January 03, 2008

Farewell, Flashman

George MacDonald Fraser has shuffled off his mortal coil at age 82.

According to the AP wire:

George MacDonald Fraser, author of the "Flashman" series of historical adventure yarns, died Wednesday, his publisher said. He was 82.

Fraser died following a battle with cancer, said Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity for Knopf, which will release Fraser's latest work "The Reavers" in the United States in April. Latimer was unable to provide details of where Fraser died. He lived on the Isle of Man, off the coast of northwest England.

"Flashman," published in 1969, introduced readers to an enduring literary antihero: the roguish, irrepressible Harry Flashman.

The novel imagined Flashman — the bullying schoolboy of 19th-century classic "Tom Brown's Schooldays" — grown up to become a soldier in the British army. In the book and 11 sequels, Flashman fought, drank and womanized his way across the British Empire, Europe and the United States, playing a pivotal role in the century's great historical moments. A vain, cowardly rogue, Flashman nonetheless emerged from each episode covered in glory, rising to the rank of medal-garlanded brigadier-general.

Fraser thought his antihero's appeal was not surprising.

"People like rascals, they like rogues," Fraser told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 2006.

"I was always on the side of the villain when I was a child and went to the movies. I wanted Basil Rathbone to kill Errol Flynn."

The Flashman books were also praised by critics for their storytelling flair and attention to historical detail. Each installment of the series purported to come from a faux-biographical trove of memoirs — The Flashman Papers — discovered in an English attic in the 1960s.

Fraser proudly pointed out that a third of the first book's American reviewers believed the Flashman papers were real.

Some readers and critics found Flashman's 19th-century racism and sexism disturbing. But by the time the final Flashman book, "Flashman on the March," appeared in 2005, the critical tide had turned in Fraser's favor.

Fraser also had heavyweight literary supporters. Kingsley Amis called him "a marvelous reporter and a first-rate historical novelist," and P.G. Wodehouse was also a fan.

Born in Carlisle, northern England in 1925, Fraser served as an infantryman with the British Army in India and Burma during World War II, and in the Middle East after the war. He worked as a journalist in Britain and Canada for more than 20 years before turning to fiction.

Fraser was the author of screenplays including "The Three Musketeers" (1973), an adaptation of his novel "Royal Flash" (1975) and the James Bond movie "Octopussy" (1983).

Fraser also wrote several works of nonfiction, including a wartime memoir, "Quartered Safe Out Here," "Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border" and "The Hollywood History of the World."

His final book, "The Reavers," is a a historical romp featuring espionage and intrigue during the reign of Elizabeth I.

There was no immediate word of funeral arrangements or whether Fraser left any survivors.

This is really quite sad, actually. He was a brilliant author and his books were tremendous fun. No more Patrick O'Brien, no more Flashman. The world is getting smaller and smaller with every passing.

Posted by Random Penseur at January 3, 2008 09:46 AM | TrackBack