Thursday, January 9, 2014
The Prisoner Of Zenda - Anthony Hope
Now that I'm mostly grown up (despite an inability to do homework in a timely manner or go to bed before midnight when I have to be up at 6) and have finally read it this is a book I'm prepared to be very enthusiastic about. It's pure boys own romance with swashbuckling hero's, a beautiful Princess to protect, and something rather splendid in the villain line. I fell in love with the book on the first page, the first paragraph even where the hero's sister in law is asking him when he's going to do something with his life and he replies with a why should I - Rudolph Rassendyll declares he's comfortable, well connected, has almost enough money (as he so rightly points out 'no one's income is ever quite sufficient') and is generally in the enviable position of being able to please himself in any way he sees fit.
The plot hinges on Rudolph Rassendyll's uncanny likeness to Rudolph Elphberg about-to-be-crowned-king of Ruritania. This is due to a Rassendyll lady having an illicit liaison with a previous Prince of Ruritania in 1733. To escape his sister in laws hints about getting a job Rudolph heads of to the continent for a bit of a holiday, planning to take in the coronation on Ruritania on his travels. There he falls in with the King, gets drunk with him, and after the king is drugged and kidnapped by his half brother is persuaded to step into the royal shoes to foil the dastardly Black Michael.
It seems that Hope wrote the book in just a month - it certainly has an indefinable air about it of something that rolled off the pen quickly (in a good way). There is plenty of action, plenty of humour, and just a dash of hopeless romance all of which was very satisfying reading. There is also a lot of talk about honour which makes for interesting reading. Rassendyll finds himself in a position where he could reasonably easily keep the crown (Black Michael who wants it can't expose Rassendyll without exposing himself in the process) being King means getting the girl and it is that which is the honourable Rudolph's temptation, not the crown.
Our minister for education has got himself all over the media at the moment for attacking left wing historians for the way the first world war is taught in schools (with particular reference to comedies such as Blackadder). January is a slow news month and it being 2014 WW1 is going to be topical. It seems an ill judged attack, Rupert Graves, Seigfried Sassoon, and any number of others made the point long before Blackadder did but reading 'The Prisoner of Zenda' allows a glimpse of a pre war mind set. Here is exactly the sort of attitude which must have carried countless young men off to war in a spirit of adventure, patriotism, and a sense of doing the right thing - of being honourable. 'The Lost Prince' was the book that pushed me to read this one, but 'The Lost Prince' was written during the war and it's tempting to read it's patriotic fervour as a call to arms Zenda is born of, and reinforces, a cultural code (there is a really good bit in the introduction about it which I must read properly) that existed in the years leading up to the war so if you want the other side of the story here it is.