Every once in a while, you just need a little swashbuckling in your life–this is why we continually remake The Three Musketeers (Christoph Waltz as Richelieu? Brilliant!). Today on the Literary Horizon, we’re taking a break from the usual Thanksgiving festivities and looking at older works that do just that.
The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
Rudolph Rassendyll’s life is interrupted by his unexpected and personal involvement in the affairs of Ruritania whilst travelling through the town of Zenda. He is shortly on the way to Streslau, the capital, where he finds himself engaged in plans to rescue the imprisoned king.
The Prisoner of Zenda is known for introducing the genre of Ruritanian romance–novels that are set in fictional European countries, a much more modern example being Genovia, the fictional country from The Princess Diaries. It’s also considered to be one of the first examples of the traditional double identity plot as upgraded from The Prince and the Pauper; you could consider the film Dave to be based on it.
The Prisoner of Zenda came to me via Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog, who thoroughly enjoyed it–she even compared the humor to Wodehouse, which means that I am there. She, in turn, got the recommendation from the wonderful Jo Walton, author of Tooth and Claw, who describes it as a wonderfully honorable romance with heart. Best of all, The Prisoner of Zenda is available on Project Gutenberg–aren’t free books a wonderful thing?
The Prisoner of Zenda was published in 1894.
Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
The first instalment of the Flashman Papers sees the fag-roasting rotter from Tom Brown’s Schooldays commence his military career as a reluctant secret agent in Afghanistan. Expelled from Rugby for drunkenness, and none too welcome at home after seducing his father’s mistress, the young Flashman embarks on a military career with Lord Cardigan’s Hussars. En route to Afghanistan, our hero hones his skills as a soldier, duellist, imposter, coward and amorist (mastering all 97 ways of Hindu love-making during a brief sojourn in Calcutta), before being pressed into reluctant service as a secret agent. His Afghan adventures culminate in a starring role in that great historic disaster, the Retreat from Kabul.
As you might be able to detect from the gloriously trashy cover and summary, the Flashman series is hardly politically correct; even Fraser himself cheerfully considers Flashman “an elitist, racist, sexist swine“. Because the author recognizes this, I think there’s plenty of hope for the series–after all, it’s essentially fanfiction (Flashman is a character rescued from Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays) and the series pokes fun at other works; in Royal Flash, Flashman claims that Anthony Hope stole the idea for The Prisoner of Zenda from one of his own exploits. Intriguing, right?
Because of Flashman‘s age, there are little to no book blogger reviews on it; if you know of one, please speak up! The Amazon reviews are interesting–I’m afraid that some of the reviewers may have taken the books at face value, but he’s otherwise heralded as a wildly offensive anti-hero. The reviews do bring up the fact that Flashman is a truly abominable human being and a rapist–this makes me a bit uncertain about the series, but I do want to give them a try. Perhaps because Flashman is presented as a waste of skin, it’ll work–perhaps it won’t. But I won’t know until I try.
Flashman was published in 1969.