Tuesday, December 05, 2006

By C.S. Forester

Nowadays the “mash-up” is very fashionable. You take two recognizable things: characters, singers, design elements, songs, what have you; and then you mix them together. The more incongruous the better (a Hello Kitty Darth Vader? Christopher Walken reads Goodnight Moon?). What is less known is that serious artists have pursued the mash-up, witness The Daughter of the Hawk, by C.S. Forester.

The protagonist is an Englishman named Henry Dawkins who is imprisoned in a particularly brutal South American prison. Forester details Dawkins’ background as a lieutenant of “The Hawk”, a rebel leader. The Hawk dies in battle, but first extracts a promise that Dawkins will seek out his daughter in far-away London. All Dawkins has to do is survive a savage prison camp and escape from a remote Pacific island.

Then it gets weird: Dawkins is pretty much a classic pulp action hero, strong, iron willed, speaking little, and acting with ruthless determination when necessary. Be assured this is the story of the Daughter of the Hawk. She happens to be a girl of singular determination herself. Honestly, I thought the possibilities of dropping a pulp hero into London society amid church socials and parent-teacher conferences could make for a very unique story. But Forester was aiming for a more naturalistic effect. The novel faithfully follows the gentle adjustments of a wild adventurer settling into ordinary life. After strangling a man with your bare hands in a battle for your life, picking a governess is a trifle anti-climatic. Still, many readers surfeited with pulp conventions (as many no doubt were when Hawk was first published in 1928) will find the latter part of Hawk to be a gentle diversion.

It’s not entirely without conflict, but it comes from the distaff side. The Hawk’s daughter may not be a killer, but she doesn’t let much get in her way. The novel ends with a jarring coda, which may or may not creep the bejeezuz out of you dear reader. Me I take it all with a grain of salt.
-Dave Hardy

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