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James Landale -- The Last Duel (Cannongate Books)

By Stephen Carter-Novotni · January 3rd, 2007 · Lit
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  James Landale -- The Last Duel
James Landale -- The Last Duel



"Let's settle this like gentlemen," and "Let's take this outside" have become clichés of contemporary fiction. But there was a time when these words were balanced by the weight of history. To play on another cliché, men were men and a violent contest was a search for justice -- or at least justification.

James Landale blends the bloody history of the duel with the tale of his ancestor, David Landale's armed fight. The result is a book aimed at history buffs that delivers odd tales of conflict and romanticism rather than the salacious details of gunplay. Well, there is some of that -- one Norman Knight who lost a fight wasn't killed in the duel, but after losing he was publicly castrated and his eyes were lanced. The author also relates how the portly soldier Charles Crofts insulted a court dwarf nicknamed "Lord Minimus" and was outdone by his opponent's small frame. The word "duel" comes from the Latin words, "duo" and "bellum." Literally, it's a war of two. These battles, often sparked by spurious reports of assaults on a lady's honor or something else that could be seen as trivial today, were rooted in the same soil as Manifest Destiny. The idea was that God would sort it all out and David would trump Goliath. It's easy for those of us sitting in the chair of modernity to laugh off our ancestors' irrational means of settling disputes. We have an evidence-based court system -- that delivers verdicts absolving OJ and Tim Roach -- and we don't rely on might to determine who's just -- unless you're talking about our foreign policy. The Last Duel is a mirror of sorts: Look into it and it looks back into you. (Stephen Carter-Novotni) Grade: B

 
 
 
 

 

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