9 Books Hunter S. Thompson Never Published
By David Wills
Hunter S. Thompson was one of the most famous writers of the 20th century, fusing fiction and non-fiction in an innovative style called Gonzo. His genre-bending work catapulted him to counterculture fame, but his notorious drug habits and lack of focus meant that many potentially great books went unpublished. Here are nine of his works that never saw the light of day.
1. Prince Jellyfish
Thompson’s first attempt at writing a novel was Prince Jellyfish, more a series of autobiographical tales than true fiction. He wrote the book while living in a cabin in the New York woods in 1959, and the style is an odd blend of his literary heroes at the time like Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, and J.P. Donleavy. The book was taken on by an agent; however, aside from a few excerpts in Songs of the Doomed (1990), it was never published.
2. The Gun Lobby
In the late 1960s, as Thompson’s counterculture star rose, he was hired by Esquire to infiltrate the NRA. Asked to write a 3000-word article about the organization, the author baffled his editors by handing them an 80,000-word manuscript. Unsurprisingly, Esquire declined to publish a rambling, personal story that was nearly 30 times their stated word count, and Thompson, perhaps conflicted over his own love of firearms, never sought to publish the book.
3. Guts Ball
It is a little-known fact that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas nearly had a sequel. After returning from the 1972 presidential campaign trail, Thompson had a drug-induced vision of a plane filled with Secret Service agents, Nixon staffers, and other assorted passengers, including Thompson’s alter ego, Raoul Duke. In an orgy of drugs and violence, the Secret Service agents forced every passenger to participate in a wild game of football in the aisles of the plane. Thompson worked on this "saga of madness & terror" for years before eventually admitting defeat, though you can listen to him talk about what he had in mind for the novel/screenplay on The Gonzo Tapes.
4. The Silk Road
Thompson was in Key West when the Mariel boatlift—a mass, legal emigration of Cubans to America—began. As journalists flocked to cover the story, Thompson headed to the bar, disinterested until Esquire paid him a cash advance—including $15,000 for expenses—to do a piece on it. Instead of covering the event, though, he blew through the money and began writing a novel called The Silk Road, offering an excerpt to his editors in lieu of the article. Thompson explained that Silk Road would be "A fast, strange & occasionally violent story" that would involve smuggling and scuba diving.
As with most of his attempts at fiction, he wanted the plot and characters to resemble those found in The Great Gatsby, but with plenty of his trademark sex, drugs, and violence thrown in. He actually wrote a substantial amount of the book, but it was rejected by the magazine, which took a loss on the advance. Only a few segments were ever published in Songs of the Doomed.
5. The Night Manager
For his next gig, Playboy paid Thompson to write an article about feminist pornography, and so he settled in and got to work at San Francisco's notorious O’Farrell Theater, an X-rated movie theater and strip club. He quickly realized that a book would be more profitable than a magazine piece and began to spin the story into a novel on the subject called The Night Manager. Despite a year of effort and the patience of his editors at Playboy, neither the article nor the book was published.
6. The Rise of the Body Nazis
In 1983's The Curse of Lono, Thompson, in part, explored what he perceived as a descent into masochism apparent from the rise of marathons and running culture. Editor Paul Perry suggested Thompson explore this social satire of so-called "fitness freaks" further in a book called The Rise of the Body Nazis. Thompson was enthusiastic, particularly about the title, but unfortunately, he owed his publishers so many books that they refused to pay him another advance and Body Nazis joined the ranks of doomed Gonzo ventures.
7. 99 Days: The Trial of Hunter S. Thompson
In Songs of the Doomed, Thompson announced that he was working on a new title called 99 Days: The Trial of Hunter S. Thompson. This was a reference to a court case brought against him by a porn actress who had accused him of assault (those charges were later dismissed). Instead of writing the book, though, he gathered reporting on his legal issues and crammed it into various other works, including the entire last section of Songs of the Doomed itself.
8. Polo is my Life
In the 1980s, Thompson attempted to woo a wealthy woman, but she turned him down in favor of her ponies, telling him, "Polo is my life." Thompson was smitten not just with her but with that line. So for many years, he worked on a book called Polo is My Life, the story of a man who quits his job at a sex theater in San Francisco and flees to the mountains, where he falls in love. (He also apparently described it as a "finely muted saga of sex, treachery, and violence in the nineties, which also solves the murder of John F. Kennedy.")
Friends, editors, and assistants all pushed him to finish it and his publisher even announced a release date, but it would never materialize outside of some excerpts in Rolling Stone.
9. The Mutineer
Thompson was lucky that his early writing was so brilliant and voluminous that it carried him through decades of failed assignments. In his old age, he was able to collect his early letters in two successful volumes, but the third installment, entitled The Mutineer: Missives from the Mountaintop, has not yet appeared, despite having been given a cover and an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) by its publisher nearly a decade ago.
Additional Sources: Hunter S. Thompson: An Insider's View of Deranged, Depraved, Drugged Out Brilliance; Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist; Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson