Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Leonard Clark

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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.

g_hovitosNormally, 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.

China, the Himalayas, Borneo, Malaysia…
But he also climbed mountains in Mexico.

Colonel Leonard Clark (1)

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.

Ooops!

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.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

16 thoughts on “Leonard Clark

  1. “You REALLY believe all that man wrote?” Said the guardian of reality. I’m very sad for him

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  2. We have witnesses, photographs, the works.
    Clark was The Real Thing.

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    • How did Clark die?

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      • Well we don’t know… or at least, we do not have a body.
        Leonard Clark was last seen as he entered the Amazon basin on the Venezuelan side, going solo in search of a fabled lost city with a side serving of diamond mines. He was following a map he had bought somewhere.
        It was 1957 – he was never seen again.

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        • The reason I asked is that I was reading The Rivers Ran East that I had read before because my ex-partner Henk W. van der Putte was mentioned in Clark’s book. I was envolved in a diamond mining venture in Venezuela between 1967 and 1971. A venture that did not turn out well at all.

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          • Ouch – sorry to hear that.
            But as far as I know, Clark’s Venezuelan adventure remains a sort of cliffhanger: whatever happened to him, we have still to find out.

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          • I wish I had known his plight sooner; I might have investigated the cause of his death. Unfortunately time will bury the truth.

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          • I guess so, yes – on the other hand, I find it apt that Leonard Clark walked out of real life and into the legend… he was a legendary sort of character.

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        • As I had mentioned before, I was in a business venture with Henk van der Putte in Venezuela between 1967 and 1971. Henk, mentioned in the book, was an acquaintance of Leonard Clark. I did not know that Clark had preceded me and had disappeared. I suspect that Henk had something to do with Clark being in Venezuela. I wish I would have known that at the time. I do know of another who had preceded me, C.V. Wood, who became very successful afterwards. I believe all are dead now. I would have liked to know and still would like to know the full story.

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  4. My father had a copy of The Rivers Ran East replete with an author obit from the SF Chronicle, about Clark drowning on a placer diamond expedition.
    I read the above book when 11 in 1960. The reason I know the year is because allied with the written adventure was a signature soundtrack wafting from my bedside radio. Fond memories. Inez Pokorny…soul vine…lol.

    Cheers!
    Jim in corporations-sodden Menlo Park

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    • Wow, what a a memory!
      The Rivers Ran East is the only Clark book translated in my language, and it’s almost impossible to find at a reasonable price.
      But I keep looking.

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      • I would like to know what year he died in Venezuela and who he was working with.

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        • I have only sketchy information on his last years. It’s an interesting topic to research.

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          • Clark apparently was based in San Francisco. He died in 1957, with his capsized canoe recovered. Perhaps a guide survived and related to the authorities that he was sure that Clark had perished in the river. As far as used first editions go, The Rivers Ran East is not hard to find in the SF Bay Area, but his other books, The Marching Wind, where he conjectured that the mountain Amne Machen in China was taller than Everest, and A Wanderer Til I Die, are scarce…

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          • The Marching Wind and A Wanderer Till I Die were reprinted by the Long Riders Guild – and that’s how I got my copies. I do not know if they are still in print, but maybe contacting the Guild might be a good idea. They are cool guys.

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