The Saint and The Mystery of Reading Comprehension.


Writers and readers of mystery fiction have long shared a secret. This private understanding between the storyteller and the audience was regarded as common knowledge by both of them. Educators, however, didn't have a clue until the 1970s. The secret concerns the mystery of reading comprehension. 


Readers of mystery and adventure are never passive observers, they are active participants. The adventures of the Saint are experiences shared between Leslie Charteris and those who choose to join the fun. Charteris certainly knows that. So do his readers.

They do not simply decode the information on the page, they participate in the creative process. Charteris provides the prose; the reader embellishes and personalizes. In the dismal dark ages of education, comic books and swashbuckling adventure stories were considered detrimental to cultural advancement.

Educators now understand what Saint readers could have told them in the 1930s-the book which sparks the mind's vision, encouraging the participating decoder to continue reading, is the most important book of all. 

The low-down shocker is a decent and clean and honest-to-god form of literature, because it does deal with things that have a right to occupy a man's mind-a primitive chivalry, and damsels in distress, and a wholesale slaughter of villains at the end, and a real fight running through it all. It mayn't be true to life as we know it, but it ought to be true, and that's why it's the best stuff for people to read -if they must read about things instead of doing them. Only I prefer to do them …. Simon Templar, wound up tighter than a two-dollar watch, speaks in defense of himself from both sides of the page -character/author's character-in Knight Templar (aka The Avenging Saint). 

The Saint, having praised the very form in which he exists, and which the readers know they are reading, proceeds to explain the appeal of his own books. "Isn't the outlaw one of the most popular figures in fiction? Isn't Robin Hood every schoolboy's idol?" Concerning the reader, the Robin Hood of Modern Crime proclaims, "He would like to do it himself, but he hasn't the courage; and so he enjoys the defiance even more when it's done for him by someone else." 

(excerpt from THE SAINT: A Complete History in Print, Radio, Television and Film by Burl Barer)

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