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Why You Should Read the Flashman Papers

Barrel Shooter

Why You Should Read the Flashman Papers (All of Them)

Most of our readers will feel a hollow ache when perceiving the contemporary state of politics, military, and state affairs. It’s all been sand-blasted and had the serial numbers filed off. Nameless bureaucrats are held at an unbridgeable distance from the consequences of their own actions. We all suffer.

There was a different world once, and may be again: the world of Flashman. It is an historical-fiction world populated by colorful, intelligent, and impressive characters, written by George McDonald Fraser, a Scottish veteran of the Burma campaign in World War 2. Fraser also wrote in Hollywood.

Fraser’s most recognizable works are the Flashman Papers, a series of books about Harry Paget Flashman—a cad, rake, and self-confessed coward of the great Victorian age. The books are presented as Flashy’s memoirs written in deep old age, reminiscing of his exploits in many a covert mission, open war, and unwilling adventure. There are 12 Flashman books, easily divisible into three groups, which are not related chronologically or in publishing order.

The Flashy Exotic Cycle: Odysseus in the Nude

The easiest set of Flashman books to go through are Flashman’s Lady,

Flashman and the Dragon, Flashman on the March and Flashman and the Great Game. Each of these follow a similar formula wherein our hero is sent as an intelligence and political operative (sometimes willing and knowing) into unusual locales, or is simply swept up in an adventure beyond his ken.

These novels are pulpy, adventurous, raucous and unapologetically fun. Flashman is taken to exotic destinations. He escapes torture, seduces princesses, lies through his teeth, and generally has a swashbuckling time of things.

The real value of these stories does not lie in mere entertainment, however.

Flashman is put into situations where he must go native, learn the local language, and as Fraser would put it “play the wicket, and catch as catch can.” What shines through in all of Flashy’s misadventures is his overabundance of swank and style, where even dressed as an Indian horse merchant he’s able to win the love of ladies and mercy of captors.

Seeing that skillset in action, which was instilled into Flashy from his days at Rugby School with Tom Brown, is a love letter to the great institutions of a great time, when young men would receive significant charges and missions, but first the tutelage needed to execute them. The value of this must not be lost on the reader—there is something about bearing, confidence, and a winning posture that makes the world yield.

Reading these Flashman books will make the reader understand how to comport themselves better, exude a spirit of daring-do, and generally increase their ability to be pleasant and win the confidence of those around them—a capital skill to have in any world.

The Flashy Political Cycle: The Anglo Sees Through!

The original Flashman, as well as Royal Flash, Flashman at the Charge, Flashman and the Mountain of Light, and Flashman and the Tiger—these entries are, despite their comedic and picaresque elements, thoroughly researched and intelligently written historical fiction, even more so than the Exotic Cycle.

In all these books, Flash is thrust into complex situations like the Schleswig-Holstein Question, the Berlin Conference, and the Anglo-Russian Great Game. Flashy’s views of these political matters, partly due to his frank lack of pomposity, are straightforward and without dubiety or equivocation.

He knows exactly what is politically feasible, and is a master at predicting complex outcomes by simple low cunning. Flashman wastes no time on matters of right or wrong, as he is too busy saving his own skin or bedding the next exotic wench! In so doing, revealing himself to be as wise as Nestor in the political sphere.

Many on our side enjoy mentally exercising themselves with complex tabulations of geopolitics—yet, there exists a simple way through. Flashman trusts in his innate and inborn ability to tell fact from fiction, being a consummate liar himself, he sees through others and is a top-shelf intelligence agent.

This part of the Flashman Opus can be transformative in how the reader perceives national interest, political expediency, conflict, and intelligence work. A reader of basic theoretical foundations, after reading these stories, should be able to grasp intuitively and see through political and intelligence matters with an ease which will surprise them.

The Flashman American Saga: What Flashy Really Teaches Us

It is a safe assumption that many readers of this magazine are Americans. Flash for Freedom, Flashman and the Angel of the Lord and Flashman and the Redskins are all set in America, and tread a fine line between the exotic pulp adventure and cerebral political espionage mentioned before.

These stories explore Native American culture, slavery, Antebellum America, the KKK, the California Gold Rush, and many others. Flashy, always by the skin of his teeth, the apparent nobility of his bearing, and pure unwavering cowardice and cries for mercy, is able to make his way out of situations even the likes of Kit Carson or Abraham Lincoln—both of whom he meets—couldn’t.

What’s interesting about Flashy’s American sojourns is not the actual adventures themselves—the politics of Europe and the exoticism of Madagascar are respectively superior in those regards—but the contrast of our hero’s worldview to the developing state of America. He stands at remove and is able to appraise objectively what he sees and experiences in the young republic.

In the same way Flashy is able to see through geopolitical complexity and decide what’s best for himself and (incidentally) for the Empire, he’s quite no-nonsense about the matter of slavery in America, for example. The mindset and attitude of Flashman is what our magazine’s readers would do well to engender —to awaken in themselves the inner Flashman!

Flashman’s main skills in these books are “horsemanship, languages and fornication.” Respectively, these three mean being able to get away fast, to ingratiate oneself and be pleasant to men, and finally to do the same, in a different way, with women. These are indispensable skills for anybody who wants to achieve anything for our side.

Reading Flashman does not instruct one how to be good at fornication nor languages, but reveals a vision of a world that may be. One full of adventure, opportunity, and romantic encounters.

Flashman has no real power—he’s no Alexander or Caesar, yet his life and times make for even better reading than Plutarch’s accounts of the two statesmen. Flashman is a superfluous man even during his own time, despite his role in virtually all the major events of world politics. It’s good that this is so.

Among our readers are many superfluous men, no doubt, but perhaps also a Flashman or two, just waiting to be unleashed. So ride the tiger, or perhaps a comely wench—and live to tell us all the thrilling tale.

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MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

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