July 28, 2008
Cleaning Out the Library: The Flashman Series
On NPR this morning, they were talking about the connection between China and the Sudan. Part of it relates to the fact that a British General, "Chinese" Gordon, who burned down the summer palace of the Emperor of China during the Opium Wars in the late 1800s, was killed defending Khartoum from a Sudanese uprising. I turned to Mr. Cool and smiled.
"Oh, no," he said.
"Yes!" I chortled, "I know all about Chinese Gordon from Flashman!"
See, my history knowledge and reading life were changed in 2005-2006, the year I substitute taught. I did a lot of reading, and in searching for more books discovered that one of my favorite authors (George R. R. Martin), had a list on his website of his favorite books. He mentioned the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser, so I looked them up and ordered the first two. I was later able to get almost all of them used, only having to buy a few new. But I do have a complete set of Flashman. I initially read them in the order written, but I'm planning a chronological re-reading this fall.
Who is this marvelous Harry Flashman? Why, only the most decorated and travelled soldier in Her Majesty's Forces from the 1840s to the 1900s! Also, to his faithful readers, a notorious coward, scoundrel, rascal, and rapscallion. The beauty is that within these romps of well-written and hysterical adventures, Flashy (his nickname) manages to be involved with every major (and some minor) military adventure one could in that time period, from accidentally joining the Charge of the Light Brigade, to ending up on John Brown's raid, helping out Otto Von Bismark,the Opium Wars, and everything that happened in India, Afghanistan, and Africa during the true reign of the British Empire. Fraser's works are meticulously researched, and I have been able to converse knowingly about this entire time period thanks to these books.
Fraser died last year, and we Flashy fans are quite sad--sure, we have twelve great books to re-read, but we never found out how he ended up serving with both Lee and Grant.