Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Why did nobody tell me about McAuslan?

How have I spent decades actively reading and only found out about the McAuslan stories a month or so ago? A famous series by George MacDonald Fraser, it apparently influenced later authors like Terry Pratchett. The stories consist of Fraser tweaking his experiences as an officer just after World War II just enough to make them fictional and funny. 

As I have often written, since 2020 has been such a stressful year (for everyone!) and I‘ve been on the lookout for decompressing reading. Which, curiously enough doesn’t necessarily mean fluff. I’ve been reading heaps of L. Sprague de Camp who certainly has a lot of joy in his writing but there’s meaning there too.

(Oddly enough, Wodehouse, one of my favorite authors and a master of frothy writing, has not worked for me. Maybe I’ve read so much of him that my tolerance is too high?)

Back to George McDonald Fraser. So I read The General Danced at Dawn, the first McAuslan collection. The stories are actually about the narrator, Lieutenant Dand MacNeill, who is in a Scottish Battalion that manages to live up to most of stereotypes of Scotland. McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world, isn’t even featured in half the stories but, boy, is he memorable when he dies show up.

The stories are an undeniably biased view of the British army in the 1950s with each story being about another misadventure that have to be muddled though. And that might be why the stories worked so well for me right now. They are grounded in reality, in Fraser’s actual experiences. But things do work out and problems do get solved. It’s a view of an imperfect world but a hopeful one. It actually takes me back to stories I heard from veterans as a child.

From what I’ve read, Fraser had an old fashioned view of the world, particularly in regards to woman and minorities and some people of that bleeds through. I do keep that in mind as I read his works. It’s not flawless but he has a great voice and there’s some stuff to ponder.

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