Friday, April 29, 2011
The Prisoner of Zenda: Review
The Prisoner of Zenda is a fun little tale of adventure and derring-do written at the turn of the century (the 19th century, that is) by Anthony Hope. It is a well-known tale. There is danger to a famous personage (in this case, the King of Ruritania) and there just happens to be a distant cousin who looks exactly like him on the spot who can fill in and help out. There have been many a book and many a film based on this idea (Danny Kaye starred in perhaps five different versions of this sort of thing), but told right it makes for a good story. Fortunately, Anthony Hope tells it right.
In Zenda we have Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman whose family has distant ("wrong side of the blanket") ties to the royal family of Ruritania. These ties are evidenced by the red hair and straight nose which shows up every couple of generations...and which our hero, Rudolf, of course, displays. At the beginning of the novel, Rudolf is being chastised by his sister-in-law for not doing anything. He is a younger son who, in these days before two world wars will so change everything, has enough of a competence that he doesn't have to do anything. To please her, he says that he will, in six months, take up a post as an attache to an ambassador. In the meantime, the subject of Ruritania has come up and he decides that he will take a vacation to that land of his distant kin.
Quite by chance, he finds himself at the same inn as the soon to be crowned King and it is remarked how similar they are in feature--save that the King is now clean-shaven and Rudolf sports a mustache and an "imperial" (beard, presume). When trouble enters the picture and it becomes apparent that the King's half-brother is plotting to take over the kingdom, Rudolf bravely offers his services to foil the plot. This plot begins with drugged wine which so incapicitates the King that it seems he won't be able to attend his own coronation--that is the opening that "Black Michael" is waiting for. Rudolf agrees to impersonate the King at the coronation ceremony and afterward to help protect the monarch. The plot takes many twists and turns--involving the kidnapping of the King, a longer impersonation than planned, and many swordfights and midnight chases. Things are made all the more difficult when Rudolf falls in love with the King's intended, Princess Flavia.
This is an old-fashioned tale about when men were men and loyalty meant something. It is also a great story of the triumph of good over evil. In today's world, it may seem a little overwrought and dramatic, but there's nothing wrong with a good, solid story of good men and good deeds. Oh, and don't forget the good women. We have one who risks her life to aid and warn those loyal to the King and we have Princess Flavia who is willing to deny herself her one true love in order to do her duty to her people and fulfill her own brand of loyalty. A very stirring tale on all counts. Four stars.