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Thriller is a broad genre of literature, film and television that includes numerous and often overlapping sub-genres.[citation needed] Thrillers are characterized by fast pacing, frequent action, and resourceful heroes who must thwart the plans of more powerful and better equipped villains.[citation needed] Writer Vladimir Nabokov, in his lectures at Cornell University, said that "In an Anglo-Saxon thriller, the villain is generally punished, and the strong silent man generally wins the weak babbling girl, but there is no governmental law in Western countries to ban a story that does not comply with a fond tradition, so that we always hope that the wicked but romantic fellow will escape scot-free and the good but dull chap will be finally snubbed by the moody heroine."[1]

Literary devices such as suspense, red herrings and cliffhangers are used extensively. "Homer's Odyssey is one of the oldest stories in the Western world and is regarded as an early prototype of the thriller." [2] A thriller is villain driven plot, whereby he presents obstacles the hero must overcome.[2] The genre is a fascinatingly flexible form that can undermine audience complacency through a dramatic rendering of psychological, social, familial and political tensions and encourages sheltered but sensation-hungry audiences, in Hitchcock's phrase, "to put their toe in the cold water of fear to see what it's like."[3]

Contents

Characteristics

Thrillers often take place wholly or partly in exotic settings such as foreign cities, deserts, polar regions, or high seas. The heroes in most thrillers are frequently "hard men" accustomed to danger: law enforcement officers, spies, soldiers, seamen or aviators. However, they may also be ordinary citizens drawn into danger by accident. While such heroes have traditionally been men, women lead characters have become increasingly common; for an early example see Sigourney Weaver's character Ripley, in the movie Alien, 1979.

Thrillers often overlap with mystery stories, but are distinguished by the structure of their plots. In a thriller, the hero must thwart the plans of an enemy, rather than uncover a crime that has already happened; while a murder mystery would be spoiled by a premature disclosure of the murderer's identity, in a thriller the identity of a murderer or other villain is typically known all along. Thrillers also occur on a much grander scale: the crimes that must be prevented are serial or mass murder, terrorism, assassination, or the overthrow of governments. Jeopardy and violent confrontations are standard plot elements. While a mystery climaxes when the mystery is solved, a thriller climaxes when the hero finally defeats the villain, saving his own life and often the lives of others. In thrillers influenced by film noir and tragedy, the compromised hero is often killed in the process.

In recent years, when thrillers have been increasingly influenced by horror or psychological-horror exposure in pop culture, an ominous or monstrous element has become common to heighten tension. The monster could be anything, even an inferior physical force made superior only by their intellect, a supernatural entity, aliens, serial killers, or even microbes or chemical agents. Some authors have made their mark by incorporating all of these elements (Richard Laymon, F. Paul Wilson) throughout their bodies of work.

Similar distinctions separate the thriller from other overlapping genres: adventure, spy, legal, war, maritime fiction, and so on. Thrillers are defined not by their subject matter but by their approach to it. Many thrillers involve spies and espionage, but not all spy stories are thrillers. The spy novels of John le Carré, for example, explicitly and intentionally reject the conventions of the thriller. Conversely, many thrillers cross over to genres that traditionally have had few or no thriller elements. Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes, and Brian Callison are best known for their thrillers, but are also accomplished writers of man-against-nature sea stories.

Thrillers may be defined by the primary mood that they elicit: fearful excitement. In short, if it "thrills", it is a thriller. As the introduction to a major anthology explains,

...[T]hrillers provide such a rich literary feast. There are all kinds. The legal thriller, spy thriller, action-adventure thriller, medical thriller, police thriller, romantic thriller, historical thriller, political thriller, religious thriller, high-tech thriller, military thriller. The list goes on and on, with new variations constantly being invented. In fact, this openness to expansion is one of the genre's most enduring characteristics. But what gives the variety of thrillers a common ground is the intensity of emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness, all designed to generate that all-important thrill. By definition, if a thriller doesn't thrill, it's not doing its job.

James Patterson, June 2006, "Introduction," Thriller[4]

Sub-genres

The thriller genre can include the following sub-genres, which may include elements of other genres:

Most thrillers are formed in some combination of the above, with horror, conspiracy, and psychological tricks used most commonly to heighten tension. Combinations are highly diverse, including:

Examples

Fiction and literature

Ancient epic poems such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer's Odyssey and the Mahābhārata use similar narrative techniques as modern thrillers. In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus makes a perilous voyage home after the Trojan War, battling extraordinary hardships in order to be reunited with his wife Penelope. He has to contend with villains such as the Cyclops, a one-eyed giant, and the Sirens, whose sweet singing lures sailors to their doom. In most cases, Odysseus uses cunning instead of brute force to overcome his adversaries.

"The Three Apples", a tale in the One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights), is the earliest known murder mystery[5] and suspense thriller with multiple plot twists[6] and detective fiction elements.[7] In this tale, a fisherman discovers a heavy locked chest along the Tigris river and he sells it to the Abbasid Caliph, Harun al-Rashid, who then has the chest broken open only to find inside it the dead body of a young woman who was cut into pieces. Harun orders his vizier, Ja'far ibn Yahya, to solve the crime and find the murderer within three days. This whodunit mystery may be considered an archetype for detective fiction.[5][8]

The Count of Monte Cristo is a swashbuckling revenge thriller about a man named Edmond Dantès who is betrayed by his friends and sent to languish in the notorious Château d'If. His only companion is an old man who teaches him everything from philosophy to mathematics to swordplay. Just before the old man dies, he reveals to Dantès the secret location of a great treasure. Shortly after, Dantès engineers a daring escape and uses the treasure to reinvent himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. Thirsting for vengeance, he sets out to punish those who destroyed his life.

Dracula is a gothic supernatural thriller told in the first person (diaries, letters, newspaper clippings). A young Englishman named Jonathan Harker travels to the Carpathian Mountains to meet a client named Count Dracula. But when the Count shows his horrifying true colours, Harker barely escapes with his life. The Count soon arrives in England, bringing with him death and menace. Harker and his terrified friends are forced to turn to Dr. Van Helsing, who uses modern science to battle ancient superstition.

The Riddle of the Sands, written in 1903, is "the first modern thriller", according to Ken Follett, who described it as "an open-air adventure thriller about two young men who stumble upon a German armada preparing to invade England."

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an early thriller by John Buchan, in which an innocent man becomes the prime suspect in a murder case and finds himself on the run from both the police and enemy spies.

Heart of Darkness is a first-person within a first-person account about a man named Marlowe who travels up the Congo River in search of an enigmatic Belgian trader named Kurtz. Layer by layer, the atrocities of the human soul and man's inhumanity to man are peeled away. Marlowe finds it increasingly difficult to tell where civilization ends and where barbarism begins. Today this might be described as a psychological thriller.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré is set in the world of Cold War espionage and helped to usher in an era of more realistic thriller fiction, based around professional spies and the battle of wits between rival spymasters.

The Bourne Identity is one of the first thrillers to be written in the modern style that we know today. A man with gunshot wounds is found floating unconscious in the Mediterranean Sea. Brought ashore and nursed back to health, he wakes up with amnesia. Fiercely determined to uncover the secrets of his past, he embarks on a quest that sends him spiraling into a web of violence and deceit. He is astounded to learn that knowledge of hand-to-hand combat, firearms, and tradecraft seem to come naturally to him.

First Blood is widely considered to be the father of the modern action novel. A young Vietnam veteran, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, encounters an older sheriff who is a Korean War veteran. When the sheriff tries to drive him out of town, a version of the Vietnam War erupts in the woods, hills, and caves of rural Kentucky. This becomes not only a clash of generations, but also a clash between conventional and guerrilla warfare.

Novelists closely associated with the genre include Eric Ambler, Sydney Bauer, Ted Bell, Dan Brown, Lincoln Child, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Nelson DeMille, Ian Fleming, Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, Graham Greene, John Grisham, Robert Ludlum, Alistair MacLean, Andy McNab, David Morrell, James Phelan, Douglas Preston, and Matthew Reilly. (See also List of thriller authors.)

Film

The Bourne Identity was adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon which used many of the thriller conventions of the plot. Though its sequels, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, depart significantly from Robert Ludlum's storyline, the conspiracy-thriller genre is still well-preserved.

The Manchurian Candidate is a classic of Cold War paranoia. A squad of American soldiers are kidnapped and brainwashed by Communists. False memories are implanted, along with a subconscious trigger that turns them into assassins at a moment's notice. They are soon reintegrated into American society as sleeper agents. One of them, Major Bennett Marco, senses that not all is right, setting him on a collision course with his former comrade, Sergeant Raymond Shaw, who is close to being activated as an assassin.

Phone Booth is a thriller about a selfish man trapped in a phone booth by a deranged sniper. Framed for the murder of a pimp, he finds himself surrounded by police who have no idea of the sniper's presence.

Double Jeopardy is a 1999 thriller about a woman who goes to prison for the murder of her husband, only to find out he is alive. She vows to track down her husband and get her son back, which leads to a dramatic finale in New Orleans.

Ronin is a suspenseful tale of conflicting loyalties. A team of post-Cold War mercenaries gather in France to carry out an ambush and steal a mysterious suitcase. The mission goes awry when the group turn on each other. The contents of the suitcase are never revealed but it is something worth killing for.

Other examples of the thriller in movies include Donnie Darko, Red Eye, Psycho, North by Northwest, In the Line of Fire, The Fugitive, Solo Voyage, The 4th floor, Marathon Man, Seven, Kiss The Girls, Murder By Numbers, The Recruit, The Sentinel, The Bone Collector.

Notable thrillers that have made an impact both as novels and as films include Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal, Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October and successive Jack Ryan stories, Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs and related novels, Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and Congo, and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

Luminaries of the thriller genre

Writers
Directors

Television

There have been at least two television series called simply Thriller, one made in the U.S. in the 1960s and one made in the UK in the 1970s. Although in no way linked, both series consisted of one-off dramas, each utilising the familiar motifs of the genre.

24 is a fast-paced television series with a premise inspired by the War on Terror. Each season takes place over the course of twenty-four hours, with each episode happening in "real time". Featuring a split-screen technique and a ticking onscreen clock, 24 follows the exploits of federal agent Jack Bauer as he races to foil terrorist threats.

Lost, which deals with the survivors of a plane crash, sees the castaways on the island forced to deal with a monstrous being that appears as a cloud of black smoke, a conspiracy of "Others" who have kidnapped or killed their fellow castaways at various points, a shadowy past of the island itself that they are trying to understand, polar bears, and the fight against these and other elements as they struggle simply to stay alive and get out of the island.

Prison Break follows Michael Scofield, an engineer who has himself incarcerated in a maximum-security prison in order to break out his brother, who is on death row for a crime he did not commit. In the first season Michael must deal with the hazards of prison life, the other inmates and prison staff, and executing his elaborate escape plan, while outside the prison Michael's allies investigate the conspiracy that led to Lincoln being framed. In the second season, Michael, his brother and several other inmates escape the prison and must evade the nationwide manhunt for their re-capture, as well as those who want them dead.

Thrillers have also made the leap from television to film, including the Mission: Impossible franchise.

See also

References

  1. ^ Vladimir Nabokov (1981) Lectures on Russian Literature, lecture on Russian Writers, Censors, and Readers, p.16
  2. ^ a b http://www.findmeanauthor.com/thriller_fiction_genre.htm
  3. ^ http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/444810/
  4. ^ Patterson, James, ed. Thriller. Ontario, Canada: MIRA Books (2006) at p. iii. ISBN 0-7783-2299-8.
  5. ^ a b Marzolph, Ulrich (2006), The Arabian Nights Reader, Wayne State University Press, pp. 240–2, ISBN 0814332595 
  6. ^ Pinault, David (1992), Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights, Brill Publishers, pp. 93, 95, 97, ISBN 9004095306 
  7. ^ Pinault, pages 91 & 93.
  8. ^ Pinault, pages 86–91.







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