Top positive review
Men will be men ...
on May 19, 2004
The reviewer who expressed concern that Crofton's Fire was light on military detail has a point. That said, the point is moot. Neither Flashman nor Crofton is, essentially, about military history. The contrast between Flashman and Crofton is, though, a very interesting one.
While the action in Crofton's Fire occurs during various exotic and pedestrian military assignments and engagements of the post- Civil War period, this fine novel is really not about the particulars of military history. Although the developing technology of military killing is central to Crofton's experience and reflection, the novel is not centered on battlefield tactics or weaponry and so forth.
The action of Crofton's Fire is centered on the coming into adulthood of Crofton. The theme here is the difficult but real possibility of building a self, a manhood in this case, in a world of death and dying and doing so without being defined by the horrors of one's time or by the pursuit of the opportunities inherent in skirting those horrors.
Flashman, on the other hand, defines his manhood through pursuit of his ambitions, and by doing whatever it takes to realize them. Crofton, quite the opposite, builds his manhood by transcending ambitions or, put another way, by constraining his ambitions in service to what he regards as higher causes: development of a sense of self-worth, humility, loyalty to his comrades, creating a loving family.
The beauty of Crofton's Fire lies in the reader's sense that Crofton's struggle to manhood appears to happen naturally, not easily, but naturally, without the didactic quality of an overt morality play. It is rare that a moral hero avoids being repugnantly good. Crofton does.
Who would deny that Flashman is a marvel, a unique, engaging rogue, illuminating history while manipulating his way through it? His compass points unerringly to money and fame.
Crofton is closer to Everyman. Unlike Flashman, he begins his career with no agenda at all except to do what the army assigns him to do. No guile, no real ambition, no direction, no compass to follow. Thus his journey to a full, adult self is a very different one from Flashman's. By the time Crofton understands his role in life, he finds it to be a moral one. He has found it through experience rather than bringing it TO experience.
The author of Crofton's Fire works in the delicate and difficult territory of the emerging human heart. Here, living and feeling and maturing into adulthood are not planned and not guaranteed. Failure is always an option.
One might say these two gentlemen, Flashman and Crofton, create radically different solutions to the same problem, to wit, becoming an adult. Flashman has a running start because he knows straight off where he is headed, and he forces his way to the self he has defined as his destiny. For Crofton, this is not so. All is in doubt as he lives his unpredictable life, finding out only well along the way who he has become and the special value and gratification in that.
For this reader, it is wonderful to have these alternatives so nicely drawn. Read Flashman and read Crofton, and don't feel compelled to diminish either by denigrating the one or the other. We certainly know our share of [not so clever, it is true] Flashmans, but fewer Croftons. It is ours to choose whom to admire and who to be.