It being that time of the year between Christmas and New Years when hardly anyone does much of anything, nor are they expected to — unless you count the requirement that we must go shop till we drop — allow me to reflect upon the late Gershon Legman — more on Legman here — , so valiantly defended here by our Master of Ceremonies in two almost forgotten blog posts.
Now I must admit that Gershon Legman qualifies as one of those souls best described as a mystery wrapped in an enigma with a strong distaste for the Riddler. In that regard, while researching the dear departed, I ran across a blog run by a Dr. Fredric Wertham, MD, who has a strong penchant for quoting the irascible Mr. Legman. Therefore, in the spirit of the season, or in spite of it, allow me to offer what must surely be a heretofore unknown quote by Mr. Legman, sometimes affectionately remembered as Roger-Maxe de la Glannege. After all, we must offer up something at this time of the year and Dr. Wertham’s transcription of Mr.Legman’s expository prose seems quite appropriate for the season:
MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT: THE MURDER-MYSTERY READER IS A LYNCHER. A solid citizen by day, by night he rides hooded to watch human beings die. He may, certainly does, think of himself as a mere, harmless literary escapist. He may actually believe that his nightly passion to murder the murderer of his own creating adds up to nothing more than pleasant, law-abiding, purely, meaningless recreation — light entertainment, and all that. He may imagine that the mental torture, the anxiety, the pounding heart and terror (jargonicÚ, ‘suspense’), the desperate twistings & turnings, and the final, ingeniously contrived humiliation and death of the murderer — three hundred violent and excited pages of it — all these, he may imagine, are no part of his interest.
Yet remove from the murder-mystery this element of sadism — of manhunt and lynch — and what is left? A flabby mouth of greed, mistaken identity, or vernacular chit-chat. Wholly without attraction for nine in every ten readers, the non-lethal mystery does not sell well, is not read, and is now therefor seldom encountered. The ‘mystery’ is the murder-mystery. And the murder-mystery reader wants blood, death, and lynching. But not the blood of the ‘victim,’ whose unwept death — presumably the whole justification for the protracted lynch that follows — is lackadaisically presented on page one as a fait accompli, an utterly routine knock-down-&-drag-out bit of ritual. The murder-mystery reader wants the murderer’s blood.
And again, where is the difference? The murderer may have killed from the noblest of motives. His ‘victim’ may have been a blackmailer, a drug-peddler (of anything but alcohol), a sadist (sic), a human ghoul. It may all even have been a mistake. But what are the reader's motives? He has none. He is quite calm. His interest in law & order is infinitesimal — so much so, that he enthroned the murder-book as our prime literary fare (one third of all fiction printed) in the midst of the illegal, nation-wide whiskey-jag of the 1920’s. The murders that he avenges are written to order for him. Wholly synthetic, they would not exist at all but for his endless thirst for blood. He picks up his nightly ‘mystery,’ prepared to lynch down whatever miserable murderer his author chooses to present. He is unprejudiced. He has no personal grudge. He will kill anybody. He kills for pleasure.
Posted by Buck Batard at December 29, 2005 03:51 PM