's not a lot to help us readers remember them. They are normal and, by extension, more real, to me, than Scrooge, Copperfield, or Little Dorrit. Doyle's writing style, aside from a few Victorianisms and speaking patterns, is pretty modern. You pluck a Doyle story aside a Block story and modern audiences would enjoy and be familiar with both.

Long story short, and, upon further thought, I, too, might change my mind, but I'm going to agree with Stout's comment. Ironically, I've read only one Stout book--Nero Wolf's first adventure--and didn't like it. I may have to give him another try.
Who is more real to you: Dickens or Doyle? Or neither? I'm a fan of Doyle but initially disagreed with the Rex Stout quote because Sherlock Holmes, for me, exists in the same removed sense that Stout attributes to Dickens. But after considering Mr. Parker's astute reasoning, I can clearly understand that point of view. How about you? And is there another character in fiction that you enjoy but is not fully believable?

17 comments:

Brian Drake said...

Well now I have to break down and read some Doyle and Dickens so I can play, too. :)

As for a character that is not terribly believable, for me, Mack Bolan fills the bill. His series has been running for so long that any true characterization Bolan had in the original books by Don Pendleton is long gone; even in the Pendleton adventures, the suspension of disbelief required was quite large. But regardless of that, the early Bolan books are always entertaining. I can't always say that for the ghosted Bolan stories being written today, though. And, that being said, I've tried to audition for the team many, many times, so far without success. :)

David Cranmer said...

Yeah, I'm with you on The Executioner. And according to Wikipedia this character has been serialized in over six hundred novels!

Another one for me is Ian Fleming's 007. I love the novels and short stories. But I never felt the character jump from the page like Graham Greene's THE THIRD MAN or OUR MAN IN HAVANA.

G said...

Interesting and thoughtful post.

Well for me, my reading perspective with Dickens and Doyle has been severely compromised by celluloid and video.

With Dickens, just watching multiple versions of "A Christmas Carol" (Jack Palance did a funky western version)was enough to make me not read him.

With Doyle, while I've read a few of stories about Holmes (including a very nice two volume set that gathered all of his stories together), it has also been compromised to a degree by watching the excellent t.v. series featuring Jeremy Brett.

It's funny, but it actually took reading Laurie King, who worked in a new character called Margaret Russell with Holmes, to actually get me to start reading Holmes (and by extension Doyle) again.

As for Dickens, I'm not sure if I'll ever try reading him again. I think the last thing I tried reading was "The Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby" but that wound up not meeting my criteria of a good read.

I'm not sure it there is another fictional character out there that I like but not finding believable, simply because I've basically stopped reading most serials. Robert Jordan managed to do that for me, for which I'll always detest him for doing so.

Bill Crider said...

All I have to say is that Archie and Wolfe are as real for me as Watson, Holmes, Micawber, Pip, etc.

David Cranmer said...

G, you may enjoy Ronald Colman's signature performance as Sidney Carton in the 1935 version of A TALE OF TWO CITIES. One of my favorite adaptation's of Dickens. But I can agree there have been an awful lot of bastardized versions of his work.

Bill, I'm with you on Archie and Wolfe. I'm in that old brownstone on West 35th Street, in NYC, everytime I read a Stout novel. And I enjoyed the Timothy Hutton series as well.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm not really a big fan of Doyle or Dickens. Both were fine writers, of course. I like a lot of larger than life characters. Especially in fantasy, many characters and villains are not strictly believable. But I don't mind.

David Cranmer said...

It doesn't bother me either but when I think of a character that is vividly real, I would have to go with Hemingway's Nick Adams, coming of age, stories. (James Reasoner recently profiled on ROUGH EDGES.) And John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series. I mean The Busted Flush is positively docked at Slip F-18 at Bahia Mar Marina, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

David Cranmer said...
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Anonymous said...

I am with Parker and Stout that Holmes is very much 'alive' and I'm certain there is millions today that would agree. Remember reading somewhere that when Sir Arthur killed off Holmes, people walked around London with black arm bands. Would the same thing happen today if Spenser or Alex Cross kicked the bucket? Doubt it.

-Adam Lehman

pattinase (abbott) said...

None of Christie's sleuths ever seemed real to me. They stayed the same from book to book. I like some growth-some angst in a character. I don't think you can compare one- book characters from Dickens to multi-stored characters from Stout or Doyle. Or for that matter, a TV incarnation is even more vivid. John Thaw's Morse may never be matched for walking off a page.

David Cranmer said...

Comparing apples to oranges is always a subjective and possibly ludicrous attempt. I guess my post should have been more simply put in terms of what becomes real to you the reader. Example, I love Stephen King’s writing but I don’t shudder when I read his work like some. On the other hand, Hemingway’s Nick Adams hits me like a Mack truck. And I didn’t mean to convey Doyle is better than Dickens or vice versa. Both writers along with Jules Verne and Herman Melville have transcended time and will continue to be read. And what better testament is there.

Clark Kent said...

To me the authenticity of a character depends more on context than on personal characteristics. In the mystery/adventure genre a character that works his or her way thru the problem largely with his own resources, with maybe an assist or moral support from a Watson or a like subordinate, is more real to me than someone who figures it all out, but has a cavalry in the wings ready for a rescue mission when things get too hot - e.g. Spenser's "Hawk," Kenzie and Gennaro's "Bubba" and Elvis Cole's "Joe Pike."

These cavalry sidekicks - usually one-dimensional, superhuman beyond-the-law types - take away most of the real suspense when the main character appears to be in a no-win predicament. Fun, but hard on the requisite suspension of disbelief. Conversely, subordinate sidekicks - Watson, McCain's Judge Whitney, Oliver Stone's Camel Club - keep my suspense level higher because the burden is still mostly on the lead to affect his destiny.

I've only read one novel by Victor Gischler, Suicide Squeeze - am still laffing at "pissed off firecrackers" - and, altho evidently he's not doing a series on Conner Samson (or is he?), I liked not knowing if Samson was going to make it or not. I have Pistol Poets waiting, but must plow thru Moby Dick before I can get to it.

David Cranmer said...

Clark, Your eloquent summary pretty much settles this discussion. I couldn't agree more and I would have added your comments below Scott's if I had gotten it a bit sooner. Thanks for stopping by and
I will add your site to my blog roll.

Oh, and I wish I could say I was reading Captain Ahab for the first time. Enjoy.

Clark Kent said...

Thanks for your kind words and for following Gun Friendly, David. I wish I had found your blog sooner!ri

Junosmom said...

When I read Doyle, it is as if I am in the story. When I read Dickens, it is as if someone is telling me a story.

David Cranmer said...

Clark, I have a lot of catching up to do on your blog. I will be browsing old posts in the weeks to come.

Jumosmon, Good to see you again and you're probably spot on with your analysis. Probably because I've learned from this post what I've always known: everything is subjective in life, everything.

jsrsolution001 said...
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