Anyone for Adventure?

Author:Skinner, Peter
Position:Book review

Work Title: Anyone for Adventure?

Work Author(s): Peter Skinner


Byline: Peter Skinner

Wolf of the Steppes (606 pages, softcover, $19.95, 0-8032-8048-3) and Warriors of the Steppes (634 pages, softcover, $19.95, 0-8032-8049-1): Vols I and II of The Complete Cossack Adventures, by Harold Lamb, published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Khlit of the Curved Saber, the rugged Cossack hero created by the gentle, scholarly Harold Lamb, roams from the Ukraine to China, and is endearingly non-PC. To him, women were "part of the baggage of Poles and Turks, useful in serving wine and cooking food" and strangers were unwelcome: " 'Flat-Face,' he grunted, 'I may slay you.' " Lamb (1892--1962) could not claim the in-the-field observation that informs Tolstoy's The Cossacks or the harsh realism that fuels Gogol's Taras Bulba, but he was a formidably colorful wordsmith and a skilled user of old histories---he drew upon Purchas His Pilgrimes (1626) for his description of the Assassins' HQ-castle in Persia, as did Coleridge for his poem "Xanadu."

The ten tales of Volume I pit Khlit in solo missions against the Cossacks' traditional enemies---the Mongols and Tatars. Bandit khans scowl, chief eunuchs go about their sinister errands, and the lips of dark-eyed favorites "curl scornfully" in this high-octane narrative. Volume II takes us to seventeenth-century Afghanistan, where Khlit, Abdul Dhost, and the English adventurer-agent Sir Ralph Weyand play for high stakes against Mogul India. Much colorful history propels events, and the "tiger-waisted ... tight-bodiced" Retha plays an exotic-erotic cameo role. Volumes III and IV will appear in 2007; Howard Andrew Jones, the capable editor, should crown this splendid enterprise with a needed Volume V: An Historical Companion.

Tales of Cannibals and Headhunters, by Jack London (University of New Mexico Press, 276 pages, softcover, $24.95, 0-8263-3791-0)

Jack London (1876-1916) led an action-packed life before his possibly self-assisted death. Today, The Call of the Wild and White Fang overshadow his masterful short stories. Nine of them, in settings ranging from Tahiti to the Solomons, written during and after the troubled voyage of the Snark, a forty-five-foot ketch-rigged boat London sailed on a proposed round-the-world voyage, were collected as South Sea Tales in 1911; seven of these, plus two others, appear here. Given the perceptive introductions and notes of the industrious editor-commentators Gary...

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