Mallory Ortberg’s Ayn Rand’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a few months old, but today it happened to be making the rounds on my Facebook newsfeed. It’s evergreen anyway, and it recalled to mind a C.S. Lewis fanfic project I’ve been wanting to undertake for years.
In The Flashman Papers, George MacDonald Fraser borrowed Flashman, the antagonist from the Victorian classic Tom Brown’s School Days, and wrote for him a glamorous career as a soldier, spy, empire-builder, and commentator on 19th-century historical controversies. As envisioned by Thomas Hughes, his creator, the original Flashman was a coward, as well as a bully and a drunkard. Fraser re-invests him with these traits and makes him a cad into the bargain. Nevertheless, wherever he goes, Flashman wins laurels. If his wiles and dumb luck don’t make him an actual hero, his superiors, rendered credulous by their cramped Victorian worldview, hail him as one. Along the way, not unlike Forrest Gump, he meets practically every important soldier, statesman, and ruler of the time, and Fraser has won praise for his detailed and credible depictions of historical battles and intrigues.
Fraser has Flashman narrate own adventures. His voice — humorous, truculent, full of bravado and philistinism — sounds like an authentic product of a Victorian officers’ mess. Christopher Hitchens, a fan, once likened it to Bertie Wooster’s, and indeed there is a distant family resemblance, though Flashman’s is far more observant and cunning.
The books, which number 11 novels and a collection of short stories, follow a formula: Flashman is sent off on an impossible-sounding mission — usually one involving espionage and disguise — to some far-flung corner of the British Empire. He goes unwillingly, but he goes. And on reaching his destination, he seduces (or is seduced by) a near-Amazon. Some of Flashman’s lust interests, like Lola Montez and Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, are historical figures.
Anyway, I have always wanted to see how Flashman would fare in Narnia. The two series share some common elements, including upper-middle-class English people who find themselves quite unexpectedly in exotic lands, where they are bidden to conduct hazardous military operations among strange and terrifying enemies. C.S. Lewis has been accused of harboring narrow views of women and Near Easterners; Flashman took such views to be self-evidently true.
I never did get so far as inventing a plot, but here are some excerpts that, I hope, will give a hint of Flashman’s personality. How well, I wonder, does he fit in?
I’d been given marching orders from some of the most ruthless schemers of my day – Otto Bismarck and Rudi Starnberg, old Pam and Akbar Khan, to name just a few. But being dispatched into some Cloud Cuckoo kingdom of bashi-bazooks who worshipped a stone vulture, by a lion who talked like a parody of Arnold, was a little too much even for a cool hand like old Flashy.
But then the brute rumbled at me: “Take courage, Son of Adam. Do not be afraid.”
Bigad, it sounded like it hadn’t eaten a hussar all day and was getting ravenous. The longer I stood inside its pouncing range, the more political work in some sunny place sounded like a capital idea. “Uh, very reassuring, sir,” I told him. “I’m keen as mustard to be on my way.”
The bint stood seven feet if she stood an inch, and her face was as white as a drowned corpse’s. She and Ranavalona would have made quite a pretty pair, I thought. And, Christ, was she in a taking – like a memsahib who’s spotted stains on the tea service.
“Damn your impertinence!” She cried. “Did I give you leave to look me in the eye? Bow before your empress or be turned to stone!”
Steady, old son, thinks I. “Your Majesty may do with me as she wishes,” I said, adding the faintest quiver to my voice. “But one look into your eyes has melted my heart forever.”
And didn’t roses bloom on those cold ivory cheeks. The high-spirited mort ain’t been born who can stand up to flattery, especially when it issues from between a set of cavalry whiskers.
One look at Rabadash had icicles growing from my innards. Aye, didn’t I know his kind well enough: vain, impulsive, and cruel as Lucifer. He’d march 50 divisions off the nearest cliff to carry a point and settle down to breakfast on melon and sherab. He might also, I knew, send an emissary home in upwards of 50 boxes, so I made sure to toady for all I was worth.
“Your Highness is aware, I trust, that your own country and Narnia have signed a non-aggression pact,” says I, civil as butter. “If some, ah, point of contention has arisen, why, that’s nothing a little diplomacy can’t solve.”
“Diplomacy!” He snapped, and I could tell he was wondering how my ears might look on a necklace. But then he smiled. “Very well, O servant of peace. Tell me, can diplomacy make your Queen Susan surrender to me at discretion? Can it unlock the false jade’s loins and open her womb to my heirs?”
So that was it — cherchez la femme, as our friends the French like to say. I thought of Gul Shah, my old enemy from Mogala, who’d tried his damndest to send me to my death down a snake pit for rutting with some nautch-dancer who happened to be his fiancée. Damme, these wogs get attached to their women – easy come, easy go, has always been my motto.