January 11, 2004

Gallant

Orin Judd, writing on the anti-Americanism of author John Le Carré

...The loathsome Mr. LeCarre said something revealing in an Entertainment Weekly profile: that he's not anti-American, in fact he believes in the American ideals that prevailed from Jefferson to Kennedy. This conveniently ends his admiration of America just as Vietnam hotted up and we demonstrated that we were in deadly earnest about defeating the Soviet Union, which is why so many Europeans hate us. Even worse than Vietnam was the Reagan presidency, when he had the audacity to call communism evil and to recommit us to its defeat. And, of course, now we've another president leading a crusade against evil and stoking Euro hatred. How can they help but hate us, who believe so fiercely in Western/Judeo-Christian values, long after they've ceased to believe in anything? We remind them of what they were when they mattered and show them what they've become, a fetid secular culture hastening towards its death...
No need to be diplomatic, Mr Judd. Go ahead and say what you think...

I had long ago an infatuation with Le Carré's books, beginning when I read the dazzling Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. I still have a bad taste in my mouth, sort of what I might feel if I had been involved with a floozy. I didn't realize what was wrong until years later, when I encountered Anthony Price.

Price was a less talented writer than Le Carré, (though by no means inconsiderable) but his heart was far warmer. In a series of books he created an imaginary department of British Intelligence, which avoided the catastrophic defections and subsequent dreary hopelessness that Le Carré portrayed so brilliantly. His characters in the "Research and Development" department fight the Cold War with wit and cunning and decency nicely leavened with a sort of schoolboy ferocity that delights in nasty revenges upon the deserving. And they are "gallant," the more so because they are far from being sure that they are going to win. The spirit of Kipling pervades the series, and Price quoted several times the words of the Roman officer defending Hadrian's Wall in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill. Pertinax tells the invading Picts that he won't surrender even though doomed, because "The Wall must be won at a price."

Anthony Price did one very unusual thing. He avoided, at least partly, the usual flaw in a series of books with the same characters, which is that they tend to be the same book written over and over again. Though he has a regular cast of characters, each book is written from the perspective of a different person. A minor character in one book may be the protagonist of the next. Very effective.

I kind of lost interest in Price after the end of the Cold War, and put his books on a high shelf with things not likely to be needed. But it occurs to me that we are once again fighting a secretive and deadly war with the enemies of freedom. And once again those on the Wall earn the sneers and contempt of nihilists like Le Carré. Perhaps I'll pick up Price's books again. If you are interested, you might start with The Labyrinth Makers or perhaps Gunner Kelly.

..."'But Maximus has given you your dismissal," said an elder. "You are certainly free to serve�or to rule�whom you please. Join�do not follow�join us!"

"'We thank you," said Pertinax. "But Maximus tells us to give you such messages as�pardon me, but I use his words�your thick heads can understand." He pointed through the door to the foot of a catapult wound up.

"'We understand," said an elder. "The Wall must be won at a price?"

"'It grieves me," said Pertinax, laughing, "but so it must be won," and he gave them of our best Southern wine.

'They drank, and wiped their yellow beards in silence till they rose to go...

-- Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill

Posted by John Weidner at January 11, 2004 5:30 PM
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