Friday, September 26, 2014

Persia's 10th- and 11th-century Raymond Chandler

If Hakim Abu ʾl-Qasim Ferdowsi Tusi  (or Firdausi) had lived about 970 years later, and if he'd worked in Los Angeles rather than in a Turko-Persian Muslim dynasty, he might have rivaled Raymond Chandler for atmospheric beginnings:
'"The night was like jet dipped in pitch. there lent /
No planet lustre to the firmament /
The moon, appearing in her new array /
Through rust and dust she journeyed through the sky /
Night's retinue had spread out everywhere /
A carpet black as raven's plumes ... "
That's the beginning of "The Story of Bizhan and Manizha" from Iran/Persia's national epic the Shahnameh (Book of Kings), and it's a hell of a way of saying, "It was dark out." Think of it as a medieval Near Eastern counterpart to:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
And now, readers, what are your favorite depictions of night, or your favorite pieces of atmosphere in general, in crime fiction or otherwise?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Unknown said...

I am a broken record, but my fondness for Indridason's novels is due in part to his evocation of atmosphere in Iceland. And as I know from living there, there is plenty of atmosphere there. And plenty of darkness during the winter months.

September 26, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

Postscript: Have you been to Iceland? You must go in the winter to get the full effect.

September 26, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, Icelandic writers have ample opportunity to observe and concoct nocturnal scenes, all right.

I have not visited Iceland, and I would like to so do in the winter. But, by God, what is the effect of sitting around in darkness all day?

September 27, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

As you specify both night and atmosphere in general, Peter, I think I'll make mention of Emily Dickinson's 'Wild Nights! Wild Nights!' There is a touch of mystery about it as well: My God, what was going through the mind of that supposedly semi-cloistered New England lady in 1861?!? And a very tricky last line to boot: Was she projecting her own thoughts into the mind of a man? If so, any man or one man in particular?

September 27, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

Peter, the winter nights do give way to some daylight -- a couple of hours -- each day at about midday. As for what to do with all the darkness, well, there are plenty of Icelanders being born each autumn. And waiting for sundown for happy hour is not an inconvenience. On the other hand, the summers are bizarre: sunset at 11 p.m. and sunrise at 3 a.m. is a bit strange. Then, in the midst of summer, when the temperature soars to the high 40s, the Icelandic bathing beauties work on their tans. That is a spectacle, especially when you see the gals who have been doing a whole lot of eating and drinking during the cold winter months.

September 27, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

Cornell Woolrich was very effective at this, particularly in Deadline at Dawn and Night has a Thousand Eyes. David Goodis's Nightfall is also very good at evoking the terrors of the night.

September 27, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, that sounds like the title of a Gold Meda-eral exploitation paperback.:

Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden -
Ah - the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
In thee!

That last line might not be quote so tricky if one evades the anatomical. In any case, it's quite a line. And quite a poem.

September 27, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's it: I want to go to Iceland and stay long enough for biological time clock to grow accustomed to the days and nights, and my eyes to grow accustomed to the strange sights.

September 27, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

David , here's a post I put up some time ago about Nightfall. Goodis' Street of No Return is pretty strong in the atmosphere department, too, all the more so because the frightening sounds are so manifestly human.

I've only read two Woolrich stories. I'm scared to read more.

September 27, 2014  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

I love Holmes and Watson on the moors at night in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

September 29, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, yes. They've been around so long that people take them for granted. I have not read all the Holmes stories, but I have read The Hound of the Baskervilles.

I should mention that some English friends once took me out on the moors in Devon. The weather obliged, with a foggy morning for atmosphere, followed by a beautiful, sunny afternoon.

September 30, 2014  

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