Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Flashman at the Charge - an introduction
Time for the read of Flashman at the Charge to start, so some of my thoughts about the book before reading. Admittedly it’s a rather unwieldy title, but it’s far better than the attempt to make the book sound amusing as they did with Flash for Freedom. The ‘Charge’ that the title refers to is the celebrated Charge of the Light Brigade immortalised by then Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson in his epic poem. A great many can quote one of the poem’s best known lines: ‘Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred’, but I’m not so certain that they could tell you what the poem was about or what war it refers to. It was a celebrated and ultimately futile charge during the equally futile Crimean War.
For the 4th book in a row George MacDonald Fraser links a significant piece of literature to his venal anti-hero. In Flashman it was Tom Brown’s Schooldays, in Royal Flash, Prisoner of Zenda got the Flashman treatment, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin has a reference in Flash for Freedom and in Flashman at the Charge it is The Charge of the Light Brigade.
To date the Crimean War is probably the best known conflict that Flashy has been involved in, but Flashman at the Charge isn’t just about that. Harry gets himself in out of trouble in beds from London to Central Asia and gets caught up in, not only Britain’s struggle against Russia in the Crimea, but also foils a Russian plan to take over Central Asia, and thus put pressure on Britain’s ‘jewel in the crown’ of India.
There was talk in 2007 that Celtic Films were going to produce a number of the books as TV projects. Picture Palace said that they were going to do Flashman at the Charge, and there was even talk that James Purefoy would be cast as Harry (shame it never came off, because that is almost perfect casting for the lead role). It looked as if they were going to be done along the same lines as Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, which both companies had also been involved in. There was a reason they chose Flashman at the Charge; it is an absolute cracker of a novel. Harry is in his 30’s, so not as hard to cast as when he was younger, and it’s about a conflict which is even now still relatively well known. There’s been recent news that Michael Fassbender has been cast as Harry in a 2013 project, but no word about which of the books is being adapted. I’ve heard similar rumours in the past and they generally don’t come to much. If this one is true I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the plan is to do Flashman at the Charge, Fassbender is the right age for it.
This is where you have a significant difference between chronological order and publication order. When readers last saw Harry he had just negotiated with John Charity Spring to take him from New Orleans back home to England. That was in 1849, possibly early spring. Flashman at the Charge picks up in London in 1854, roughly 4 - 5 years have passed since the end of Flash for Freedom and knowing Harry he couldn’t possibly have stayed out of trouble for that long, so readers knew there were more adventures in between Flash for Freedom and Flashman at the Charge, but just when George MacDonald Fraser would get around to writing them was anyone’s guess.
The cover for the edition I’m using, is as customary, has Flashman in the foreground, with a battle scene, most likely the Crimea, in the background. Flashy has his magnificent cavalry whiskers, or ‘tart catchers’ as he amusingly referred to them in Flash for Freedom, on prominent display, he’s wearing that self satisfied smile of his and he’s figged out in full dress military gear, complete with a ridiculous looking helmet and a flag. This one is gonna be fun.