Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mount Rushmore of the Mind

Mount Rushmore, as everyone probably knows, was carved to depict the faces of four of the United States' best known presidents. It's a beautiful monument to the history of the nation (I kind of wish I could bring one of those guys back now; I'm not too crazy about either of this year's candidates).

While I physically live in the United States, I spend a good portion of my time, being a writer, in the realms of my imagination. If there is an imagination's equivalent to the men who have guided the progress of a nation, it would have to be the various writers who have inspired and influenced the mind of the particular writer who is now doing the imagining. So, I got to thinking about this:

If I were to erect a Mount Rushmore to honor four, and only four, writers who have had the greatest influence on my imagination and writing career, who would they be? Not neccesarily my favorites, although some might be, but the ones who inspired me most profoundly or perhaps inspired many of those who also inspired me or were so dominant in influencing the genres within which I work that I cannot possibly deny them a place on the mind's monument.

So who would these four titans be? It's not an easy question to answer, but these are the four I would choose right now, after much careful consideration.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I've always been interested in mysteries and those characters who have an uncanny ability to solve them by seeing the truth that eludes the police and less observant bystanders. So, the first face on the monument must belong to the creator of my favorite fictional character of all, Sherlock Holmes. Not only did Doyle make a bigger mark on the detective genre than any other writer, his work led me to seek out the works of others, like Agatha Christie. Several years after the fact, I still can't believe I managed to have a Sherlock Holmes story be my first published work! 

Ian Fleming. If there's a genre I love almost as much as mysteries, it's the spy genre. My introduction to that sort of story (and I think this is true of many people of the last fifty years) came from the James Bond movies. I enjoy all those movies, from the best of the Connery entries to the silliest most gadget-laden of the Roger Moore years, and everything in between. But the best of the films can't compare to the novels that introduced the world to 007. Fleming's writing has a certain flair that's perfect for that kind of story. Bond is such an archetypal character that I think at least a little bit of him slips into almost all the heroic male characters I write about. In the past year, I've finally written my own spy novel, which definitely bears the influence of Fleming. 

Robert E. Howard. Anyone who writes any sort of fantasy or heroism-based adventure owes this man a great debt. Writing during the pulp era, the small amount of money he made from his work is nowhere near what he deserves for almost singlehandedly creating what has come to be known as the sword and sorcery genre. Not only did he create Conan, but he breathed life into at least three other equally interesting but lesser known pulp adventurers: Solomon kane (my personal favorite), Kull, and Bran Mak Morn. Howard also contributed to the mythos created by HP Lovecraft, wrote westerns, boxing stories, "spicy" pulps, and horror tales. Now here's the amazing (and sad) part: Robert E. Howard's immense and incalculably influential body of work was all accomplished by the age of 30, before he fell into a depression and committed suicide. What would he have done if he'd lived to be an old man? I can't even guess!  

H.P. Lovecraft. This is the weird one, but he must be on the mountain. With Doyle, Fleming, and Howard, their works, or works inspired by their writing, have been exerting an influence on my imagination since I was a child. With Lovecraft, things were a little different. I knew his name, but did not actually read any of his work until I was about thirty and already beginning to seriously pursue a writing career. But when I did sample Lovecraft's work, it was as if I shared some part of my mind with him. His way of writing, his imagery, his dreadful hinting at things out of the past or hidden in the deep places of the world or reaching for our minds from the spaces between spaces were familiar to me, as if they matched, or at least closely resembled things I had imagined in either my worst nightmares or most captivating, wonderful dreams since I was a child. There seems to be a similarity of imagination between me and Lovecraft. I don't know if I can explain it any better than that, but I feel at home in the weird worlds he created (or reported?) in his works. The general reaction to Lovecraft's work seems to be either "Yes! I know exactly what he's showing us," or "I don't get it. It's too thick, too different, too strange." I fall into the first camp. I get it. Sometimes it scares me how much I get it! But I wouldn't have it any other way. And now that I've read all his work, I feel his influence even more. 

That's my Mount Rushmore of writers. Which four would you carve into yours?

1 comment:

  1. Lester Dent. Robert E. Howard. Ian Fleming. Charles Saunders.