Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Two types of adventurers

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Pierre Mac Orlan was a Frenchman, his real name Pierre Dumarchey. He wrote novels of adventure and crime and, under a variety of aliases, pornography. Visitors of Karavansara might know him at least for one book, La Bandera, one of the early epics of the Foreign Legion, which was filmed in the ’30s starring Jean Gabin – and that tangentially influenced a a later movie called March or Die.

A surrealist and a satirist and not just a pornographer, Mac Orlan also wrote a tiny little book called Le petit manuel du parfait aventurier, or The Little Handbook of the Perfect Adventurer. It was published in 1920, and it’s a nasty little piece of work – as one might expect given the subject matter and the author. If you want, there is a copy of the French original in the Internet archive – me, I got me the Italian version, because it’s got a ribald photo of Gary Cooper on the cover, and because Amazon was having a sale with a 25% discount on the publisher’s catalog.

Written with tongue firmly in cheek and with a savvy, mock-intellectual attitude, Mac Orlan’s essay describes two kinds of adventurers – active adventurers and passive adventurers, whose existence is tightly connected. The passive adventurers, in fact, that live their adventurous life by proxy, thanks to the likes of Jack London or Robert Louis Stevenson, need the active adventurers to go out there and do something stupid, so more stories will be told. On the other hand, active adventurers would be nothing without the passive ones, that record, cherish and preserve their stories.

And I find it particularly appropriate to talk here about this book, considering this blog includes a category of posts labeled Armchair Adventuring – obviously the domain of the passive adventurer.

This being a handbook, it does not only offer the theory, but it also encourages the practice of being an adventurer – possibly a passive adventurer, this being the safest and most comfortable of the two alternatives. The book offers therefore ideas about imagination, reading, traveling and visiting other cities, plus chapters about night clubs, erotica and what else.

At the same time a literary game, a satire of a certain highbrow school of criticism and a love letter to knaves and rascals in both real life and literature, this booklet reads in two hours, and is the sort of thing one leaves around in the parlor for guests to find and wonder.
And it does suggest a few ideas for future stories.

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.

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