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.


  1. The title of this book is rather misleading. Only the first third of it actually takes place in the Crimean War; the other sections take place in Russia and Afghanistan, where Flashy works to thwart a Russian invasion of India. That said, his depiction of Balaclava (including the titular charge) is a doozy.

    Although written with Fraser's usual panache and humor I have mixed feelings about Charge. I think Fraser bites off a bit more than he can chew plotwise and he strains to bring the story from point to the next. On the other hand this is probably Fraser's best from on an action level, not only Balaclava but Flashman's drug-induced Afghan battle. Flashy's sleigh ride with a Russian countess I'll leave for you to discover, but it's definitely one of the series' funniest moments.

    I'm holding out hope that the rumors re: a Flashman movie are true. Fassbender is good casting I think, at least at a glance. But I haven't seen a halfway reputable source supporting it, just hints here and there, and as Malcolm McDowell's Royal Flash attests it won't be easy bringing Flashman to the screen.

  2. I totally agree about the title, but I think it was a good hook for readers, because everyone is aware of the 'charge', but not the other conflict. For me the book takes off when he gets to Pencherjevsky's and meets East. The second half is exemplary stuff, and I do feel like you that at times Fraser overstretched himself. Groggy, I've read the entire series from start to finish on countless occasions, so I'm well aware of what is coming. Royal Flash was a bit of a mess and part of that was the casting of McDowell, he never looked like Flashy, nor did he act like him. Fassbender could carry it off, I really wish they'd done the version with Purefoy, because he would have been perfect. Thanks for the comment. Hope you stay with me through the books.

  3. I think Ian McShane would've been the perfect one about 30 years ago. Too old now. Fassbender has the chops but he's not dark enough.

  4. Oh yes, McShane in the Lovejoy days would have been ideal, maybe not quite tall enough, but they can overcome that. Fassbender can be darkened up a little, they can do wonderful things with makeup these days. Thanks for the comment, Harry. I'm enjoying going through Flashy's adventures again.