While looking for who-knows-what-anymore on the internet the other day, I discovered a blog post from Paula Guran, editor of Juno Books, an imprint of Pocket Books which focuses on urban fantasy novels with strong female protagonists. The post talks a lot about the shift in what folks are generally referring to when they talk about urban fantasy, a shift from the wider definition, which includes the works of Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, towards the narrower, more paranormal-romance-like definition, exemplified by the works of Laurel K. Hamilton and others. Guran also goes on to talk about “kickassitude” and the link between urban fantasy and hard-boiled detective fiction and sword and sorcery stories. In part, she writes,
“urban fantasy” owes more to the American hard-boiled detective genre than most may understand.Note: The literal meaning of the word hero/heroine is “protector”, “defender”,
“guardian” and is connected etymologically with the name of the goddess Hera.
George Grella, “The Hard-Boiled Detective Novel” (Winks, Robin W., ed. Detective
Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays. Foul Play Press, 1988):
- heterogeneous nature of American society vs. the more formalized British
- society of the traditional formal detective novel
- first hard-boiled stories were seen as realistic portrayal of American
- society, a society populated by real criminals and real policemen
- private eye and the American detective hero:
-deals out and receives a lot of physical punishment
-isolates himself from normal human relationships
-has own moral code which is usually stricter than the rest of society
-often has inner voice that is listened to, even when it goes against traditional societal rules
-quests for truth and expulsion of the undesirable is the guiding principle; the moral man who works in the city, the center of wickedness and perversion
- “the urban jungle” replaces the wilderness; Leslie Fiedler (Love and Death in the American Novel (Criterion Books, 1960): the detective is a “cowboy” adapted to life on the city streets, the embodiment of innocence moving
untouched through universal guilt.”
- hero fights against the evils of society, and is left cynical and
disillusioned in the end, his strength remaining because of his own moral code, his own sense of truth and right and wrong
- The hard-boiled detective can never hope for full resolution of the crime and restoration of society because evil is too pervasive. He defeats only a small portion of evil while the rest of the evil continues–to be fought again
Reading this article has made me think more about my writing from a critical standpoint, pointing me towards my own influences in a way which shows me both where I can look to those influences to see how to do things better and where I need to pull back and differentiate my works from those of others.
The whole of Guran’s post can be found here (link opens in a new tab).