Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Man And His Rep

A reputation is a curious phenomenon. When a man gets one, he and it can part company or he can find himself in a time and place where his reputation is unknown so that he is back to being just a regular guy. If a series character routinely saves the world, or whatever they do, then later instalments should reflect his growing reputation among his equally fictitious contemporaries. We can illustrate this process by comparing:

Poul Anderson's Big Four (we know who they are by now - OK, they are van Rijn, Falkayn, Flandry and Everard);
James Blish's Kennedy/Ktendi;
Ian Fleming's James Bond;
Alan Moore's Evey Hammond;
Stieg Larsson's Mikael Blomkvist;
SM Stirling's Aylward the Archer.

I compare Anderson with a regular rota of other writers of rich texts.

To begin on a more modest scale, once when addressing a public meeting in Lancaster, I introduced myself, then added, "I am generally known around here as Aileen's dad, which gives me some street cred in Lancaster!" (Laughter.)

The narrator of "The Master Key" knows that Nicholas van Rijn is:

"...the single-handed conqueror of Borthu, Diomedes, and t'Kela!"
-Poul Anderson, "The Master Key" IN Anderson, David Falkayn: Star Trader (New York, 2010), pp. 275-327 AT p. 281 -

- and so do we if we have read the relevant three instalments.

David Falkayn becomes famous when he and his crew together with their employer, van Rijn, avert a threat to Technic civilisation but, later, when he is held prisoner in another planetary system, he is told that he is not famous in that volume of space.

The second time we meet Flandry in his original series he is rightly addressed as:

"'Dominic Flandry, the single-handed conqueror of Scothania...'"
-Poul Anderson, "Honorable Enemies" IN Anderson, Captain Flandry Defender Of The Terran Empire (New York, 2010), pp. 277-302 AT p. 280.

When Duke Edwin Cairncross meets Flandry, he says:

"'So this is the legendary Admiral Flandry.'"
-Poul Anderson, A Stone In Heaven IN Anderson, Flandry's Legacy (New York, 2012), pp. 3-188 AT p. 37.

Flandry replies by distinguishing between the legend and the reality:

"'No, the objectively real, Admiral Flandry, I hope.'" (ibid.)

He hopes that he is the real Flandry, not a fictional one! Cairncross knows what Flandry achieved on Chereion even though this exploit has not been publicised.

A Time Patrol colleague tells Manse Everard:

"'Heard something about you at the school. Seems you led quite an adventurous life even before you joined. And afterward -'"
-Poul Anderson, "The Sorrow Of Odin The Goth" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), pp. 333-465 AT p. 353.

We know about the "afterward." We also gather, as the series progresses, that Everard gains an informal senior status even among his fellow Unattached agents.

James Blish's character, Kennedy:

The Night Shapes combines two Edgar Rice Burroughs themes: African adventure and living dinosaurs (Tarzan and The Land That Time Forgot). Its central character, Kit Kennedy, has a strange affinity not with apes but with snakes and is a living legend: Ktendi, Son of Wisdom, King of the Wassabi, Master of Serpents. One officious European, unaware that he is addressing the source of the legend, says:

“There’s no such thing as Ktendi…And, as for you, Mr Kennedy, why don’t you mind your own business?" 2
-copied from here.

James Bond is a secret agent but some of his exploits are publicised. A former friend and colleague then writes some inaccurate popular accounts.

Alan Moore's Evey assists the terrorist, V. She overhears one of her interrogators commenting, "So this scrawny specimen is the famous Evey Hammond!" He is simultaneously contrasting the reality with the legend and flattering her as "famous." (Quoting from memory rather than digging DC Comics V For Vendetta out of a box in the cellar.)

Mikael Blomkvist, journalist, exposes some bank robbers and is nicknamed "Kalle" after a fictitious character. Then he gets a rep as an investigative journalist and is much seen on TV.

When a messenger announces:

"'I'm looking for the First Armsman of Clan Mackenzie, Aylward the Archer...'"
-SM Stirling, A Meeting At Corvallis (New York, 2007), Chapter Nine, p. 221 -

and Sam replies:

"'That's me...'" (ibid.) -

he gets:

"...the expecting someone taller look he often did from those who knew him by reputation only." (ibid.) -

and responds:

"'Sorry if I don't live up to the stories.'" (ibid.)

I couldn't have put it better myself.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I think Anson Guthrie, both the man and the downloads, should be included in any list of major continuing characters created by Poul Anderson. Guthrie is a major character in three out of the four HARVEST OF STARS books.

And I appreciated Flandry's somewhat ruefully self deprecating humor with Edwin Cairncross. It reminded me of what Admiral Walton said about Flandry in Chapter XV of WE CLAIM THESE STARS: "The admiral sat unmoving a moment Then his mouth crinkled. 'You're incorrigible,' he said. 'And spare me that stock answer, 'No, I'm Flandry.' "