A Short History of Philip Marlowe

Who Was Sam Spade

I decided to do some research on a fictional character to be a companion to Ron’s Amazing Stories Episode #44. I think I have made it no secret that I love detective dramas. I am especially happy with a “Who Dunn-it” type format. One of the best of these is Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe first appeared in The Big Sleep published in 1939.

Chandler started out with his detectives in short stories. You would find these published in pulp magazines like Black Mask and Dime Detective. Some of those short stories were later combined and expanded into novels featuring Marlowe, a process Chandler called “cannibalizing”. Philip Marlowe’s character is foremost a wisecracking, hard drinking, tough private eye, Marlowe is quietly contemplative and philosophical and enjoys chess and poetry. While he is not afraid to risk physical harm, he does not dish out violence merely to settle scores. Morally upright, he is not fooled by the genre’s usual femmes’ fatale, such as Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep.

Explaining the origin of Marlowe’s character, Chandler commented that “Marlowe just grew out of the pulps. He was no one person.” When creating the character, Chandler had originally intended to call him Mallory; his stories for the Black Mask magazine featured characters that are considered precursors to Marlowe. The emergence of Marlowe coincided with Chandler’s transition from writing short stories to novels. Chandler was said to have taken the name Marlowe from Marlowe House, to which he belonged during his time at Dulwich College. Marlowe House was named for Christopher Marlowe, a hard-drinking Elizabethan writer who graduated in philosophy and worked secretly for the government.

There were a total of 7 Novels that featured Chandler’s creation Philip Marlowe. These were all written between 1939 and 1958. The titles include: The Big Sleep (1939), Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), The Lady in the Lake (1943), The Little Sister (1949), The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback (1958). There was an eighth novel published after Chandler’s death called Poodle Springs. It was left unfinished after Chandler’s death in 1959, but was completed by Robert B. Parker in 1989.

I can recommend any of these books to anyone that likes a good detective story. While they were written in the 30-50s and may seemed dated, they are still are best representation of the hardboiled detective available. Raymond Chandler made the genre what is, was and probably will be. I for one appreciate his efforts.

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