I can already see some reader…L’Amour?. Well of course you picked some Western as being conservative…but how on Earth am I going to give this to people who aren’t very conservative (and thus are a little less likely to like Westerns)? How does that help with introducing anyone to the values of conservatism. Well have no fear, because this is not Louis L’Amour’s usual fare of a well-researched romp across the open ranges of the old West…no this story is a pleasant stroll across the wastelands of 12th century Europe and Persia.
The Walking Drum follows Kerbouchard, an 12th century pagan Celt from Brittany who is captured and sold into slavery. What follows is a tale of escape, romance, and adventure as he travels from Islamic Cordoba to Christian Paris, Kiev, Constantinople, and Persia, seducing more than a few women, attacking Medieval castles, defending travelling caravans from marauders, and all culminating in an assault on the lair of the secretive Assassins. To say that a lot of ground is covered is a bit of an understatement.
But this book is so much more than just an adventure tale from the Medieval era. L’Amour was known for researching his books to extreme detail…but rather than just knowing the geography of Westerns he wrote about, The Walking Drum gives a detailed and accurate depiction of the many faces of an era in history that most people are not as familiar with as they should be.
To start with we see the advances of Islamic controlled Spain through his time in Cordoba. We see a culture under the sway of Aristotle’s wisdom more than the ranting of a religious madman. There Kerbouchard finds books and wisdom from around the world being discussed and debated. We see the height of civilization in that era because they do have a love of learning, a desire to embrace and engage in other cultures and willingness to be a part of international commerce. This is contrasted with the backwards cultures of Paris and Persia which have fallen victim to, respectively, Christian and Islamic dogmatism over reason and appear to be little more than slums to any modern reader. And this is very conservative because it pays homage to the truth of history rather than what we simply confirm as a narrative of the modern world. And this in turn tells what brings about a successful prosperous society…which is the goal of conservatism.
The first thing that the successful society believes is reason over dogma. In both the squalor of Paris and Persia you see a rigid adherence to dogma. You can obviously guess what this means in Persia (as there is sadly little difference between the 12th century and today, except that in the 12th century it is the butchers of the Assassins not the butchers of the Revolutionary Guard that hold sway) but even in Paris you see a different kind of dogmatism. Even though there is debate and discussion in Paris it is between those dogmatically following the older Medieval beliefs of the church and those who dogmatically follow the newer (at least new for that period of Paris history) beliefs of Peter Abalard (which is sad when you think about the fact that he was trying to make Aristotle relevant in the West again, but the old habits of blindly following die hard…very hard given the number of people who vote Democrat).
The next most important thing for the thriving society of Cordoba, Kiev and Constantinople is that they engage in commerce. The title of the book comes from the times that Kerbouchard spends with a caravan traveling from Paris to Kiev and the drum they use to make sure the entire caravan keeps pace with one another–and it is here that you see some of the most forward thinking people in the book. You see hints of it in Cordoba and Kiev but it is most evident in the traveling merchants of Kiev that you see the most civilized behavior. Why? Because commerce requires that you deal with people honestly and as equals, prejudice and bigotry will only be your doom in the market. It is the joy and of the greatest virtues of capitalism (even in this early form) that it forces people to treat each other in civilized ways.
Finally the book shows that it is people of honor, intelligence, integrity, and ingenuity who actually get things done. While a host of characters show bits of pieces of these virtues throughout the book, it is Kerbouchard who embodies all of them. He is not shown as a able to get through numerous situations (like all intelligent free thinkers he tends to make enemies wherever he goes) because of physical skill or strength, but because he adapts rapidly and out thinks his opponents. It shows that it is always the ability to adapt to new situations that allows him to survive in any situation, be battle or commerce, with grace and victory. Good literature is supposed to show the virtues we should emulate in our own lives and Kerbouchard does an excellent job of this.
Never dull, this thought provoking historical novel is a must read for conservatives, but an essential if you’re trying to introduce your fence sitting friends to conservative values.
One of the saddest parts of the book is that it ends with Kerbouchard heading towards the land of Hind (India) and one has every reason to suspect that L’Amour planned a sequel, but sadly he died before he had a chance to write it.