Review: Poodle Springs, Chandler and Hardboiled Detectives in general

12 Mar

Yes, I’m late getting on this bandwagon. Poodle Springs is  a 1950s novel, by Raymond Chandler finished in the 1990s by Robert B. Parker. And I liked it. That’s coming from someone who has read “Red Wind” and “Danger is my Business,” which I apologize for not reviewing on this blog. I confess I never read “The Long Goodbye” which would have been the better book to read before judging this one. I have also seen the movie version of “The Big Sleep.”

All of them feature a classic hardboiled private detective of a kind more familiar to my generation thr0ugh parodies, such as in “Calvin and Hobbes” than serious works. His name is Phillip Marlowe, a man frequently threatened but not above joking when threatened.

Parker, jumping into that same universe, one of threats, twists, witty descriptions of characters and the like, seems to be enjoying himself rather than just imitating Chandler’s style. I won’t give away too many plot spoilers in this post, possibly saving them for another one. Having Phillip be married to Linda, rather than single as in other novels gave Parker a chance to have Marlowe explain his own obsessions, making the novel a far more self-conscious study of hardboiled detective norms, which actually made it more accessible to a modern audience.

But what is that hardboiled genre? It involves a detective, but the mystery itself isn’t always something there for the reader to figure out, although sometimes it is. It doesn’t start out with the murder, usually, but rather some other kind of case and the murder(s) happen midway. The plot can get convoluted. Although it’s not action on the level of a modern blockbuster, a hardboiled detective usually gets plenty of threats too and is pretty decent at shooting at punching.

Chandler popularized, though he did not create the hardboiled detective genre, which he explained in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” an artistic manifesto as interesting as it flawed.

In it, he declared why he wanted to break free of the more genteel mystery style popularized by Agatha Christie, although he uses A.A. Milne’s work as his main example.

The manifesto’s effects were wonderful and defined a genre, but its premises make little sense. So rather than give spoilers about any of the above book, I will discuss that manifesto, a little bit here, possibly returning to it.

Right off the bat he makes a small mistake:

Fiction in any form has always intended to be realistic.”

In reality, fiction runs the full gamut. There have always been people trying to write realistically, but there have also been people who intended to portray something bizarre and unlike reality. Some of the best fiction combines the two. In fact, Chandler’s world of a private eye taking on murders and surviving frequent threats on his life isn’t particularly realistic either to the average modern reader, even if it might be enjoyable. Reality contains implausible many things, however, and Chandler stories could happen, as, theoretically, could “Murder on the Orient Express,” which he picks on and which I have also read.

At a later point he almost contradicts himself: “There are no dull subjects, only dull minds,” he says at one point and yet earlier he says “The cool-headed constructionist does not also come across with lively characters, sharp dialogue, a sense of pace and an acute use of observed detail. The grim logician has as much atmosphere as a drawing-board.” In other words, he seems to hold that science is a dull subject. And besides which, go ask Joseph Bell how to combine observance of people with observance of say, medicine and as a result inspire Sherlock Holmes, who, as a side note, Chandler faintly praises as a trailblazer for being the first to popularize detective writing. It’s hard but can be done.

But what he was getting at, and this is probably more important than his superficial and confused pronouncements was a desire to speak to his own time period with a style that broke free of what some authorities considered the “best” style, with a different style, that of his contemporary Hammett, which he took and made it his own, although I’ll admit, I have not read Hammett and do not know how much the two resemble each other.

Having a different style, rejecting the established “good” style and speaking to the concerns of your own times: That is a worthy goal.




‘The Busy Body’ at Clarence Brown

7 Mar

It’s the story of two women escaping arranged marriages through trickery on both their and their actually desired husbands’ part and the random man who gets involved because he doesn’t want to be out of the loop. “The Busy Body” manages to be farcical without getting as complicated as this type of comedy can get. Then again, I did have a guide to the different characters.

Susanna Centlivre wrote The Busy Body: A Comedy in 1709. It can be tricky for a novice, or even just a nonnative speaker to 18th century language to always get the flow of what’s going on. It worked because it was funny. The broadness, the silly characters, it often worked.

Yet this is a play of its time and funny to us now, perhaps because it’s separate from our everyday lives. It’s a play about the abuses of arranged marriage, something that was actually real at the time, even if it was played with exaggeration and ended with an ending typical of this type of comedies from ancient Greece onward.

The play’s moral seems all the more relevant to us, because we know how terrible that old system of women as pure property could be and how we can now see past it.


Robbins are a mystery?

2 Mar

People say they’re part of spring, but they were here in Loudon, Tennessee all winter. In fact, I saw them in flocks, their red breasts showing off against the darkening winter sky and the gray of their branches. They sat on branches and flew in clusters. Cornell Ornithology Lab, probably one of the best sources for birds said that’s typical behavior. These tree flocks can sometimes include a quarter million birds.

The above photo was from near my home. The number only looks small here because I couldn’t get a crowd shot this pretty. Cornell says it can be up to a quarter million roosting in trees.


See? Not quite as nice a picture.

They spend the fall and winter eating fruit. As a side note, too many honeysuckle berries can be like a drug for them.

Now I’ve begun to see them on the ground again, eating worms and insects. Soon, according to Cornell, they’ll leave their flocks, becoming territorial birds, mating, having children.

My main question has always been “Are these the same ones?”

Cornell’s answer: “Their patterns of movement are poorly understood.” So the winter roosting ones might be the same as the ones we see in the spring or they could be different.


Odd how such a commonplace bird could be a mystery in any way. But here we are.


Other Disney Remakes/Sequels

22 Feb

So I wrote this on Facebook:

Disney, you’re doing it wrong with the remakes. Beauty and the Beast? You got it right the first time. Cinderella? There wasn’t that much potential for playing around. These below are the movies you need to remake or possibly sequel, not in any particular order. Full and complete disclosure: I haven’t seen all of these, but neither will most of your viewers.
1. The Chronicles of Prydain. Yup, I used the original title, because I actually know the books and “The Black Cauldron” is book two not one like you mistakenly seemed to think in the eighties. You want the next Lord of the Rings with a way bigger part for a woman right there in the original book? Here it is. You can make three.
2. Song of the South. Yeah, I’m going there, and I’ve actually seen the movie. The ride is awesome. Just think about if you had a good movie to go along with it. You understand race now and you understand how to make an actually interesting movie unlike then. You got this.
3. The Great Mouse Detective. Not actually seen this one, but anyway, people love Sherlock Holmes stuff. People like mysteries starring animals (Zootopia anyone?). This would work. Besides, you can have the original characters doing new and different things. You could even get Cumberbatch. On a related note: Possibly rodent “Avengers” starring Basil, Bernard, Bianca, Chip and Dale.
4. The Wind in the Willows. Again, I’m using the original book title here, but you don’t have to. People don’t even know you adapted this, so you’ve got free reign to do what you want, within limits. I only vaguely remember your version.
5. Three Caballeros. You could do whatever you want with this. No one has seen this movie. I haven’t either. Just put the name on any remake and call it this. I’d be fine with that.

Please note: I was kinda joking about the last one. As a side note, note that I’ve stuck to things they haven’t done as remakes yet. I took off “Ducktales” for that reason and didn’t include “Pete’s Dragon” which is in the vein of the above.

Do I still agree with what I wrote? The above was a Facebook post.


Way to go Disney making me support something I should hate. Or rather, way to go Emma Watson. I guess the actors make the production what it is. So if the new actors work, they work.







20 Feb

People write poetry about winter, but not this kind of winter.

Lowland East Tennessee winter. Brown and sometimes gray trees showing off their bark. Wonderful evergreens if you’re in a place for cedars or hemlocks, but in plenty of places, especially the city limits of Oak Ridge, as on the Cedar Hill Greenway it’s just the weedbush green of autumn olive or the explosive all covering dark green of English Ivy near houses.

And yet as spring rolls in, which its started doing, I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the views through trees of hills with surrounding bare trees while climbing up, like I did this weekend, on the Bird Mountain Trail at Frozen Head, or indeed on just about any trail in the mountains. Come summer the forest will be a blur of green. The different bark textures of the present, bare of leaves will get overshadowed by that shade, the color of feeding, of energy grabbing.

The gray and brown bark, especially against the mist though, with the bright green of the occasional mosses and in higher elevations mountain laurels. The leafless trees are bare, resting, but not simple. Below the standard cover of leaves everything seems even more complicated for being uncovered. It’s like seeing inside the mind.


Outside Mullingar

20 Feb

There are plays, like “The Crucible” about which I can get intellectual  and do two posts. Then there plays like the Clarence Brown’s recent “Outside Mullingar“: Enjoyable, funny, short, not particularly intellectual. I saw it today on its last day and liked it.

In order to work, a Rom-Com, specifically the kind I saw today needs to have characters distinct and likeable enough and likeable enough actors if it’s going to work for me. This production had those things. So it worked. Not much more to say.

Frozen Head Judge Branch, Interpretive Loop and South Old Mac with Dad

16 Feb

ben pounds/special to go knoxville Trickling, shallow waters near Judge Branch Loop make for great wading spots at Frozen Head State Park in Wartburg, Tenn.
I published this piece last summer, but the hike, while not the most landmark-y is good all year long. Below is an excerpt with some of the more basic information.

The loop at Frozen Head State Park took us over, above, next to and, in one case, through the trickling waters of Judge Branch. The water is too shallow for swimming, but wonderful for wading.

On this Father’s Day hike, my dad, Dr. Larry Pounds — plant ecologist and enthusiast for many different kinds of green growing things — joined me. He was among my first hiking partners, going back to my early childhood and my coauthor for my recent book about a series of hikes we did in 2012. It had been a while since he and I had hiked together, and Father’s Day on a route at Frozen Head, which included the Interpretive Loop, Judge Branch and South Old Mac trails proved a great chance.

While it does include an uphill section, it’s not strenuous and all of it’s in the shade at this time of year. The route, while more than a quick jaunt, took only a few hours, even with me snapping photographs, meaning that both of us could fit it into our schedules.

The trail is, however, an excellent one on which to spend the night. A backcountry creek-side campsite, maximum capacity 12 people, sits next to the trail. People who want to camp there can check in at the Frozen Head Visitor Center. It’s a good way to try out backcountry camping, as the route there is shorter and easier than more difficult routes like the Appalachian Trail.”