Wednesday, March 25, 2009
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
I’ve always been fond of “swashbuckler” novels, and one of the best practitioners in this genre was Rafael Sabatini. A prolific author – writing some 30+ novels, numerous short stories, and several works of non-fiction (including a biography of the notorious Inquisitor General, Torquemada) – Sabatini developed a formula that usually included the following characteristics: (a) a momentous period of history; (b) an intelligent, resourceful young man, who is an adventurer, either by avocation or by accident; (c) a love interest that goes haywire but is righted in the end; and (d) one or more nefarious plotters who come within a hair of ensnaring the hero, but who are ultimately outwitted. In Sabatini’s novels we encounter Jacobites, French Royalists, Venetian patriots fighting against Napoleon, and American colonists in the struggle for independence from Britain (to mention only a few).
George MacDonald Fraser was an admirer of Sabatini, and contributed a forward to a reissue of Captain Blood (which he preferred to Treasure Island). Several of the novels were made into movies (starting in the silent film era), with perhaps the most famous being the aforementioned Captain Blood, which was released in 1935 and starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (connoisseurs of pirate movies may also recall the 1942 film, The Black Swan, with Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara).
Although formulaic, the novels never pall, due to the elegant prose, the masterful plotting, the wry humor and the care taken in developing the personalities of even the secondary characters. Through diligent searches conducted in used-book stores and at library sales, I have assembled a collection of 15 or so of the novels (plus Torquemada and The Life of Cesare Borgia) and have yet to find one of Sabatini’s books that is not enthralling. It is escapist literature that is great fun (and who among us does not feel the need, at least occasionally, to steal away from what we are pleased to call “reality” for an hour or two?)