Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Laughing in the face of danger

The following short passage from Spike Milligan's book 'Rommel?' 'Gunner Who?' caught my attention when I read it a couple of weeks ago (review here). The two men involved have just survived a sustained mortar and 88mm bombardment in the Tunisian desert.

'Capt. Rand and Bombardier Edwards came down, both grinning. Strange, after sticky situations men always grinned, even burst out laughing.'

I thought it interesting that their reaction was one of laughter. In crime fiction the mood of anyone who survives a violent encounter is, I think, almost universally dark, sombre and introspective rather than light and jokey. I'm wondering why that is (assuming my perception is accurate)? Following Milligan's account there should be much more laughter in the genre - either as a stress and mood lightener before a dangerous encounter or as a safety valve afterwards.

Perhaps not enough writers have experienced the situations they write about? Maybe laughter just seems inappropriate or out of place in the narrative and it's tamed or cut out? Maybe the kind of violence and danger in experienced in crime is more personal and harrowing and that suppresses any instinct to joke and laugh? I'm not sure, but it's an observation that has certainly given me pause for thought. Next time I have a character survive a sticky situation I'll have a go at forgetting the impulse to write a gloomy, introspective account and have him/her use their adrenaline to laugh off their fear and see how it turns out.

1 comment:

Dorte H said...

Fine observation!

I think people´s reactions vary a lot. Not that I know a lot about reactions to violence, but after an imminent crisis, some people laugh, while others cry, scold or pee in their pants.

I also remember clearly that the day after my dear father´s death, it was such a relief to be able to laugh together with my mother when we talked about some of our family holidays together.