Few characters have the heroic cache that The Scarlet Pimpernel does, heck I first heard about the character when I was about 7 and watching Looney Tunes.
As time has gone on, I’ve seen and heard a lot more about the mythical and dashing: Scarlet Pimpernel. So when I found a tattered copy of the original 1905 novel by the Baroness Orczy, I was excited to give it a shot and see how the reputation stacked up to reality.
It’s a lot of fun to immerse yourself in the giddy fantasy of a swashbuckling hero. Kids do it every day, I did it, my brothers did it, I’d wager some kid is doing it right now. A lot of that same glee is apparent in the first pages of The Scarlet Pimpernel. As a mysterious hero scampers about the French countryside rescuing French aristocrats before the Reign of Terror’s guillotine can dispatch them. The tales of his derring-do are legendary throughout the sympathetic English nobility.
As the novel continues that’s pretty much all we hear of the Pimpernel: tales. As the Reign of Terror’s agents attempt to get at the hero through a former revolutionary ally now living among English nobility, we hear stories about his genius. As the trap is set and evaded and set again and evaded again…we hear about it, but never see it. And as the action builds to a potentially riveting climax, we hear about the events…but don’t see them happen.
Imagination and legend were good enough to turn The Scarlet Pimpernel into the prototype for all the swashbucklers who would come after. But after a century worth of his successors, the story’s aren’t enough any more. After all, few kids dream of being the Scarlet Pimpernel any more (besides, why duel with real sabres when light sabres make that cool vwing sound?), and for the record, if the Pimpernel was secretly a cartoon duck, that might be a worthy twist.