ABSTRACT

The opening chapters of Raymond Chandler’s rst novel, The Big Sleep (1939), introduced three related elements that are central to the ctional world he created. These are the importance of romance narratives and the associated idea of knightly honor, the depiction of twentieth-century Los Angeles as a city dominated by various forms of monetary and commercial exchange, and the centrality, even the inevitability, of the crime of blackmail. The world Chandler created is built around the gure of his private eye, Philip Marlowe, and the parallels between Marlowe the private eye and the heroic knight of verse romances such as Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) are clearly elaborated in both Chandler’s ction and prose, and have often been the focus of much critical commentary.1 In the muchdiscussed opening of The Big Sleep, for example, Marlowe is “calling on four million dollars,”2 but signicantly, at the threshold to this world of money and material excess, he is confronted with a stained-glass window over the door to the Sternwood mansion depicting a “knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree.”3 Marlowe’s positioning at the beginning of the novel at the liminal space of the doorway, which offers entry to two very different worlds-the modern world of consumer culture and the chivalric world of romance narratives-is suggestive. When he comments that “if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him,”4 he seems to be choosing knightly honor and virtue over money and material possessions, but as the novel, and the series, continues, it is clear that the choice is neither simple nor clear-cut.