Friday, January 04, 2008

Flash - This just in

Charles reporting in.

George MacDonald Fraser, the man behind the Flashman series, died the other day at the age of 82. MacDonald Fraser was a great writer and an amazing storyteller and the inspiration behind my latest writing project. (That’s all hush hush right now, but you’ll be the first to know.)

Brigadier-General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, VC, KCB, KCIE, (5th May 1822 - 1915) was a self-confessed (boastful?) coward, bully, poltroon, liar, cheat, whoremonger, racist, sexist, licentious bastard, and one of the most entertaining rouges in all of literature. If you read the books – and if you haven’t, you should – you know what I mean when I say that Flashy is definitely not everyone’s idea of the hero. Flashy lambastes everyone and everything, and just when you think he’s singled out one group – say English Lords or Zulu women – for special debasing, he hauls out six more groups and does them all worse. If you love the books, I don’t have to explain his appeal – if you hate them, well, no use trying to sway you now. But I think even the folks who love the books – count me and fellow blogger Vicki in that mix – are disgusted by Flashman and his antics. He’s the classic anti-hero without an honorable bone in his body, the kind of hero you’d think no one would want to cheer on, but there I am, cheering on his every sinful escapade, marveling at his lack of morals and voyeuristically enjoying his many and wild romps.

Flashy isn’t the kind of guy I secretly want to be – he’s the kind of guy I secretly dread I am.

By one of those coincidences I’d never put in one of my own books, I’m currently re-reading Flashman in the Great Game, the best of the dozen Flashman titles that we’ll get to savor. It takes place in India during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny/ Indian Rebellion and, naturally, Flashy is a key player at every major event of that blistering summer and the story builds to a heart-stopping finale that’ll blow you away. It almost did for Flashman. Despite Flashman’s attitude and insult-laced diatribes, I found the book to be surprisingly sympathetic to the Indians’ cause. Well, as sympathetic as Flashman ever gets. It was this book that sparked my first interest in all things India, and it was the book that led me to select the Indian Rebellion as my thesis topic in my first Master’s level history class.

If you love well-researched historical fiction, you have to put the Flashman books on your Must-Read list, and far more of what I know about the 19th century than I should admit, I learned by following Flashy.

If you read the Flashman books, you know that MacDonald Fraser was merely the man responsible for seeing that the Flashman papers were published. Who knows, there may be more. You see they weren't “novels” or anything like that. The Flashman papers were the autobiographical exploits of Sir Harry himself. Really. They were discovered in a Leicestershire salesroom in 1965, and all MacDonald Fraser did was get them ready for publication, correcting the occasional spelling error and adding a few insightful footnotes.

So George MacDonald Fraser is dead. But Flashman? He’ll find a way to keep on going. He always did.


Vicki Delany said...

Oh, no. I hadn't heard that he'd died. That's very sad. He brought out a new Flashman book just last year, Flashman on the March, as good as any of the older books. What I always enjoyed about the books was that although Flashman had nothing but contempt for every ethnic group he came across (including the English) you could tell that MacDonald Fraser didn't. Skillfully he was able to present his own point of view without interfering with Flashman's own prejudices. A truly unique skill. I think I'll be off to the bookstore to buy a Flashman or two to read in M-Fs honour.

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