Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (novel)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (novel)

Infobox Book
name = Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Early edition cover.
author = Hunter S. Thompson
illustrator = Ralph Steadman
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series = Gonzo Series
genre = Gonzo journalism
publisher = Random House
release_date = 11 November 1971 and 25 November 1971
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 204 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-679-78589-2
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"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. It was later adapted into the 1998 film of the same name 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 early 1971. He was writing an exposé for "Rolling Stone" magazine about the killing of Ruben Salazar, the Mexican-American television journalist whom officers of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shot in the head, at close range, with a tear gas grenade during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War in 1970.

A source for the story was the attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, Esq., a prominent Mexican-American political activist. Thompson told Acosta that "Sports Illustrated" magazine had offered him a job writing photograph captions for the annual Mint 400 desert race in Las Vegas. Finding it difficult for a brown-skinned Mexican to openly talk with a white reporter in the racially tense atmosphere of Los Angeles, Calif., they decided Las Vegas would be the more comfortable place to discuss the story.

Thompson wrote that he concluded their March trip by spending some thirty-six hours alone in a hotel room "feverishly writing in my notebook". [Thompson, Hunter S. http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=175&eid=273&section=essay "Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream"] ] The genesis of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream" is in that notebook. On the 29th of April 1971, he began writing the manuscript in a hotel room in Arcadia, California, in his spare time, while completing "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan", the article chronicling the police murder of Chicano journalist Rubén Salazar. [Thompson, Hunter S. [http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=175&eid=273&section=essay "Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream"] ]

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". [cite book | | last=Thompson | first=Hunter | authorlink=Hunter Thompson | year=1979 | title= The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time | edition=1st ed. | publisher=Summit Books | id=ISBN 0-671-40046-0 | pages = 105-109]

Weeks later, Thompson and Acosta returned to Las Vegas to report about the "National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs" from the 25th to the 29th of April 1971. Besides the attorneys' conference, they explored the theme of the American Dream, the basis for the novel's second half, "Vegas II". [ Thompson, Hunter S. "Fear and Loathing In America" Simon and Schuster 2000 p.379-385 ]

In November of 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". [ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005). The Last Outlaw. Rolling Stone, 970, 44-47] 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", [ 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.] with Tom Wolfe describing it as a "scorching epochal sensation". [ [http://www.amazon.com/dp/product-description/0679724192 Jacket Copy] , [http://www.amazon.com/dp/product-description/0679724192] "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" 1972. ]

Plot summary

Journalist Raoul Duke and attorney Dr. Gonzo travel to Las Vegas in 1971 to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race for a sporting magazine and indulge in a haphazardly planned vacation. As Duke and Gonzo live out the final days of the counter-culture through the use of the drugs LSD, cocaine, mescaline, and cannabis, among others, they wreck cars, destroy hotel rooms, and hallucinate with visions of desert animals. As the duo prepare to flee the city, Duke gets another assignment to cover a Narcotics Convention organized by the National Association of District Attorneys and the two simply book a new hotel room across town and begin the process anew. Eventually, they begin to distrust each other, and the two leave Las Vegas separately. The book ends with Raoul in a pharmacy in Denver, en route back to Los Angeles.

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 naïvely thought drug use "per se" 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. Fact|date=April 2008

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. As a writer, Hunter S. Thompson considered it to be "probably the best thing I've ever written":

cquote|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 proudest, often citing it during interviews, and reading it when asked to read aloud from the novel. [ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005) . The Last Outlaw. Rolling Stone, 970, 44-47]


"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 Frederich Nietzsche in "The Anti-Christ", however, 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." [ [http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/7045675/fear_and_loathing_at_25 Fear and Loathing at 25 : Rolling Stone ] ]

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 [cite book | last = Thompson | first = Hunter | title = Proud Highway | publisher = Ballantine Books | location = New York | year = 1998 | isbn = 0345377966 ] 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. Interestingly, "decadent" also is a word Nietzsche used in his writing, notably in "The Twilight of Idols (Philosophy With a Hammer)".

Reactions to the novel

When the novel was published in summer of 1972, 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”. [ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. (June 22, 1972). Heinous Chemicals at Work. "The New York Times", p. 37]

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 1960’s 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 posed between brilliance and burnout”. [ 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 Revie"w, pp.17]

In the event, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" became a benchmark in American literature about U.S. society in the 1960s and 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”. [ Morris, Chris. (October 26, 1996). Hunter S. Thompson Brings ‘Fear and Loathing’ to Island. "Billboard" magazine, 43, 10] In Rolling Stone magazine, Mikal Gilmore wrote that the novel “peers into the best and worst mysteries of the American heart” and 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”. [ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005). The Last Outlaw. "Rolling Stone", 970, 44-47]

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 required reading for students of American literature. Fact|date=July 2008

The novel 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". [Thompson, Hunter S. [http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=175&eid=273&section=essay "Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream"] ] 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-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. [Taylor, Andrew F. 1997 [http://www.lasvegassun.com/sun/dossier/misc/loathing/mescaline.html "The City: In search of Thompson's Vegas"] "Las Vegas Sun] Later, he wrote, " [that] I found myself imposing an essentially fictional framework on what began as a piece of straight/crazy journalism". [Thompson, Hunter S. [http://www.criterion.com/asp/release.asp?id=175&eid=273&section=essay "Jacket Copy For Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream"] ]

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”. [ Gilmore, Mikal. (March 24, 2005) . The Last Outlaw. "Rolling Stone", 970, 44-47]

The illustrations

Welsh 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.” [ Cohen, Rich. April 17, 2005. Gonzo Nights. "The New York Times Book Review", p. 12.]

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 said attempts, Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando were spoken of as "Duke" and "Gonzo", however, 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. [ Fear and Loating in Las Vegas: Trivia. [http://imdb.com/title/tt0120669/trivia] ]

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, however, Gilliam 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". [ Dreams: Fear and Loathing. Welcome to Bat Country. [http://www.smart.co.uk/dreams/flvive.htm] ]

ee also

*Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (film)



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

External links

*imdb title|id=0120669|title=Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
* [http://www.gonzo.org/ The Great Thompson Hunt]
* [http://www.readybetgo.com/book-reviews/loathing-las-vegas-1730.html Book Review by Nick Christenson]
* [http://www.lasvegassun.com/sun/dossier/misc/loathing/mescaline.html Las Vegas Sun investigation into the actual historical events surrounding the book. Includes many other FLLV-related articles.]

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