Saturday, July 11, 2009

Slaughtering, looting and raping in disciplined fashion

In his 12 novels about the British officer Flashman, George MacDonald Fraser has sent this tormented coward to many of the greatest battles of the mid-19th century. His only real accomplishment has been to flee from all of them. Flashman is Blackadder without jokes, a cynic and egotist who would like nothing more than to enjoy life at home with his wife, (and the occasional lover and prostitute), but because of his undeserved reputation as a war hero the British government won't let him. It's the glory days of Empire, and there's always a dangerous situation somewhere to sort out.

In Flashman and the Mountain of Light, Flashman is sent as a spy to Lahore in Punjab, to prepare for the Sikh war of 1845-46. Lahore at this time is a cauldron of dynastic intrigue, where leaders betray each other at first chance, and everybody has conflicting agendas. A swashbuckling hero would feel right at home. Naturally, Flashman hates every second of it.

Flashman's curse is to be surrounded by madmen: heroes and great generals who glorify war and self-sacrifice in the name of some bloody stupid cause. He doesn't want to die on a battlefield in India. Who would? Flashman is a hypocrite, but he's honest with himself and the reader, and he despises the lower type of hypocrite who pretends that building an empire is a clean affair.

These are not pacifist novels, and they're not targetted at the British empire as such. It's just honest history: Bloody and absurd.



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