Today marks the 126th birthday of detective pulp fiction writer, Raymond Chandler.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1888, Chandler relocated to London seven years later with his newly-divorced mother. He spent the remainder of his formative years there and attended Dulwich College from 1900 to 1904. Although Chandler broke into the writing world in 1909, crafting an assortment of journalism pieces for publications like The Westminster Gazette and The Academy over the next three years, he didn’t settle into the niche for which we know him today until 1933 when he published his first short story, Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.
The 1930s saw Chandler produce 20 more short stories, featuring the hard-boiled private eyes and hyper-observant descriptions that have made him famous. It was his third story, Finger Man, that introduced readers to his iconic shamus, Philip Marlowe. In 1939 his first full-length novel — The Big Sleep — hit the market and was followed shortly by Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), and The Lady in the Lake (1943).
Although Chandler found the film industry distasteful, he spent a number of years contributing his talents in Hollywood as a screenwriter, working on films such as Double Indemnity (1944), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Strangers on a Train (1951). Several of his own novels were turned into movies during the 1940s (some more than once), and even after Chandler’s death in 1959, Philip Marlowe continued to make his way onto the screen in theaters and on television.
Today, the popularity of Chandler’s stories continues for a new generation of readers. I’m happy to include myself in that category.
I phoned my grandpa this afternoon in honor of today’s occasion. Pretty much everything I know about Chandler I heard first from him (or read in a book that he gave me). His enthusiasm was what finally prompted me to check out Killer in the Rain, a collection of some of Chandler’s short stories, from my college’s library during my senior year. He couldn’t have been more pleased when I told him who I had started reading, and he promised to bring his favorite novel, The Lady in the Lake, for me to borrow.
He did better than that. For Christmas he bought me my own copy of The Lady in the Lake and a hardbound anthology of all Chandler’s short stories. He wrote me a note inside the second book’s front cover: “Here is your start on a long and rewarding journey through Chandlerland.” I didn’t wait long to set out — I had completely devoured the novel by the end of the next day.
And I’m enjoying that journey. I recently finished Farewell, My Lovely, and now The High Window is waiting for me on my shelf. I also started listening to a podcast channel on iTunes that plays Philip Marlowe radio broadcasts of yesteryear. All in all, I’ve got plenty of Chandler to keep me company when I want a concrete story whose characters are clever, sarcastic, memorable, and above all, human.
So happy birthday to a master of writing whose works continue to stand up to the passage of time.
Chandler, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., 2002.
Moss, Robert F. “Raymond Chandler’s Early Poetry and Prose.” The Raymond Chandler Website. Accessed 23 July 2014. <http://home.comcast.net/~mossrobert/html/works/early.htm>