January 26, 2008

George MacDonald Fraser (1925-2008)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — ubikcan @ 3:27 pm

A few weeks ago I learned with sadness that the great British author George MacDonald Fraser had passed away. Fraser is best known as the author of the Flashman series of books.

In honor of his work I reread three of his novels, Flashman’s Lady, Flashman and the Redskins, and the first in the series Flashman, as well as the short story “Flashman and the Tiger.” This last one also features Flashman encountering the great detective Sherlock Holmes, who promptly screws up his deductions about Flashman!

These books were dearly beloved by my father, who himself died about 11 years ago, and myself as well. In other words they were a way for us to connect, and it is sad to see Fraser himself pass away now.

The character of Flashman (based on the character in Tom Brown’s Schooldays, which I was absolutely awarded in primary school after winning some race or other but which I never read, thankfully–this must have been in the 1970s for God’s sake) is written as a cad and a coward though he is in fact brave enough at times and no more scared under attack than anybody else might be (this is a bit of an oversell). But he’s also written to reflect the tenor of his times (late 19th centuiry). Here he is in Flashman and the Redskins:

Possibly because I’ve spent so much time as the unwilling guest of various barbarians around the world, I’ve learned to mistrust romances in which the white hero wins the awestruck regard of the silly savages by sporting a monocle or predicting a convenient eclipse, whereafter they worship him as a god, or make him a blood brother, and in no time he teaching ’em close order drill and crop rotation and generally running the whole show. In my experience, they know all about eclipses, and a monocle isn’t likely to impress an aborigine who wears a bone through his nose. (Flashman and the Redskins, p. 203).

This was a reference to King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard (another favorite of my father’s). Fraser notes that Haggard may have got it from John Carey Cremony, who may have actually amazed the Apaches with it.

The trope is popular enough to make it into Tintin in a South American adventure (Prisoners of the Sun):


But in this quote we see here to true Flashy: no-nonsense, but still prejudiced by our lights, with an awareness of the hypocrisy of his age. Flashman regarded the human species with a fairly jaundiced eye, and you can find plenty of negative comments about peoples from all round the world. But he also reserved plenty of scathing comments for the heroes of the age and the dunderheaded military leaders (Cardigan, Raglen, Custer et al.) that allowed disasters such as the Charge of the Light Brigade to happen.

OK, maybe not Custer as Flashman grants him competancy except for 3 mistakes at the Battle of Little Bighorn but says otherwise he was successful (if bloodthirsty).

Here’s to you George!

(Obit. from the Indy).

1 Comment »

  1. I came late to the Flashman party but found “Quartered Safe Out Here” the end-all of war commentary, and Fraser like a Vonnegut without the supernatural artifice. Fraser was the rare writer/veteran who made his generation of soldiers and their experiences understandable and accessable to the modern military. I’ll never forget – ‘bye, Jock.

    Comment by David Perrine — February 1, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

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