That’s The Joke?

It’s official.

This book is tedious.

For those who don’t know, the Harry Flashman series of novels follows a member of the British light dragoons/hussars through various Napoleonic era adventures.  Harry is the villain of the piece and…that’s the joke?

In the first few chapters he plows his father’s mistress, attempts to rape her when she refuses a second tumble, lies to everyone around him, cheats at a duel, reneges on the bribe promised to a co-conspirator, toadies and sucks up to the brass, and then sets up for – this is where my experience ends.  Contrast this with his fictional contemporary, Richard Sharpe, who might be conniving and selfish but at least manages to show some spine and honor and dignity.  Sharpe might not be a boy scout, but at least he is a relatively decent fellow.

Flashman has no redeeming qualities, and with a dozen or more follow-up titles the series offers no hope of a justified comeuppance.  His saga isn’t even the story of an anti-hero – an unlikable man who happens to do the right thing for reasons of his own.  It isn’t a cautionary tale, warning the reader of the dangers of following in Flashman’s footsteps.  It almost delights in the fact that Flashman dances through the raindrops of his own folly.  It reminds me very much of the works of Marion Zimmer Bradley – loathsome people reveling in their filth and laughing at the reader for finding them despicable.

It’s a very strange thing that such a book should become so popular, and the more I hear from Flashman fans the more being a Flashman fan raises a red flag in my mind.  It takes a very odd and sad sort of person to enjoy climbing into the skull of Flashman for hours on end.

For my part, there are enough Flashmans out there in the real world that reading Fraser’s works provides no escape from the real world. It offers no lessons, no wisdom, and no insight.

The best you can do is “Here is how narcissists find a way to justify their bad behavior,” and that is no major feat at all.  Heck, ten minutes reading Twitter will let you drink from that firehose until you’re ready to burst.  Fans of Flashman will protest that his actions are funny, but I’ve yet to hear any of them elucidate why.

Idiocracy | Marvel Presents Salò
I have my suspicions.

My own preference for fiction revolves around the inspirational, the heroic, and the noble.  Heroism in the late stages of Pax America seldom makes the newspapers, and more often than not only makes the papers when it can be painted as villainy.  Ask anyone who ever choked out a violent crackhead on the subway about that.

John Carter, with a hat tip to Jeffro Johnson for the reminder.

Heroism is worth the price of admission, and reminding yourself of what it takes to be a hero is a better use of your time.  Getting into the head of a hero, and training yourself to think like a hero, pays much greater dividends in the long run.