Monday, November 14, 2005

Everything I Know I Learned from Harry Flashman

Well, perhaps not everything; Flash Harry hadn't much to say on the matter of modulation to the relative major in the bridge, and anything he might have bothered to teach me about user-interface design would probably have been a trifle vieux jeux. What's more, forty years of feminist indoctrination have expunged the Flashmanic from my seduction technique. But it's a rock-bottom guarantee that my knowledge of Victorian history, culture, diction, mores, politics (sexual and otherwise) and military life, while not encyclopedic by any stretch, would have remained as sparse as they were in 1982 when I read my first Flashman -- Flashman and the Redskins, as it happened -- and became a lifelong devotee.

I know that, absent George MacDonald Frasier's idol-busting, feet-of-clay needling of the Great Man approach to history, I'd never have been moved to read Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians, Kipling, or the more "serious" books I devoured about the destruction of the British Army at Gandamack, the Siege of Cawnpore during the Sepoy Mutiny, the Charge of the Light Brigade, Little Big Horn, Harpers Ferry. Flashman's unlikely and hilariously reluctant presence at these epochal events both reduce them to comic backdrops and simultaneously magnify them into impossibly momentous, history-changing, but above all real things.

I could be a tour guide at Harpers Ferry, a few miles over the mountain from here, based only on the indescribably vivid -- and grimly funny -- setting forth of the events in Flashman and the Angel of the Lord. We visited the Kennedy Farm where John Brown prepared his lunatic raid, an impossibly tiny place; I walked around thinking Flashy said this here, and Brown was standing there when he said that to him.... Mindbogglingly present, it was.

Hell -- look over there at the John Mobberly Story in the right column: When I discovered Mobberly earlier this year, found that he'd operated a Civil War guerrilla operation on what I've come to think of as my mountain, my first attempt at parsing his character, at making him real, if you like, was to gauge how well Mobberly would perform as a Flashman character. Answer: very well indeed, of course. Insanely bold and foolhardy raid on a Federal camp, Flashy as reluctant participant, his bowels dissolving in fear. Perfect. He escapes by betraying Mobberly's plans to a passing Phil Sheridan, on his way to Washington to tell the President that Our American Cousin is a lousy play, which Lincoln refuses to believe because of Flashy's presence.

[Digression: I know I've let the Mobberly research lapse, but I promise a Major Breakthrough directly. Treasure trove imminent.]

So it was with squeaky joy that I turned over the Harper's that came in today's mail to find an advert for Flashman on the March, the twelfth installation in the series, which began in 1969. Honestly, I'd almost given up hope of a new one, as Frasier is in his eightieth year and Flashmans have become farther apart and (it must be admitted) less robust in the last decade. But here it is, and I'm ecstatic. Frasier's immersed Flashy in the events in Abyssinia in 1868. (Oh, surely you remember! Mad King Theodore of Abyssinia! He took umbrage at a snub from Queen Victoria, and captured a few hundred foreigners who had to be rescued!) reveals grumblings among the hidebound crowd who make a fetish of Flashman's cheerful Colonialist chauvinism, who perceive in the choice of events veiled criticism of the Disastrous Iraq Adventure, but I say anything that makes them uncomforable can only be a good thing.

Expect, then, along about Birthday Time (coming up soon, thanks for asking!) for Flash Neddie to appear in full fig on the Boulevard, back from Afghanistan, covered in laurels and Queen Vickie's blushing encomiums to his bravery (utterly undeserved, of course), his tile on three hairs, his pocket jingling with Dost Muhammad's shilling as, the lecherous twinkle in his eye betraying his true intent, he ducks down a side street to the place of business of that wicked-looking little black-haired piece with a turned-up nose and a saucy smile, always ready for a rogering....

Huzzah for the Ripping Yarn!


Gavin M. said...

Flash Harry hadn't much to say on the matter of modulation to the relative major in the bridge

It's something like playing modally. Same key signature, but the tonic falls on a different note. No?

Neddie said...

Yes, that's about right, Gav. Tootling along in A minor, when bumps-a-daisy there we are in C major. J. D. Loudermilk's "Windy and Warm" (covered by Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Chet Atkins et al.) is the first example that comes to mind.

rxzblo, which it helps to snort a lot of before you attempt "Windy and Warm."

Akatabi said...

Bloody well huzzah, indeed, laddie. I had thought Frasier had gone the way of Patrick O'Brian. And like Plum Wodehouse and Sid Perelman who you knew would never surpass their best work, it was great to anticipate just one more from the master.

H. Rumbold, Master Barber

Ronzoni Rigatoni said...

Wheee! I thought Flashy and the Tiger was definitely the last, as it seemed to be a collection of out-takes. Frasier Lives!

james finn garner said...

Cracking news indeed!

And I doubt Frasier would tie his character to anything as fleeting and "topical" as the current unpleasantness in the middle east. (In defining "current," is there an outside limit on the time frame?) Frasier has a greater intent, which is even more important to remember as the world gets smaller, the goods get sparser and people get angrier: the Movers and Shakers of the world are generally as crooked, selfish and amoral as any schlub you might meet on the street.

PixelWeasel said...

Flashman es uno de mis favoritos.

Y si le gusta Flashman, quizás le gustaría las novelas historicas del Capitán Alatriste por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Del editorial Alfaguara. Ya ha publicado cinco volumenes en el serie sobre el espadachín del Siglo de Oro.

Anonymous said...

Flashy didnt do much by the way of modulation to the relative major ec but he had a hell of a life none the less. as for his repeated confessions of cowrdice....... Well it takes a brave men to confess to that

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