Beyond Hope: Non-Canonical Ruritania
A good-natured, bawdy romp as part of the Flashman series, with Harry Flashman replacing an abducted Prince as Bismarck attempts to annexe the Grand Duchy of Strakencz (Fraser adroitly employs a number of names from the canon). Lola Montez also puts in an appearance! Fraser is a great fan of swashbuckling films, and it shows: the dashing but unscrupulous Rudi von Starnberg is a splendid rendition of the Fairbanks portrayal of Rupert of Hentzau! The punchline comes at the end, as the older Flashman tells us that he has told this story to his lawyer, Hawkins... So we must assume that it is Flashy's memoirs which will inspire the novel to be written by (Anthony Hope) Hawkins!
In a throw-away incident in this interesting modern addition to the Sherlock Holmes mythos, Holmes encounters Rassendyll , then on his way home from Ruritania, on a train. A nice idea but it depends on the assumption that Hope's stories are set in the time when they were written - which is clearly not the case, from Fritz's framing narrative in Rupert of Hentzau.
A science-fiction re-working of The Prisoner of Zenda, only with android doubles (its original working-title was The Androids of Zenda). Tom Baker was the Doctor, and Mary Tamm played four roles: Romana and Princess Strella, and android doubles of each. The villain, Count Grendel of Gracht (combining the plot-functions of both Rupert and Michael), was played by Peter Jeffrey. The 1980 novelisation was by Terrance Dicks, who was script-editor on the 1984 BBC serialisation of The Prisoner of Zenda.
More science-fiction: part of a series which pits 27C terrorists the Timekeepers against the Time Commandos of the US Army Temporal Corps in a series of adventures based around classic novels (others in the series include The Ivanhoe Gambit and The Pimpernel Plot). It's an amusing enough idea, and has Rassendyll being murdered and replaced by one of the Commandos, Master Sergeant Finn Delaney, while Antoinette's rôle is filled (after a fashion) by a Timekeeper dominatrix, Falcon/Countess Sophia.
Hawke sets his story in 1891 - which again suggests he has not picked up on the time-frame established in the sequel - and positions Ruritania in the Balkans, much further south than Hope indicated. He also makes it a tiny "vestpocket kingdom", when Hope clearly indicates that it has played a significant part in European politics and history, and that at least in one direction, Strelsau is some 60 miles from the border. Hawke doesn't seem to have much of a clue about appropriate foodstuffs, wherever he'se set it, anyway.
Another problem is that he takes on board the value-judgements and allegiances of the original novel without questioning its first-person narrative. (How much more interesting it would have been had his characters discovered that Rassendyll was on the wrong side....!)
Hawke also changes the nature of the political divisions in Ruritania. In Hope's original novel, it is clear that the conflict is partly a class-war - the impoverished Altstadt against the privileged Neustadt. Hawke, however, depicts Michael buying the favour of the influential and powerful, and having some army backing. He also ignores the fact that Rudolf is an absolute monarch: his triumph would not mean him merely reigning, with government delegated to more capable hands (as Hawke seems to think), but government in the hands of a dissolute incompetent. Even Strelsau, in Hope's original novel a disturbing, deeply divided city with its extremes of wealth and poverty and social unrest, is given a gemütlich make-over as a "warm and cozy" place where "Bedraggled paupers walked side by side with well-dressed citizens and neither gave the other a wide berth". I suspect that these changes may be to ensure reader-loyalties stay with Rudolf/Finn, rather than raising issues of social justice and allowing Michael to be seen as the champion of the working-class.
Mind, for æsthetic reasons I quite liked the description of Michael as a dark, gaunt, Dostoevskian young man ;-D However, I tend to see him as more the Turgen'ev type: with his burning brown eyes and hints of TB, he strikes me as closer to Insarov than Raskol'nikov. He's a rebel with a cause, not (as Hawke seems to think) merely driven by an aggrieved sense of superiority. Hawke's glossing over of the socio-political tensions in Ruritania weakens Michael's motivation, and serves only to paint him even 'blacker'. What I didn't like was the incident of Sophia beating him up. Sophia's a great, vampy, campy villainess (I wish she hadn't been killed off, but women like her usually are - I was reminded of Hilda von Einem in Buchan's Greenmantle), but the general violence in the book is far more explicit than in Hope's, and some of it is entirely gratuitous.
A modern adventure, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, in which Karl, the great-grandson of Rudolf Rassendyll and Queen Flavia, goes to post-Communist Ruritania, where he gets mixed up with various rebels and religious sects before ending up as constitutional monarch. There are some amusing touches - Karl, the son of left-wing parents, is wary of admitting to the Ruritanians that his middle name is Marx! There is also a nod to the recent investigations re: the Romanovs in that DNA testing of Elphberg remains plays a part in identifying Karl as the King.
However, Spurling could as easily have set this story in a fictional country of his own devising. The Hope canon is only there as background, and is violated even as it is invoked. We are asked to ignore the framing device in Rupert of Hentzau, which implies a setting in the 1870s, and take the Hope novels as happening in the 1890s. We are also asked to believe that Rassendyll did not die in Rupert of Hentzau, but was spirited out of the country, and that Flavia had secret trysts with him, resulting in a child who was brought up by the Rassendyll family. Rassendyll was then killed trying to rescue Flavia during the First World War; she became increasingly unhinged and was crushed under a Nazi tank in 1938. Also, reflecting contemporary concerns re: ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe, Ruritania is depicted as having violent divisions between German and Slavic-speaking populations. Again, this is un-canonical: Hope clearly shows that all ranks of Ruritanian society, from peasant to King, are German-speaking, although some of the place-names may suggest a Sorb/Wendish element historically.
One is left with the feeling that Spurling's adventure could have easily been made to stand on its own feet without exploiting the Ruritania mythos. In particular, overturning the powerful tragic ending of Hope's trilogy seems to me a step too far: to invoke one of the ground rules of fanfic for non-magical universes, if a character not only dies but is buried under the reader's gaze, (indeed, in Rassendyll's case, given a state funeral!) he must stay dead.
The first cut won't hurt at all,