Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo managed to polish off three books during his week of summah hols, all of which were new to me.  I pass on my snap, heavily-condensed reviews for what they’re worth.

The first two books are by that long-time favorite of mine, George MacDonald Fraser.  Regular friends of the decanter will recall that ol’ Robbo often has praised Fraser’s hy-larious yet informative Victorian romps in his Flashman series,¹ as well as his equally entertaining yet more profound recollections of his own WWII service in Quartered Safe Out Here and the McAuslan stories.  What I might not have made clear in these past accolades was Fraser’s extensive involvement with the movie industry.  Among other things, he wrote the screenplay for the hugely entertaining early 70’s films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.  He also wrote the Bond film Octopussy and was involved in both Force Ten from Navarone and the rayther dull Ah-nold movie Red Sonja.

Anyhoo, this week I read two of Fraser’s more Hollywood-centric books, The Light’s On At Signpost and The Hollywood History of the World.   TLOAS is an interesting sort of fin-de-sicle piece, combining insider-baseball stories of the film world with Fraser’s rayther jaundiced view of the state of Western Civilisation in the early 2000’s.   The former are fun peeks into an alien culchah.  The latter drip with bitterness.   Indeed, I have to confess that some of them are even too strong for me, the prime example being Fraser’s opinion that Jesus, based on his ability to eject the money-changers from the Temple, evidently was a hulking, burly fellah and that he probably faked his death on teh Cross and merely returned instead of being resurrected.   I revel in his bashing of Tony Blair and New Labour, but this sort of thing goes too far for me.  Oh, and speaking of the McAuslan stories, this book finally discloses the real story of Wee Wullie and why the Colonel was so protective of him.  I must say that in this case, truth was far more astounding than fiction.  God bless.

THHOTW is a straight-forward appreciation of the various stages of development of Western Civilisation and Hollywood’s treatment of same.   We go from Biblical Times to the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to the British Empire to the American West to the 20th Century.   I had thought that Fraser’s book would be devoted primarily to What Hollywood Got Wrong, largely in terms of dialogue, costume, props and the like.  There is plenty of this, but Fraser not only also points out what teh films got Right, he goes beyond this question to examine how Hollywood captured what we think about these various periods, what we cherish and what we revile.  In the last section, he shakes his head at the gratuitous violence glorified in gangster and vigilante movies, from Edward G. Robinson up through Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.  (Oddly, there is no mention of The Godfather and its progeny.)  The book was published in 1988, before the rise of the current crop of slasher/horror movies.  What Fraser would have made of, for example,  a successful franchise concerning a psychopath who forces people to saw off their own limbs in order to escape him, I shudder to think.

I suppose my only puzzled objection to the second book is the fact that, in the section on the British Empire, no mention whatsoever is made of The Man Who Would Be King.  Fraser is, if nothing else, an admirer of Kipling, and I’m astounded that he didn’t at least give a nod to this particular film.

T’other book I read was Rooster:  The Life And Times Of The Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired ‘True Grit’ by Brett Cogburn (great-grandson of said Rooster).  I’d say that you probably need to be a real Clinton Portis junkie (and is this a bad thing?) to enjoy this one.    The “real” Rooster turns out to have been a moonshiner in the mountains of Arkansas southeast of Fort Smith in the 1880’s who  did time for the murder of a deputy U.S. Marshall bent on breaking up his distilling operations.  I dunno if it’s fair to say that the real Rooster inspired Portis’s creation, but it is absolutely certain that the author’s researches led him right through the Cogburn family history, as well as those of other contemporary local events and persons.   There are just too many names and occurrences in common between the actual history and the novel for such to be otherwise.   But as I say, I’m not sure anyone would be particularly interested if they weren’t already fans of True Grit.   (By the bye, the Mothe insists that this book is THE authentic American novel, compared to which Twain’s Huck Finn is a load of sentimentalist twaddle.  I’m inclined to agree.)

So there you go.  I recommend any and all of these books.   But then again, you know your host.  Cum grano salis, indeed.

1  Just as an aside in re Flashy,  I become increasingly intrigued by what Fraser would have done with him in the American Civil War, had he lived long enough to write that particular section of the Flashman Papers.   There are enough hints in teh other books that I have resolved, the next time I go through ’em, to jot down every scrap of information I can find about what Fraser had in mind in re story arc.  Would it be completely presumptuous of me to attempt to write such a novel myself?  Probably.

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