Friday, August 26, 2022

Well Said: Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean

One of my favorite quotes from an author whose prose captures me every time I glance through one of his books.
In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. ...

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
I'd say that this applies not only to the hard boiled detective but to how we live our own lives.


  1. This recalls to me three stories I've been enjoying. The first is The Story of Us, which is populated by characters who are "not themselves mean"--or, at least, not so mean as to be unable to repent of their meanness when they come face to face with it. It's anchored by a character who is in every way this man, this hero, without ever being anything more notable in the world than a husband and father.

    The second is Poldark. It isn't the sex or gambling or duels or danger that makes Poldark worth watching, anymore than those things made Chandler worth reading. It's the man in the center, whose moral compass points true when everyone around him compromises in pursuit of various (better or worse) ends. Ross Poldark is a "complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man...a man of honor by instinct."

    The third is the novel I finished reading last night, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, which has in the epicenter of the mysteries of the novel a character who slowly reveals himself to be not only heroic, but legendary--but devoted to a thankless, arduous task by his own conscience.

    I like fictitious characters like this because they challenge me and inspire me through my own hard choices and responses to the world.

    1. I completely agree - it is what makes stories, whether novels or other types, so endlessly fascinating!

      Is This is Us a tv show? I think people have recommended it to me before.

      I saw that Poldark, which I knew in name only, was a highly successful tv series. I have the first book on my "to read" list and will have to move it up!

      I've never been able to get into a Brandon Sanderson book. Which would you recommend as an introduction?

      I'll add that Concourse by S.J. Rozan is what made me use that quote. Her detective Bill Smith embodies all those qualities which make us understand when he falls a bit short, even though he never stops being a man of honor by instinct.

  2. That quote is pure gold.

    I also love the "Justified" quote you have on the sidebar. I still miss that show. "We dug coal together."