There was a time, when reality was damn well unrealistic.
The happy-go-lucky adventurer is a mainstay of adventure literature and movies.
You know the kind of guy – treasure hunter/soldier of fortune, seeking wealth, glory and assorted kicks south of the border, or east of Constantinople.
Normally, when it transpires that you read (or write!) adventure stories, somebody will feel compelled to point out that it’s all so unrealistic.
Unrealistic normally leads to childish, and further snubs follow.
Jumping from planes, soldiering under ten different flags, escaping the headhunters by defeating their shaman in a test of magics, seeking and finding ancient gold, defying ancient curses, running guns across the border…
Nobody, but nobody, does that in Real Life!
Reality, we are told by the Guardians of Reality Itself, has little patience and even less space for such individuals.
That’s why I find Leonard Clark such an endearing fellow.
Born in 1908, Clark was the author of an extremely popular book, The Rivers Ran East, in which he chronicles his hunt for Eldorado (for want of a better word) through the jungles at the feet of the Andes, in 1949.
At the time, he was already getting a pension as a former Colonel in OSS – the rough, dirty, pulpy predecessor to CIA.
But before that, between 1930 and the end of WW2, Clark was a soldier of fortune, bush pilot, treasure hunter, explorer, spy, guerrilla leader, bestseller author and all-around adventurer in the East.
Clark is the perfect example of the cheerful adventurer, the sort of chap that (i.e.) jumps ship (literally) to join the rebels, offering them his services as a pilot, only to find out the rebels have already been defeated, and the guy he’s actually offering his help to, is the general that whiped the rebels out.
Forever plannining some cunning get-rich-quick scheme (recovering lost gold in the Malayan jungles?), facing odd dangers (being caught by head-hunting cannibals?), often involved in weird capers (single-handedly invading Tibet?) or surfing some local conflict (running guns behind Japanese lines?), perpetually broke and always cheerfully ready to give the wheel of fortune another spin, Leonard Clark, who died in 1957 during a diamond-hunting expedition in Venezuela, is the living proof the Guardians of Reality are not just boring, they are wrong.
Clark was also a damn good writer.
He wrote books about his adventures, and they were pretty popular before the War, and soon after.
His style is direct, his tone friendly.
Reading of his (often catastrophic) exploits, is like sitting at a table with him.
Today, two of Clark’s cheerful, well-written and fun books, (A Wanderer Till I Die and The Marching Wind) are reprinted by the Longriders Guild in their Classic Travel Books line, and are well worth checking out.