Monday, October 4, 2010

Review: The Collected Raffles Stories

Complete Short Stories of Raffles cover,
From St. Martin's Press
 The Collected Raffles Stories
By E.W. Hornung
Reviewed  by: Sara Porter
I'll bet many don't know that Sherlock Holmes has a criminal in the family. Well sort of.
Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law,E.W. Hornung, was also a writer and in 1899, he created a character who was to thieves what Holmes was to detectives: A.J. Raffles!
While Raffles is not as well known a name now as Holmes is in the early 20th century, Raffles' name was a synonym for thieves and his sophisticated tastes and elegant and sometimes brutal demeanour was the inspiration for such characters as The Saint's Simon Templar and To Catch a Thief's Jon Robie. The stories are fun, exciting adventurous stories of a duo of loyal scoundrels.
The stories are collected in three anthologies, The Amateur Cracksman, The Black Mask, and A Thief in the Night, containing Raffles' adventures from his first meeting with his loyal friend and chronicler, Bunny Manders all the way to their final adventure in the Boer War.
Raffles and Bunny are similar to the Trickster figures in folklore, how they plan various schemes and make fools of authority figures. The earlier light-hearted stories are more adventurous tales of derring do and clever escapes. Many of the stories involve ludicrous schemes such as when Raffles steals form an arrogant billionaire practically because he begs a thief to, then has to get poor Bunny out when things go awry.
 However, the later stories right before their end "In the Arms of the Gods", takes a darker approach as they live on the run in various disguises, and have to face serious consequences of their careers as criminals as they become the target of secret societies and reunite with ex-colleagues and fiancees, many of whom want them arrested or dead.
The two are a study in contrast. Raffles is the engaging gentleman-about-town on the outside. He is a well-known cricketer, the last person one would suspect of being a thief. It is during his robbery attempts that he explores his sinister nature. He steals when he is hard up for money, but also for pleasure
. "Why work when you can steal?" he tells his partner, Bunny Manders. "And the distribution of wealth is wrong anyway." Besides his doings, he also possesses a violent nature which he displays in the story, "A Willful Murder" when he contemplates killing a rival and "The Fate of Faustina," when he prepares an almost Poe-like ending for his girlfriend's murderer. Despite the dark turns in his character, he does have a personal code that he would never steal from his host, nor betray Bunny.

Raffles' partner, Harry "Bunny" Manders  is naive and gullible to the point where he doesn't believe that Raffles is a thief in their first encounter, "The Ides of March," until they arrive at the jewelry shop even though his friend drops obvious hints beforehand. However, he is very lovable in his own way, particularly in the touching story "The Spoils of Sacrilege," where the duo rob Bunny's childhood home and he becomes racked with guilt when he encounters his childhood memories. However, he is a loyal companion to his more self-assured friend and never gives him up, even though he becomes the captive of various law enforcers and robbery victims.
Raffles and Bunny are an engaging duo in both the early stories as they have a jolly time on their escapades having fun at authority figure's expense. However, the later stories reveal their senses of loyalty towards each other as well as the consequences of their actions which are dealt with in meaningful and touching ways.

Links For Further Discussion and Activity Suggestions

TV Tropes: Gentlemen Thieves- Here are various examples of gentlemen thieves from different forms of media including some examples of real ones. Why are they such fascinating people in fiction and what makes them different from their real-life counterparts? If you were a police officer how would you want people to catch these thieves? Create a Wanted poster or a newspaper article detailing their exploits. What would you do to make their exploits appear to be less glamorous? Or think of it from the thief's point of view. Why do they steal things and what do they to make their role less heartless and more charismatic? How would they recount their life of crime? In diary form through videos?

International Catalogue of Superheroes- Don't let the title fool you. This is not just a website for superheroes. This is a website for many characters in television, movies, literature and other sources who are considered "larger than life" and have many adventures. Here is Raffles' page. Look through some of the other pages. What do these characters have in common and what differences are there? They are arranged internationally. How do the characters typify their real-life society? Select one of the heroes on the site or think of one that isn't on the site. How can you further tell their adventures? Through a new comic strip? A video detailing one of their escapades?

Questions for Further Discussion
1. Raffles is what's known as a "gentleman thief." Are the terms contradictions? What is the appeal with the sophisticated thieves such as Raffles? What makes readers root for them? Is Raffles comparable to such characters as Robin Hood?

2. There is an almost dichotomy in knowing that Raffles' and Holmes's authors are brothers-in-law. Besides being on opposite sides of the law are Raffles and Holmes more alike than they are different? Hornung dedicated his first anthology set to Doyle calling it "this sincerest form of flattery?" How is Raffles an imitation of Holmes and how does he become his own individual person?

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