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Thursday, January 03, 2008
Flashman Author Dies


George MacDonald Fraser, author of the hugely entertaining Flashman novels, has died aged 82.

Fraser - whose fans included P G Wodehouse and Kingsley Amis - died after a battle with cancer.

The Flashman series is one of the great treats of 20th century literature. Flashy (as he was commonly called) was a scoundrel who first appeared in the classic English schoolboy novel, Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes. In that book he was a bully who "roasted" young Tom's backside in a memorable scene. Frasier took the character, now aged to adulthood, and made him the protagonist and narrator of his series. Flashy remained a rogue, a scoundrel and a coward, and somehow managed to be present for almost many of the significant events of the 19th century, including Little Big Horn, the Sepoy Mutiny, the Charge of the Light Brigade, etc.

The charm of the series came from seeing all the precarious situations that Flashman managed to get into. Usually we feel sorry for the main character when complications arise in his life; with Flashman you could savor it. Frasier's particular brilliance was in making Flashy the narrator of his own tales. It's refreshing to have the "I" character not be noble and admirable, or (as Dr Watson) an admiring spectator of such a man.

Flashman had lusty tastes. One of my favorite bits comes in Royal Flash. Flashman has been recruited to take the place of a European prince who is due to be married to a princess from another country to cement an alliance. But villains have kidnapped the prince and the marriage must take place urgently. In a hilarious sequence, the ministers for the princess urge him to be gentle with her on their wedding night. He replies, "Don't worry, I will treat her as I would the daughter of my best friend." Of course we know that pledge is true but not in the way the ministers think.

The series of course owes something to PG Wodehouse, whose Bertie and Jeeves series pioneered the concept of the narrator as somewhat less than perfect, but all of literature consists of taking what others have done and stretching it in different ways. I highly recommend the Flashman series and regret Fraser's passing.

Hat Tip: Memeorandum

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