Two weeks ago, the world, and mine in particular, became a little bit poorer. The best author ever, died.
And before you start wondering how that could be when Shakespeare, Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald have already gone to that great bookstore in the sky, remember that this is an opinion piece – Mine. And for my money all of these literary icons have been joined by one more: George MacDonald Fraser.
For those of you out there who are scratching your head and saying, “Whaaaat?”, George MacDonald Fraser was the author and creator of the Flashman series of books.
Name still doesn’t ring a bell? Well let me ask you a question then. Do you like meticulously researched history? How about rip-roaring adventure novels? And do you like books that can make you laugh so hard that you fall out of your chair? (I’ve done it!).
Imagine a series of a dozen novels set in the world of the British Empire under Queen Victoria, that skewers the pompous, self-satisfied movers and shakers that dominated the seats of power during the last half of the 19th century. Books that are so well written that I have all twelve in the series and read at least two or three a year and will continue to do so. How many authors have you read that you could make that statement about? This is the only one for me.
To give you a rough idea of where Fraser was coming from, imagine an anti-hero who embodied every cowardly and venal trait that the Victorians railed against and you have the hilariously funny and totally cynical protagonist, Harry Flashman, or “Flashy” as he is know to the better part of the British empire.
What makes Flashman’s adventures a delight to observe is that while presenting a dissembling and hypocritical face to the stuffy Victorian world, he is always painfully honest with himself and us – his readers. Flashman quite candidly relates his life story throughout the series and tells with great amusement and complete candor about shirking his duty at every opportunity, while pursuing his primary goal in life – carnal relations with any and every member of Victorian societies ‘fair sex’. And along the way, he also often stumbles into the company of the most exalted and often infamous characters straight out of 19th century history. His desperate romps take us from the court of Queen Victoria to that of the Empress of China. And along with side trips to the brothels of Paris and New Orleans, Flashman explores all of the guilty pleasures that life has to offer. The fact that he invariably gets caught and winds up paying a terrible price for his ‘beastly pleasures’ does not detour him one bit from trying it again as soon as the next opportunity presents itself.
Now if all George MacDonald Fraser had done were to create a character that embodied the worst of human behavior, it would make for a very depressing read.
However, Frasier’s genius was in creating an anti-hero who could laugh at not just the smug pompous examples of proper Victorian society, but at himself as well.
But amusing as Flashman is, it is the history that really drew me in. As a former history major, I have to say that I have never seen history so meticulously researched outside of a history textbook. And presented in such a delightful and adventurous way so as to make the most mind-numbingly boring world treaties or stuffy state dinners, come alive with adventure and raucous humor.
In fact ever since I picked up the first book of Fraser’s Flashman series as a college senior way back in 1969, I have always known that I wanted to write and to use history the way that George MacDonald Fraser did: as an exciting, vivid backdrop for fascinating characters who stream across the pages, warts and all. In short, to entertain.
I may never get to the place that Mr. Fraser made his own, but I do want you to know George that as you sit at your cosmic writers desk in the sky, chuckling at our continuing foibles and hypocrisies, you have inspired this writer to keep trying.
You will be missed.
Ric Wasley - Author
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