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George MacDonald Fraser, 1925 - 2008

Author of 'Flashman' historical tales

January 03, 2008|From the Associated Press

George MacDonald Fraser, author of the "Flashman" series of historical adventure yarns, died Wednesday, his publisher said. He was 82.

Fraser died after a battle with cancer, said Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity for Knopf Publishing Group, which will release Fraser's "The Reavers" in the United States in April. Fraser lived on the Isle of Man, off the northwest coast of England.

"Flashman," published in 1969, introduced readers to an enduring literary antihero: the roguish, irrepressible Harry Flashman.

The novel imagined Flashman -- the bullying schoolboy of the 19th century classic "Tom Brown's Schooldays" -- grown up to become a soldier in the British army. In the book and 11 sequels, Flashman fought, drank and womanized his way across the British Empire, Europe and the United States, playing a pivotal role in the century's great historical moments. A vain, cowardly rogue, Flashman nonetheless emerged from each episode covered in glory, rising to the rank of medal-garlanded brigadier general.

Fraser thought his antihero's appeal was not surprising.

"People like rascals; they like rogues," Fraser told the British Broadcasting Corp. in 2006. "I was always on the side of the villain when I was a child and went to the movies. I wanted Basil Rathbone to kill Errol Flynn."

The Flashman books were also praised by critics for their storytelling flair and attention to historical detail. Each installment of the series purported to come from a faux-biographical trove of memoirs -- The Flashman Papers -- discovered in an English attic in the 1960s.

Fraser proudly pointed out that a third of the first book's American reviewers believed the Flashman papers were real.

Some readers and critics found Flashman's 19th century racism and sexism disturbing. But by the time the final book, "Flashman on the March," appeared in 2005, the critical tide had turned in Fraser's favor.

He also had heavyweight literary supporters. Kingsley Amis called him "a marvelous reporter and a first-rate historical novelist," and P.G. Wodehouse was a fan.

Born in Carlisle, England, on April 2, 1925, Fraser served as an infantryman with the British Army in India and Burma during World War II, and later in the Middle East. He worked as a journalist in Britain and Canada for more than 20 years before turning to fiction.

Fraser's screenplays included "The Three Musketeers" (1973), an adaptation of his novel "Royal Flash" (1975), the James Bond movie "Octopussy" (1983) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-adventure movie "Red Sonja" (1985).

He also wrote several nonfiction works, including "Quartered Safe Out Here," a wartime memoir; "Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers"; and "The Hollywood History of the World."

His forthcoming book, "The Reavers," is a historical romp featuring espionage during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Information about where Fraser died and his survivors was incomplete.

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