Blood and Thunder
Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser explains how ‘history disguised as fiction’ has been his inspiration and is also his aim.
‘Your eyes are blinded by the sight of gold, man!’ Thus Sir Daniel Darnley Darnley (or was it Darnby?), the Laughing Pirate, duelling in an Aztec treasure-house, despatching some unfortunate Spanish villain with a lightning rapier thrust – and awakening my interest in history for the first time.
I was about eight years old and until I encountered Sir Daniel in a D.C. Thomson ‘tuppenny blood’ my acquaintance with the past had been limited to the odd Bible story, Greek and Norse myths, and my first school history book, The World’s Family. I’m sure it was an excellent primer, but all I remember of it is a couplet about Hannibal crossing the Alps because he wanted the Roman scalps, and a law of King Hammurabi’s condemning arsonists to be thrown into the fire they had started, which seemed drastic, though not illogical. I became disenchanted with the book when, asked to read aloud from the last chapter which dealt with the Great War, I was mocked for my mispronunciation of ‘the warring navies’, which I rendered as though the last word was spelt with two ‘v’s, thus conjuring a picture of labourers swarming out of the trenches brandishing picks and shovels.
And then I chanced on Sir Daniel, and it dawned on my infant mind that history (in his case Elizabethan or Restoration, I forget which) was not only a sober record of the past, but a wonderland of action and excitement, where gallant adventurers swaggered and fought and intrigued, usually for patriotic but occasionally for mercenary reasons, against sinister enemies, most of them foreign, and life was a series of battles, escapes, ambushes, rescues, conspiracies, duels, and general romantic activity. I knew it was fiction, of course; only later did I discover that true history left fiction far behind.