Saturday, April 6, 2013
The Golden Lynx: Scarlet Pimpernel in 16th Century Russia?
I very much enjoyed The Golden Lynx by C. P. Lesley. It takes place in 16th century Russia. Its protagonist is very unique. Nasan is an Islamic Tatar among the Christians of Russia. Yet she refuses to confine herself to the expected women's role in either society. She is a liminal figure--caught betwixt and between. This is my favorite type of hero. Yet I have a basic disagreement with the author which is the main subject of this review.
I am very particular about swashbuckling heroes with or without masks. C.P. Lesley promotes this book as a novel about a female Scarlet Pimpernel. To me, Scarlet Pimpernel means something rather specific. The Scarlet Pimpernel was created by Baroness Orczy. He was an English aristocrat who rescued French aristocrats from the clutches of the Jacobin rulers of revolutionary France who were executing aristocrats as counter-revolutionaries even if they have done nothing that was at all counter-revolutionary. The Scarlet Pimpernel spirited them out of France so that they could take refuge in England. I feel that if I want to broaden the definition of Scarlet Pimpernel to include a context outside of revolutionary France, there needs to be some elements in common with the original. I have established such commonalities in discussion of The Black Knave by Patricia Potter. This is a historical romance taking place in 18th century Scotland after the Battle of Culloden. There is a character called The Black Knave who rescues Jacobites from the English and gets them out of the country. Although Jacobins and Jacobites sound similar, they should be considered on opposite sides of the political spectrum. The Jacobins ostensibly believed in democratic rule though they enforced their beliefs in a very dictatorial fashion. They had overthrown the King of France. They are the antagonists of the Scarlet Pimpernel. The Jacobites were monarchists who wanted to restore the House of Stuart to the English throne. The Battle of Culloden was the final defeat of the Jacobites. (See my March post "Playing Red Rover with William Wallace" for further discussion of Jacobites.) They are the people who The Black Knave was protecting. There are very clear parallels between The Black Knave and The Scarlet Pimpernel. They were both rescuing the supporters of a defeated cause and sending them to safety. So I am perfectly comfortable with referring to The Black Knave as a Scottish Scarlet Pimpernel.
One of the reasons why I loved Isabel Allende's version of Zorro is because he became briefly involved with a secret organization called La Justicia which smuggled those accused of heresy by the Inquisition out of Spain. That's the sort of thing that the Scarlet Pimpernel did. Allende gave Zorro a Scarlet Pimpernel aspect.
The central character of The Golden Lynx leads a double life like The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Black Knave. No one knows the true identity of The Golden Lynx. Does this make The Golden Lynx a Scarlet Pimpernel? No, I don't think so. There are many heroic characters who lead a double life. One might as well compare The Golden Lynx to Wonder Woman, and possibly find more common ground. I believe that it is the activities of The Scarlet Pimpernel that define him. The Golden Lynx rescues people, but they are not in the same category as those that The Scarlet Pimpernel rescues.
The Golden Lynx could not be called a Robin Hood figure either. For one thing, she isn't a thief. A Robin Hood is a thief, but not just any thief. He is as specific as the Scarlet Pimpernel. He is a thief who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. If someone calls a thief who robs for his own benefit a Robin Hood, I become irate. Why get upset? Robin Hood is a mythic figure who has been tremendously meaningful to a great many people over the centuries. I hate to see the Robin Hood myth tarnished. He is a hero who stands for an important principle. What principle do Robin Hood, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Golden Lynx represent? They are all concerned with justice. Yet this doesn't make them all the same.
I am interested in what made Nasan different from other historical heroes I've encountered. She is not purely Islamic. She retains a faith in the protection of "the Grandmothers" from her pre-Islamic Tatar heritage. One of her idols was the Princess Chichek. When I did a search on her, I discovered that Chichek was a Khazar princess. I am aware that the Khazar kingdom converted to Judaism. So the fact that Chichek belonged to a religion different from her own didn't stop Nasan from admiring her. I liked her respect for religious diversity which isn't a typical perspective in the historical fiction that I've read taking place in 16th century Europe. I'm impressed with her even though I don't consider her a Scarlet Pimpernel figure.