Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Flashman at the Charge - Chapter 11

George MacDonald Fraser never gave the chapters in his Flashman books titles, but if he had then chapter 11 of Flashman at the Charge could very well be titled: Harry the Brave.

Our anti-hero is leaving the Silk One’s chambers when he runs into Yakub Beg and Izzat Kutebar, the warlord and the bandit leader are both fuming because Beg’s overlord has refused to give them any military support for their plan to torpedo the Russian powder boats from with the enemy using the Russian’s own ammunition, and this is where readers first notice some very unFlashmanlike behaviour from Great Britain’s most cowardly soldier. Instead of heaving a sigh of relief, trying to dissuade his allies from taking any unsupported action and seeing if they’ll get him an escort back to British held territory, he actively assists them in trying to whip up support for the action. Admittedly his stirring speech, which may have actually been given in English, sounds more like something aimed at Rugby’s First XI when they’re trailling badly at half time than what you’d say to a desperate band of tribesman battling for their way of life, but Flashy’s heart, which seems to have grown a size or two, is in the right place.

He backs the words with actions. When Yakub Beg, Izzat Kutebar and the Silk One lead their 5,000 strong force against the Russian camp Flashman is riding right alongside them shouting ‘Tally Ho!’. He’s actually rather put out when he realises that Yakub Beg will be having all the ‘fun’ fighting the Russians, while he, Kutebar and Ko Dali’s daughter will be liberating and aiming the rockets. Flashman does seem a little surprised to find out that the rockets are Congreves and remarks that someone in London has lined their pockets selling British arms to the Russians. At this stage readers are wondering if George MacDonald Fraser temporarily took leave of his senses and thought he was writing about a genuine hero, rather than a bounder and craven like Harry Flashman. Harry helps them fire off all the rockets, seemingly having a great time. In fact he likens the experience to an insane kind of Guy Fawkes night. They manage to set two of the powder boats on fire before the go down they’re in is hit by Russian fire and they have to run for it.

They all pile into a boat and make their way back. Yakub Beg is pleased that they took out two boats, but is arguing with Kutebar about how many men he lost for an inadequate return when the biggest of the boats seemed to escape the barrage, it’s about then it goes up in a huge explosion, which nearly upsets their boat and delights Izzat Kutebar. The only aspect of his character that Harry seemed to retain was a distinct randiness, he spent a lot of the chapter trying to come to grips with the Silk One, that’s when he wasn’t baying for Russian blood.

Very odd chapter, it was almost like one of Flashman’s fever dreams, and it still remains one of the funniest I’ve read just for Flashy’s sheer insane bravery and his whole gung ho attitude.

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