Friday, May 28, 2010

Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

                      -Dr. Johnson.

The above quote marks the beginning of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing first appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in November of 1971. Originally, it was published in two parts with the byline of, by “Raoul Duke”, Thompson's alias, and was then published in book form by Random House in 1972.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a modern masterpiece, and a fantastic testament to an era that has become a part of our mythic consciousness. Thompson was coming off two big successes with Hell's Angels, a book about his year spent with the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Gang and his piece done with Ralph Steadman on the Kentucky Derby entitled “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”.

The book is about two seekers of the 60's going to Vegas for one last freak out. Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo, armed with copious amounts or narcotics head to Las Vegas to cover the Mint 400 off road motorcycle race. The pair instead get loaded on hallucinogens and go in search of the American dream, believing that it is to be found somewhere in the city of Las Vegas. Interestingly enough the main nerve that runs through the human body is known as the Vegas nerve.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas begins with Duke and Gonzo's journey to Vegas from Los Angeles for the beginning of the Mint 400. The book opens with one of the most famous lines of any book of the later half of the twentieth century. “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”1 From that moment forward the reader spends the first half of the book following Duke and Gonzo on their insane trajectory. From hitchhikers to people turning into reptiles to the evils of ether, ending in an attempt to escape a completely destroyed hotel room without paying the bill. All the while philosophizing on the end of a “Main Era” and the sense of doom that permeates everything in its aftermath.

The second half of the book starts up after Raoul Duke tries to flee Las Vegas and ends up having a run in with a perverse California Highway Patrolman. Duke elects to return to Vegas and join his attorney Dr. Gonzo at the National District Attorneys' Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Thompson uses Duke and Gonzo's attendance at the conference to poke fun at American law enforcements backward and outdated approach to handling the drug epidemic.

The story then turns into a harrowing descent into drug madness when Duke dabbles with andrenochrome. The rest of the book is told like a serious of wild and vicious hallucinations of crazed criminal behavior that Duke tries to explain to himself and the reader. In the end, Duke is yet again on the run, this time nervously sweating in the Las Vegas airport waiting for his flight. Just as the book began with an often quoted line, the book ends with the famous, “I felt like a monster reincarnation of Horatio Alger . . . a Man on the Move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.”2

1Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (New York 1971) pp 3
2Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (New York 1971) pp 204

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