Thursday, December 16, 2010

From the Bonhomme Richard to Russia

A little while back, I posted THIS about pulp stories that had Cossack heroes.The post is primarily about Khilt the Cossack, an extraordinarily cool hero from a series of adventure stories by Harold Lamb, published back int the 1910s & 1920s.

Lamb, though, apparently loved Cossacks. In 1924, he used one named Ivak in a story titled "Forward." Set in the late 19th Century, it's about Ivak escorting an American naval officer from Petersburg in his journey to take command of the Russian fleet. But certain members of Catherine the Great's court--acting out of political ambition and jealousy--are determined to make sure the American never reaches his duty station.

The American? Well, if you haven't guessed it from the title of this post, then you oughta be embarrassed. It is, of course, John Paul Jones. It was Jones, remember, who was captain of the Bonhomme Richard when it took on the British warship Serapis in in 1779. It was Jones who replied "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight" when asked if he would surrender his badly damaged ship. Jones fought on and captured the Serapis, moving his surviving crew aboard just before the Bonhomme Richard sank from under him.

Jones is just as cool in Lamb's story. With the clever and skilled Ivak at his side, he overcomes enemies and hacks past danger. The only Russian word he learns is "Forward!" But that's pretty much all Ivak needs to hear anyways.

Also in 1924, Lamb published "The Sword of Honor," in which Jones has taken command of the Russian fleet and goes up against the ships of the Ottoman Empire. The point-of-view character this time is Pierre, a French sailor who had been aboard the Bonhomme Richard and was eager to serve alongside Jones once again. Pierre has more than his share of adventure just getting to Jones, but then is with the Admiral as Jones deals with back-stabbing and cowardly political enemies and takes on the Turks at the same time. There's a massive fleet-vs-fleet engagement and a mission to capture a Turkish ship from under the guns of a fortress.

Both stories are action-packed adventures that manage squeeze in a total of three heroes (Ivak, Pierre and Jones) who have been thoroughly dipped in awesome sauce.

These stories have been reprinted in Swords from the Sea, an anthology of sea-going adventures by Lamb. All the stories are fun, but the two featuring John Paul Jones are particularly enjoyable. John Paul Jones is even cooler than keel boats and giant ants.*

*see my last two Thursday posts to make sense of that last sentence.


  1. I was searching for OTR stuff and came across your blog. Nice stuff here!

  2. I remember reading an Andre Norton novel which pitted an Apache vs a Cossack. Can't remember the name of the book though.

  3. I'll have to try to find that one. I like Norton's stuff a lot and Cossacks are about a 8.7 in general on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale. (With specific characters like Khlit and Red Sonya getting up into the high 9s.)


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