kingdom of fear

if you’ve read one hunter s. thompson book you have an inkling of what he’s all about. agitated, reactionary, hyperbolic. and entertaining.

kingdom of fear traces a goulash of events in thompson’s life, primarily looking at the period between the late 1970s and 2002. he rambles endlessly about various adventures he wound up in, peppered with a sense of the ridiculous and a lust for outlandish behaviour. thompson is one of those rare characters who seems to have a monstrous ego, refined eccentricities, and yet remains amusing. even when hunter lands himself in the middle of some deranged situation that appears to be entirely his fault i find myself sympathizing with him. partly because he is self-conscious of his antics, reputation, and mandate. partly because he doesn’t know how to say just say no. he knows he is absurd and likes to do dangerous things that he discourages others from trying. the very fact that he doesn’t recommend his hard-drinking, drugging, and fast-driving lifestyle is what makes him attractive to many readers. he is a self-constructed outlaw figure. he lives his own legend, while at the same time continuing to cultivate the cult of personality that surrounds him.

as a book, though, this is a mediocre document. there are some extraordinarily funny moments, such as when he starts off making an interesting point, becomes aware of how great is writing style is (thinking that he is in a groove), and then he blows it with his mind wandering into a method for killing charles manson in the instance that someone’s daughter beccame messed up with his type. this piece is brilliant in its comic buildup and hunter’s awareness of his own unraveling narrative.

largely, though, this book feels like a justification for much of his behaviour and a defense against the various allegations made against him over the years. there is much talk of god, with hunter waffling on his faith throughout. in some ways this book has the feeling of atonement, with hunter trying to shrug his shoulders with an “awe shucks” attitude.

for all the glorious moments in kingdom of fear, i would still recommend fear and loathing in las vegas for anyone trying to get hunter at his gonzo height. hell’s angels is also a great book, though written with a different purpose. hunter’s ego is in hell’s angels, but he was feigning more journalistic objectivity. it is a fun book that hints at what is to come.

in recent years hunter has become a parody of himself. his writing style has become highly repetitive, and his catch-phrases overkilled. i saw an episode of conan o’brien’s late night show a while ago in which hunter was doing his author tour for kingdom of fear. he had trouble walking up stairs, looked very dazed, but still had a great wit. i think we continue to love him because there is only one hunter s. thompson. there are many imitators, but he still exceeds them all and will continue to do so until he is long gone.