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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream  
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.jpg
Early edition cover.
Author Hunter S. Thompson
Illustrator Ralph Steadman
Country United States
Language English
Series Gonzo Series
Genre(s) Gonzo journalism
Publisher Random House
Publication date November 11, 1971 and November 25, 1971
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 204 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-679-78589-2
OCLC Number 41049769
Dewey Decimal 070/.92 B 21
LC Classification PN4874.T444 A3 1998b

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. The book is a roman à clef, rooted in autobiographical incidents. The story follows its protagonist, Raoul Duke, and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they descend on Las Vegas to chase the American Dream through a drug-induced haze. The novel first appeared as a two-part series in Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, was printed as a book in 1972, and was later adapted into a film of the same name in 1998 starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro.

Contents

Origins

The novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas accounts for two trips to Las Vegas, Nevada, that Hunter S. Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta took in March and April 1971. The first trip spawned from an exposé Thompson was writing for Rolling Stone magazine about the Mexican-American television journalist Ruben Salazar, whom officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had shot and killed with a tear gas grenade fired at close range during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War in 1970. Thompson was using Acosta — a prominent Mexican-American political activist and attorney — as a central source for the story, and the two found it difficult for a brown-skinned Mexican to talk openly with a white reporter in the racially tense atmosphere of Los Angeles, California. The two needed a more comfortable place to discuss the story and decided to take advantage of a Sports Illustrated magazine offer to write photograph captions for the annual Mint 400 desert race being held in Las Vegas.

The 1971 Thompson and Acosta personae, on which Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo were based

Thompson wrote that he concluded their March trip by spending some thirty-six hours alone in a hotel room "feverishly writing in my notebook" about his experiences.[1] The genesis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is in that notebook.

What originally was a two-hundred-fifty-word photo-caption-job for Sports Illustrated grew to a novel-length feature story for Rolling Stone; Thompson said publisher Jann Wenner had "liked the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively scheduled it for publication — which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it". He had first submitted a 2,500 word manuscript to Sports Illustrated that was "aggressively rejected".[2]

Weeks later, Thompson and Acosta returned to Las Vegas to report for Rolling Stone on the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs being held from the 25th to the 29th of April 1971, and to add material to the larger Fear and Loathing narrative. Besides attending the attorneys' conference, Thompson and Acosta looked for ways in Vegas to explore the theme of the American Dream, which was the basis for the novel's second half, which Thompson referred at the time as "Vegas II".[3]

On the 29th of April 1971, Thompson began writing the full manuscript in a hotel room in Arcadia, California, in his spare time while completing Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, the article chronicling the slain Chicano journalist Rubén Salazar.[4] Thompson joined the array of Vegas experiences within what he called "an essentially fictional framework" that described a singular free-wheeling trip to Vegas peppered with creative licenses. [5]

Rolling Stone magazine cover by Ralph Steadman.

In November 1971, Rolling Stone published the combined texts of the trips as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream as a two-part article illustrated by Ralph Steadman, who, two years before, had worked with Thompson on a Scanlan's Monthly article titled "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved".[6] The next year, Random House quickly published the hardcover edition, with additional Steadman illustrations; The New York Times said it is "by far the best book yet on the decade of dope",[7] with Tom Wolfe describing it as a "scorching epochal sensation".[8]

Plot summary

The novel lacks a clear narrative and frequently delves into the surreal, never quite distinguishing between what is real and what is only imagined by the characters.

The basic synopsis revolves around journalist Raoul Duke and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they arrive in 1970s Las Vegas to report on the Mint 400 motorcycle race. However, they soon abandon their work and begin experimenting with a variety of recreational drugs, such as LSD, cocaine, alcohol, mescaline, and cannabis. This leads to a series of bizarre hallucinogenic trips, during which they destroy hotel rooms, wreck cars, and have visions of anthropomorphic desert animals, all the while ruminating on the decline of American culture.

Major themes

The preface quotes Dr. Johnson: He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man. The quotation alludes to the protagonists' profuse drug use in escaping the coarse realities of American life; passages detail the failed counterculture, people who thought drug use was the answer to society's problems. The contradiction of solace in excess is thematically similar to The Great Gatsby, a favourite novel of Thompson's.

H. S. Thompson posits that his drug use (unlike Dr. Leary's mind-expansion experimentation drug use), is intended to render him a mess; that he is the poster boy of a generation of "permanent cripples, failed seekers...;" their erratic behaviour depicts the restless failure his generation feels.

The "American Dream" is the novel's prevalent thematic motif, while searching for the literary and metaphoric American Dream, and for an eponymous real place in Las Vegas, Duke and Dr Gonzo find only a burnt psychiatric office. At story's start, Duke claims their adventure shall be a "gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country", an idea soon cooled when the excess and fear settle in them; the symbolism of the burned psychiatric office is clear. Throughout Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the protagonists go out of their way to degrade, abuse, and destroy symbols of American consumerism and excess, while Las Vegas symbolizes the coarse ugliness of mainstream American culture. Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo give it little respect.

The "wave speech"

The "wave speech" is an important passage, at the end of the eighth chapter, that captures the hippie zeitgeist and its end.

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Some critics and readers believe this wave speech was Thompson’s favourite passage in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the writing of which he was most proud. Thompson often cited it during interviews, choosing it when asked to read aloud from the novel.[9]

Title

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is Thompson's most famous work, and is known as "Fear and Loathing" for short; however, he later used the phrase "Fear and Loathing" in the titles of other books, essays, and magazine articles.

Moreover, "Fear and Loathing", as a phrase, has been used by many writers, the first (possibly) being Friedrich Nietzsche in The Anti-Christ. In a Rolling Stone magazine interview, Thompson said: "It came out of my own sense of fear, and [is] a perfect description of that situation to me, however, I have been accused of stealing it from Nietzsche or Kafka or something. It seemed like a natural thing."[10]

He first used the phrase in a letter to a friend written after the Kennedy assassination, describing how he felt about whoever had shot President John F. Kennedy[11]. In The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, he used the phrase to describe how people regarded Ralph Steadman on seeing his caricatures of them.

Thompson claimed that the name was derived from Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, though Jann Wenner claims that the title came from Thomas Wolfe's The Web and the Rock.[12]

Reactions to the novel

When the novel was published in fall of 1971, many critics did not appreciate the novel’s loose plot and the drug use of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo; however, the reviewers understood that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was to become important American literature.

In the New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt told readers to not “even bother” with the novel, and that “what goes on in these pages make[s] Lenny Bruce seem angelic”; however, he acknowledged that the novel's true importance is in Thompson’s literary method: “The whole book boils down to a kind of mad, corrosive prose poetry that picks up where Norman Mailer’s An American Dream left off and explores what Tom Wolfe left out”.[13]

As the novel became popular, the reviews became positive; Crawford Woods, also in the New York Times, wrote a positive review countering Lehmann-Haupt’s negative review: the novel is “a custom-crafted study of paranoia, a spew from the 1960s and — in all its hysteria, insolence, insult and rot — a desperate and important book, a wired nightmare, the funniest piece of American prose”; and “this book is such a mind storm that we may need a little time to know that it is also literature . . . it unfolds a parable of the nineteen-sixties to those of us who lived in them in a mood — perhaps more melodramatic than astute — of social strife, surreal politics and the chemical feast”; about Thompson, Woods said he “trusts the authority of his senses, and the clarity of a brain poised between brilliance and burnout”.[14]

In any event, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas became a benchmark in American literature about U.S. society in the early 1970s. In Billboard magazine, Chris Morris said, “through Duke and Gonzo's drug-addled shenanigans amid the seediness of the desert pleasure palaces, it perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the post–'60s era”. [15] In Rolling Stone magazine, Mikal Gilmore wrote that the novel “peers into the best and worst mysteries of the American heart” and that Thompson "sought to understand how the American dream had turned a gun on itself”. Gilmore believes that “the fear and loathing Thompson was writing about — a dread of both interior demons and the psychic landscape of the nation around him — wasn't merely his own; he was also giving voice to the mind-set of a generation that had held high ideals and was now crashing hard against the walls of American reality”.[16]

Although the drug use and its degree of autobiography remain tepidly controversial, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971) is often required reading for students of American literature.

As a work of gonzo journalism

In the book The Great Shark Hunt, Thompson refers to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as "a failed experiment in the gonzo journalism" he practiced, which was based on William Faulkner's idea that "the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism — and the best journalists have always known this".[17] Thompson's style blended the techniques of fictional story-telling and journalism.

He called it a failed experiment because he originally intended to record every detail of the Las Vegas trip as it happened, and then publish the raw, unedited notes; however, he revised it during the spring and summer of 1971. For example, the novel describes Duke attending the motorcycle race and the narcotics convention in a few days' time; the actual events occurred a month apart.[18] Later, he wrote, "I found myself imposing an essentially fictional framework on what began as a piece of straight/crazy journalism".[19]

Despite saying that ‘‘Fear and Loathing’’ was a failed experiment, critics call it his crowning achievement in gonzo journalism. One said the novel “feels free wheeling when you read it [but] it doesn't feel accidental. The writing is right there, on the page — startling, unprecedented and brilliantly crafted”.[20]

Illustrations

British cartoonist Ralph Steadman added his style of beautiful yet grotesque illustrations to the Rolling Stone issues and to the novel. Steadman had first met Thompson when Scanlan's Monthly hired Steadman to do the illustrations for Thompson’s first venture into gonzo journalism called “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”

Many critics have hailed Steadman’s illustrations as another main character of the novel and companion to Thompson’s disjointed narrative. The New York Times noted that “Steadman's drawings were stark and crazed and captured Thompson's sensibility, his notion that below the plastic American surface lurked something chaotic and violent. The drawings are the plastic torn away and the people seen as monsters.”[21]

Film adaptation

The novel's popularity gave rise to attempted cinematic adaptations; directors Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone each unsuccessfully attempted to film a version of the novel. In the course of these attempts, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were considered for the roles of Duke and Dr. Gonzo but the production stalled and the actors aged beyond the characters. Afterwards, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were considered, but Belushi’s death ended that plan.[22] Art Linson's 1980 movie Where the Buffalo Roam is based on a number of Thompson's stories, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

In 1989, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was almost made by director Terry Gilliam when he was given a script by illustrator Ralph Steadman. Gilliam, however, felt that the script “didn’t capture the story properly”. In 1997, Gilliam received a different script he felt worth realising; his 1998 film features Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro as "Raoul Duke" and "Dr Gonzo" and was critically and commercially panned.[23]

References

  1. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
  2. ^ Thompson, Hunter (1979). The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time (1st ed. ed.). Summit Books. pp. 105–109. ISBN 0-671-40046-0.  
  3. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing In America Simon and Schuster 2000 p.379-385
  4. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
  5. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
  6. ^ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005). The Last Outlaw. Rolling Stone, 970, 44-47
  7. ^ Woods, Crawford (July 23, 1972). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. By Hunter S. Thompson. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman. 206 pp. New York: Random House. $5.95. The New York Times Book Review, pp.17.
  8. ^ Jacket Copy, [1] Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 1972.
  9. ^ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005) . The Last Outlaw. Rolling Stone, 970, 44-47
  10. ^ Fear and Loathing at 25 : Rolling Stone
  11. ^ Thompson, Hunter (1998). Proud Highway. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345377966.  
  12. ^ Wenner, Jann (2007). Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson. Little, Brown and Company. p. 112. ISBN 0316005274.  
  13. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. (June 22, 1972). Heinous Chemicals at Work. The New York Times, p. 37
  14. ^ Woods, Crawford (July 23, 1972). Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. By Hunter S. Thompson. Illustrations by Ralph Steadman. 206 pp. New York: Random House. $5.95. The New York Times Book Review, pp.17
  15. ^ Morris, Chris. (October 26, 1996). Hunter S. Thompson Brings ‘Fear and Loathing’ to Island. Billboard magazine, 43, 10
  16. ^ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005). The Last Outlaw. Rolling Stone, 970, 44-47
  17. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
  18. ^ Taylor, Andrew F. 1997 The City: In search of Thompson's Vegas Las Vegas Sun
  19. ^ Thompson, Hunter S. Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
  20. ^ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005) . The Last Outlaw. Rolling Stone, 970, 44-47
  21. ^ Cohen, Rich. April 17, 2005. Gonzo Nights. The New York Times Book Review, p. 12.
  22. ^ IMDb article on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, trivia section
  23. ^ Dreams: Fear and Loathing. Welcome to Bat Country. [2]

Editions

  • ISBN 0-679-78589-2 (paperback, 1999)
  • ISBN 0-679-60298-4

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is a book written by Hunter S. Thompson. The book is based on an article Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone magazine. It was later made into a movie directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro.


The novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas accounts for two trips to Las Vegas, Nevada, that Hunter S. Thompson and attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta took in March and April 1971. The first trip spawned from an exposé Thompson was writing for Rolling Stone magazine about the Mexican-American television journalist Ruben Salazar, whom officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office had shot and killed with a tear gas grenade fired at close range during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War in 1970. Thompson was using Acosta — a prominent Mexican-American political activist and attorney — as a central source for the story, and the two found it difficult for a brown-skinned Mexican to talk openly with a white reporter in the racially tense atmosphere of Los Angeles, California. The two needed a more comfortable place to discuss the story and decided to take advantage of a Sports Illustrated magazine offer to write photograph captions for the annual Mint 400 desert race being held in Las Vegas.


The 1971 Thompson and Acosta personae, on which Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo were basedThompson wrote that he concluded their March trip by spending some thirty-six hours alone in a hotel room "feverishly writing in my notebook" about his experiences.[1] The genesis of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream is in that notebook.

What originally was a two-hundred-fifty-word photo-caption-job for Sports Illustrated grew to a novel-length feature story for Rolling Stone; Thompson said publisher Jann Wenner had "liked the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively scheduled it for publication — which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it". He had first submitted a 2,500 word manuscript to Sports Illustrated that was "aggressively rejected".[2]

Weeks later, Thompson and Acosta returned to Las Vegas to report for Rolling Stone on the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs being held from the 25th to the 29th of April 1971, and to add material to the larger Fear and Loathing narrative. Besides attending the attorneys' conference, Thompson and Acosta looked for ways in Vegas to explore the theme of the American Dream, which was the basis for the novel's second half, which Thompson referred at the time as "Vegas II".[3] On the 29th of April 1971, he began writing the full manuscript in a hotel room in Arcadia, California, in his spare time while completing Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, the article chronicling the slain Chicano journalist Rubén Salazar.[4]


Rolling Stone magazine cover by Ralph Steadman.In November 1971, Rolling Stone published the combined texts of the trips as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream as a two-part article illustrated by Ralph Steadman, who, two years before, had worked with Thompson on a Scanlan's Monthly article titled "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved".[5] The next year, Random House quickly published the hardcover edition, with additional Steadman illustrations; The New York Times said it is "by far the best book yet on the decade of dope",[6] with Tom Wolfe describing it as a "scorching epochal sensation".[7]








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