As I mentioned, Seraphic has started to continue writing chapters of the ‘Bodis Riper’. And once you have re-re-re-read, and re-re-re-re-read the whole thing, what do you do, waiting for new instalments? You proceed by association: great fiction with crush-worthy male protagonist –> Lord Peter Wimsey –> last Dorothy Sayers novel you gave your mother as a birthday present –> reference to Ruritanian novels.

Ruritarian novels. – No? –Well, well, well: ‘Ruritania’ seems to be the very equivalent of ‘Alice and Bob’ when referring to countries. More specifically, it has become a ‘generic term for any small, imaginary, Victorian or Edwardian Era, European kingdom used as the setting for romance, intrigue and the plots of adventure novels’.

And it all started with this novel: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Antony Hope Hawkins (1894), and its sequel Rupert of Hentzau (1898).

Neither novel, and I would like to stress this, is great art (this is, after all, a series on pop culture). Nevertheless, it makes quite amusing reading, at the very least on a meta-level (I will come back to that phenomenon when addressing Star Trek). The hero is an English gentleman, and the whole story has a lot of stiff upper lip and of the ‘If’ spirit (which it predates, I know, I know). While there is a LOT of cheesiness, a minimum standard of good taste is still maintained in this respect. O yes, there is drama galore, including the story of an entire novel [moderate spoiler alert] with quite some casualties all starting just with a rather unnecessary, or at least imprudent, love letter. But even though you pretty well know what is going to happen (helped by plentiful foreshadowing) tension is kept, and within the rather unrealistic setting, WSoD* is relatively easy. What contributes to this, and also, IMHO, to the artistic value, is that both novels [Spoiler Alert] end sadly, in a way.

Informed by Wikipedia that the expressions of ‘Ruritarian’ and ‘Graustarkian’ novels are used almost synonymously, and seeing that the Graustark series consists of quite a number of novels, I valiantly dived into it. With regret, I have to say. There are very few novels I actually stopped reading. This one came terribly close. In fact, towards the end, I just scanned the text to see if the outcome was as I thought it would be, or if there would be some saving surprise (hint: it was, on the whole, worse than I had thought). The hero (as is the author) is an American, and all through the story, he is great just because he is an American (Not saying the Ruritarian novels are not full of, let us say, patriotic idealization. But at least it is far more subtle, and, within the story, deserved.) And that is another aspect: Even within the story setting, the characters are not only inconsistent and unbelievable, but outright vexing. No WSoD here, no. Towards the end [moderate spoiler alert] I would have viewed the beheading of Grenfal Lorry, if not with approbation, at least with relief. I am (in spite of what I will report on in this series) no reader of the sort of ‘romance’ novels sold at news agents as crassly coloured booklets. Still I suppose that, paradoxically, McCutcheons somewhat greater gift with language makes these his flights of improbable, implausibly, ouright annoying high emotion probably even more painful to read.

Enough. The conclusion of this first installment (and I am just warming up; there is better stuff , hopefully, coming up later): If you wish to pleasantly flush you brain, or are amused by retro pop-culture: Read The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau. Avoid the Graustarkian novels unless you are really thrilled by So-Bad-It’s-Good stuff (and maybe even then).

*Willing Suspension of Disbelief