Sunday, September 17, 2017

'The Anglo-Saxon is the only race that has developed the art of fighting without weapons.'

This howler comes from Gordon MacCreagh's "The Crawling Script" from the September 30, 1923 issue of Adventure. While Chinese martial arts remained largely unknown to Americans for nearly fifty years more after MacCreagh wrote, I would still have expected him to be aware of Japanese judo of jiu-jitsu, of which Americans had been aware since at least the turn of the 20th century. That's what makes this particular passage inexcusable, though I must note that no less an Oriental "expert" than Sidney Herschel Small makes a similar, and perhaps less forgivable error in his 1932 story "The River on the Sky," in which Japanese characters regard fist fighting as something uniquely western or Anglo-American.  As a whole, "Crawling Script" has the usual mixed messages we should expect from pulp stories. MacCreagh deals in stereotypes as a matter of course, but at the same time his Gurkha adventurer Bir Jung is presented as an equal partner to the story's American hero, and the actual instigator of the story's treasure hunt. Bir Jung is superstitious and often vicious, but MacCreagh's overriding message, implicit in the ending's hint of further adventures for the pair, is that he and Westerman, the American, are brother adventurers under the skin, despite the American bridge-builder's dismissive attitude toward the entire concept of "adventure." I ought to note as well that while MacCreagh may mean to give Anglo-Saxons credit for a uniquely clean style of fighting, he also notes at the start of the very next paragraph that Westerman "broke all the rules of civilized warfare in the first two minutes." The American grows squeamish occasionally, turning his head away when Bir Jung guts an enemy in a climactic duel, but comes across overall as a pretty hard guy, almost hard-boiled in his blithely cynical attitude. MacCreagh's better known for stories set in Africa, but this change-of-pace piece has its moments, both bad and good.

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