The Walking Drum (Louis L'Amour's Lost Treasures): A Novel
I had no idea that Louis L’Amour had written a book about the middle ages. I had read some of his westerns a very long time ago and knew he was a prolific and popular author. But when a friend recommended this book to me knowing I like historical novels about this period, I decided to try it. Five Stars for sure! What incredible research had to be done to write this story of Europe and the Middle East in the 12th Century. I have not read anything from this part of the world in this time period, and it was fascinating. For one thing, this author can write a scene and the reader is there! The surroundings, whether they are on a ship on the sea, in the deep woods, in a terrifying underground tunnel in darkness, or in the beautiful home of a wealthy aristocrat, simply come alive. The feel of wearing filthy sweaty stinking clothing and the feel of fine linen and silks against your body are so real. But to the story..
This is the story of Kerbouchard who is a young Celtic in in Britain when his mother is killed while his father has been away for four years trading and raiding. His father is a famous Corsair/trader/seaman/pirate who has traveled the world and brought home knowledge and customs from other cultures. Kerbouchard was trained as a young boy by the Druids associated with his mother’s family, but also had sailed with fishing vessels and had grown up both on the sea and in the forest. He escapes the men who murdered his mother and burned their house while he was not there, but he falls into the hands of pirates and becomes a galley slave. From there his adventures span a great deal of the civilized world. A great deal of the first half or so of the book take place in Cordoba in Spain which at the time is mostly moslem and very much into learning, books, and intellectual discussion.
I will say one thing from reading the many reviews of this book. Some criticize it because Kerbouchard is telling the story and he is proficient at everything so they consider he is too perfect. For one thing this is fiction – historical fiction but Kerbouchard is a fictitious character. His background and his insatiable quest for knowledge would make such a man – if he survives. He goes from the worst poverty to wealth and back again more times than I remember. He lives by is wit, but he is on a quest from the very beginning of the book. The quest is to find and rescue his father if he still lives, which is in question.
I love history and reading this book with no prior knowledge of the area or the history was amazing. I realize I had no idea how advanced the world was at that time in things like astronomy, geology, history, medicine, and just plain theory. I definitely will re-read this book as now I can savor it instead of reading to find out what will happen. I did struggle with the names – they are all middle-eastern names and very difficult for me to keep straight.
I can’t explain the depth of character this author has created with Kerbouchard. His way of thinking and of getting out of impossible situations is very very interesting. I don’t doubt that in real life such a man in that time period and place probably would not have survived some of them, but this is an adventure story. His constant quest for knowledge is truly inspiring as I know there have been and still are people who live to learn and are more or less obsessed by it.
My favorite part of the book comes some past the half way mark. It is a trek across many countries that I lost track of as the author uses the names they were called in the 12th century. Kerbouchard’s goal is to reach a castle where his father is being held by an Assassin King, but for safety, he becomes part of a caravan of traders. This is a trek of months and months, and it is just amazing that these treks were made. I had read about others where shepherds trekked for whole seasons across Afghanistan and Iraq, and this was similar except these were merchants. They went from one Fair to another trading and buying and selling. How they guarded one another and their loyalty to each other was just wonderful to read. The battle toward the end of this trek was perhaps the best scene written and most realistic I have ever read. If ever a reader was right there in a battle, it is this one.
I did not mean for this to be so long, but this book really caught me up in the story, the history, and the writing. At the back of the book the author says he will write two more books about Kerrbouchard. Sadly, Louis L’Amour died before he wrote those books. I am so glad he wrote this one.
There is some romance as this is a young man alone with no ties to anyone. But it is totally clean and several of the women he “falls for” are above him in station, virgins, and he is an honorable man and remains so.
I have to add the fascinating thing about the title, “The Walking Drum”. Imagine over a thousand people, some on horseback, some with wagons, but most of them walking, along with cattle, goats, and sheep. They continue from morning to night when they camp only to begin the next day. They have the Fairs where they spend a few days, but month after month they march, always prepared for attack which does not happen often but does happen. From the book:
“The walking drum….a heavy, methodical beat marking the step of each of us. That drum rode on a cart at the rear of our column, and the pace of the march could be made faster or slower by that beat. We lived with that sound, all of us, it beat like a great pulse for the whole company and for those others, too, who had their own drums to keep their pace.”
“Nightly camps were each a fortress, our columns like an army on the march. We awakened to a trumpet call, marched upon a second, and all our waking days were accompanied by the rhythmic throb of the walking drum.
We heard it’s muted thunder roll against the distant hills, through sunlight and storm. That drum was our god, our lord and master, and a warning to potential enemies.”