Hunter S. Thompson Thompson, Hunter S(tockton) (Vol. 17)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Hunter S(tockton) Thompson 1939–2005

(Has also written under pseudonyms Sebastian Owl and Raoul Duke) Autobiographer, author of fiction and nonfiction, journalist, and editor.

Thompson's work depicts the aftermath of the explosion of the American Dream. Despite his iconoclasm, he is considered essentially conservative, a righteous citizen who sets high moral standards for society's leaders, especially politicians. Their failures often trigger the indignation and black humor which distinguish his books.

Because he blurs the distinction between fact and fiction in his work, Thompson cannot easily be categorized. He turns reality into fantasy and real people into characters in order to mirror and comment on the madness of contemporary culture. As his own central character, Thompson becomes a barometer of the excesses he describes.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Heart of the American Dream is Thompson's best-known work. A tall tale of how Thompson and his lawyer friend attempted to cover two news stories while stoned on an arsenal of drugs, it gave Thompson a reputation as a decadent outlaw while also establishing him as a writer of creativity and imagination. It also introduced the iconoclastic literary style Thompson has dubbed "gonzo journalism," a form which depends on vituperation and insult to make its points while concentrating on the novelistic demand for truth and the journalistic demand for fact.

With Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, a collection of journalism reports first published in Rolling Stone magazine, Thompson attempted to capture the immediacy of political events before they began to be viewed in retrospect. This work applied Thompson's "gonzo" style to the often mundane facts of the campaign. Critics called it overly subjective in its canonization of McGovern and its condemnation of Nixon, and it was criticized for ignoring many of the facts, but its unique approach and clear concern for the country's welfare were praised, as was Thompson's success in capturing background detail.

It has been said of Thompson that he writes best when the country is at its worst, such as in the period of Nixon's presidency. Some critics feel that Thompson and his style are becoming outmoded, since he is so closely associated with the major events of the 1960s and early 1970s. His latest book, The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, a retrospective collection of excerpts from his earlier books and journalistic reprints, has been criticized for its lack of innovation and freshness. Throughout his career, Thompson's writing has been called self-indulgent, grating, and inaccurate. However, for the many young people who have made him into a cult figure, Thompson's position as a believable commentator on the decline of society appears unshaken, and for them his popularity shows little sign of diminishing. (See also CLC, Vol. 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

Leo E. Litwak

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The easy acceptance of violence lends to ["Hell's Angels"] a cartoon quality. We observe Angels brutalizing themselves and others and somehow we expect them to recover as quickly as the cartoon cat and mouse. It's not that Thompson doesn't give us a vivid picture of brawls and orgies. His language is brilliant, his eye is remarkable, and his point of view is reminiscent of Huck Finn's. He'll look at anything; he won't compromise his integrity. Somehow his exuberance and innocence are unaffected by what he sees. (pp. 6, 44)

Hunter Thompson has presented us with a close view of a world most of us would never dare encounter, yet one with which we should be familiar. (p. 44)

Leo E. Litwak, "On the Wild Side," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 29, 1967, pp. 6, 44.

Oscar Handlin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Hell's Angels ] shows the extent to which, in our society, the individual needs protection against himself as well as against others. This is a reporter's account of approximately a year...

(The entire section is 13,049 words.)