Saturday, 27 October 2012

When The Swashbuckler Comes In

Reading a Doctor Nikola* novel the other month, I was startled when the action suddenly shifted to my own fair Newcastle upon Tyne, town of my birth and current abode.  I shouldn’t be surprised as the city turns up in a surprising number of novels. 
*Late 19th century master villain who appeared in a series of novels notable for the fact that, contrary to the author’s intention one assumes, the good doctor is only really likable character

 First, and far and away most unexpectedly, is the curious fact that the three musketeers come here at one point.  Honest.  It’s in the sequel to the original novel, Twenty Years After, set – well, you get the idea.  It turns out that twenty years after the events of the first book brings us to the English Civil War and the musketeers attempt to rescue Charles I while he is held in durance vile in, yup, Newcastle upon Tyne.  Spoilers for novel and, indeed, English history: they fail.

It so happens that I read this book in France.  I was in Paris and being the pretentious drear that I am, I had decided to take a French book with me to read while I was there and having already read The Three Musketeers chose Twenty Years After.  So there I was in a hotel room in the Latin Quarter reading about Newcastle.  That was odd.

Other unexpected appearances of my fair city occur in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in which – if memory serves, I don't have a copy to hand – a rakish army officer is sent to Fenham Barracks, which lies to the west of the city, in disgrace which seems right and proper.  Susanna Clarke in the highly recommended Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell posits Newcastle as the centre of magic in her version of England

while the comic book character John Constantine, created by Alan Moore, had an experience up here that led to him spending some time in a secure mental health facility.

Interestingly, the one novel in which Newcastle does not, apparently, appear is Jack’s Return Home by Ted Lewis upon which Get Carter was based, and while the film is definitely set in Newcastle (and Gateshead, Whitley Bay and Northumberland) the book, or so I’m told, never specifies which city it’s set in.  The film, by the way, was originally going to be filmed in Hull, according to what I’ve read, but when that proved to be impracticable, the filming moved here.

So, forget Cookson country.  Let's market the North East as Musketeer country which would, let’s face it, be more fun than concentrating on those novels in which, in accordance to local by-laws, the main character’s father or grandfather is obliged to be killed/crippled/drowned in a coal fall down the pit or out at sea with the fishing fleet.  

It would be worth it, surely.

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