Who You Want to be, Who You’re Afraid You Are

James Ellroy, interviewed in “Paris Review” 190 (Fall 2009), explains why he prefers Dashiell Hammett to Raymond Chandler:

“Chandler wrote the kind of guy that he wanted to be, Hammett wrote the kind of guy that he was afraid he was. Chandler’s books are incoherent. Hammett’s are coherent. Chandler is all about the wisecracks, the similes, the constant satire, the construction of the knight. Hammett writes about the all-male world of mendacity and greed.”

It’s true that Philip Marlowe is, perhaps almost to the same degree as Bertie Wooster, implausibly devoted to his own code of honor, a gallant knight in a world where all others are Machiavellians…

I'm interested -- should your hero be the person you want to be, or the person you’re afraid you are? Couldn’t one make a case either way? Some heroes are a mixture of the two. Series heroes perhaps tend to be the former -- Jack Reacher seems to be the man Lee Child wants to be, John Rain the man Barry Eisler wants to be, and so on.

But it’s important for a writer to remember that nobody’s incorruptible... what do you think? Tell me about heroes you have created...

1 thought on “Who You Want to be, Who You’re Afraid You Are”

  1. Seems to me that a lot of times the person I want to be is the person I am most afraid of being. And then, the temporal nature of it all – always morphing into a differnet desire altogether so that I'm no longer afraid to be that person, but also, want to be an entirely different person anyways…

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