Monday, April 2, 2012

Flashman at the Charge - Appendices and wrap up

Flashman at the Charge doesn’t quite finish with Harry’s arrival at the British customs post at Peshawar. The story does, but George MacDonald Fraser included a couple of appendices.

One is entitled Balaclava and concerns itself largely with the fateful and widely publicised Charge of the Light Brigade and who may or may not have started it. Fraser through his narrative obviously seems to believe it was Lew Nolan who initiated it in some sort of misguided grab for glory. Then (the book came out in 1973) as now, more than 150 years after the charge, debate still rages about it. Readers find out that both Raglan and Nolan never made it back to England. Nolan died in the charge and Raglan died sometime after of illness in the Crimea.

The second appendix covers Yakub Beg and Izzat Kutebar. George MacDonald Fraser had a knack for uncovering largely unknown footnote characters in history, giving them pivotal roles in his fictional hero’s life and bringing them back to life wonderfully well. Yakub Beg and his bandit friend Izzat Kutebar are two such characters. Beg was more important to the story and the region in general than Kutebar, who although colourful was largely still an opportunistic bandit, and Fraser expresses surprise that more isn’t known or reported about Yakub Beg, who in his opinion should be some sort of regional hero. The status of the Silk One is interesting. There is a historical record of Yakub Beg marrying the daughter of Ko Dali, a Chinese warlord, some years after the action described in Flashman at the Charge, and it’s very obvious that this is where the inspiration for the character of the Silk One came from, but she seems to be a largely fictional construct.

I find Flashman at the Charge the most satisfying of the early Flashmans. Despite weighing in at just over 300 pages it’s a big story. It’s really two books in one. The first book covers the Crimea and the famous charge and the second deals with interior Russia, Central Asia and Ignatieff’s scheme. It contains two of the more memorable characters from the series in Ignatieff, who is an excellent villain, and even better he’s a real person, even if I’m sure Fraser took considerable liberties with the character of the real man, and the Silk One, who as I have said could have stepped right out of the pages of an epic fantasy, and would have been a great heroine in a book of her own. It’s a shame that the original attempt to film Flashman as Royal Flash didn’t really work, because Flashman at the Charge would make a fantastic film, and I do hope that if the latest rumoured attempt with Michael Fassbender in the title role comes off, it is Flashman at the Charge that they film. There’s also some significant character growth from Harry himself. I felt this was encapsulated in his thoughts about young Willy’s demise and how his relatives may have felt about him if they’d known the boy better, as Harry did. Harry Flashman may have been Willy’s only real friend and the sad thing about that is that not even Harry knew it at the time. Flashman at the Charge also contains two highly amusing and action packed sequences, which have very little to do with a bawdy humour that categorised Royal Flash, and would translate well to film. Those sequences are the insane sleigh ride out of Russia and the assault on the Russian fort in which Harry played such a courageous role even if it was under the influence of a liberal amount of opium.

As Flashman at the Charge took me a little longer than I had anticipated to do and we're already into April I'll start Harry's 5th adventure; Flashman in the Great Game, in May. Join me here and see how Harry Flashman manages to mess up the Sepoy Mutiny.

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