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Sard Harker

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Wikipedia article


'Sard Harker' (1924) by John Masefield (1878-1967) is an adventure novel first published in October 1924. It is the first of three novels by Masefield set in the fictional nation of Santa Barbara in South America. The others are 'Odtaa' and 'The Taking of the Gry'.

Plot summary

The novel commences with establishing narrative describing the fictional Santa Barbara as being geographically situated "far to leeward, with a coast facing to the north and east." Masefield moves on to describe the background of the protagonist, Chisholm Harker, called "Sard" Harker because he is "sardonic". He is the son of Chisholm Harker, rector of Windlesham in Berkshire (this suggests that the village is likely to be fictional in that Windlesham village is in reality in Surrey, UK), who died when he was 13 years old. Sard's mother remarried after having been widowed for two years, causing an estrangement that encourages Sard to go to sea.

The story opens on 18 March 1897. Sard Harker is mate on a merchant vessel, the 'Pathfinder', under the command of Captain Carey, and is probably aged around 30. The ship is in the fictional port of Las Palomas. Exactly ten years previous Sard was serving on another ship, the 'Venturer', in exactly the same harbour when he had a strange dream that he would meet a girl on the second of three visits to a white house called Los Xicales.

On the 'Pathfinder' s final day in Las Palomas Captain Carey and Sard Harker watch a boxing match. During the match Sard overhears talk between two other spectators that suggests that a Mr Hilary Kingsborough and his sister will come to some harm. After the boxing match Sard goes off to warn the Kingsboroughs. By coincidence they are renting Los Xicales. The Kingsboroughs do not heed the warning and Sard leaves wondering if he has seen the girl his dream warned him about.

Unfortunately Sard has little more than minutes to keep his passage on the 'Pathfinder'. The adventure commences proper when Sard takes a wrong turning into a swamp and then sustains a stingray injury. He has by this time missed his passage and resolves to make his way to Santa Barbara. His endeavours result in his being assaulted and mugged, and put onto a freight train that takes him far inland. The majority of the novel is concerned with his ever more arduous journey across Santa Barbara, with minor characters and natural hazards endangering his life. Supernatural or starvation-induced hallucinations also feature on three occasions.

Sard is ultimately successful in reaching Santa Barbara, where he learns the fate of the 'Pathfinder'.

The novel concludes with a confrontation with Sagrado B, a practitioner of black magic who wants Miss Kingsborough to complete one of his satanic rituals.

The Harker surname

The relationship between Chisholm Harker and the Kay Harker of 'The Midnight Folk' and 'The Box of Delights' is never made clear. In 'Sard Harker', Masefield explains that Lady Crowmarsh is Chisholm Harker's aunt, and in 'The Midnight Folk' the Crowmarsh Estate is proximate to Seekings House, and the (evidently later) Lady Crowmarsh is on good terms with Kay's family. The Crowmarshes also play a minor role in 'Eggs and Baker', and are also in that novel situated near Condicote, Masefield's pen-name for his home town of Ledbury. However, in 'Sard Harker', Agatha, Lady Crowmarsh, is described as living in Berkshire.1955 Penguin edition p 37 "This was Agatha, Lady Crowmarsh, who lived in Berkshire" Further, the plot of 'The Midnight Folk' revolves around the recovery of treasure lost by Captain Harker in Santa Barbara. However, Captain Harker's name in 'The Midnight Folk' is Aston Tirrold, not Chisholm, and it is difficult to reconcile the dates.

Abner Brown

The reconciliation of the Abner Brown in 'The Midnight Folk' and 'The Box of Delights' is simpler than that of Harker. The 1920-30s Abner Brown is described in 'The Midnight Folk' as being the grandson of an Abner Brown who was "the local gentleman who received things" in Santa Barbara, and thus fits well with the confidence-trickster and gang member Abner Brown in 'Sard Harker'.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara features as a primary location in three John Masefield novels: 'Sard Harker', 'Odtaa', and 'The Taking of the Gry', as well as being the origin of the treasure in 'The Midnight Folk'. An illustrative map, entitled "The City of Santa Barbara", drawn by R. H. Sauter, is printed on the inside front and rear covers of the 1934 first British edition of 'The Taking of the Gry', a story which is described as taking place in 1911, by which time the dictator Don Manuel is said to have died.

Don Manuel

Don Manuel, the dictator of Santa Barbara, is also the pivotal figure in 'ODTAA', although the plot is not described from his perspective. 'ODTAA' functions as a prequel to 'Sard Harker', in the sense that it describes the events set out as the historical background to Sard Harker. In 'The Taking of the Gry' it becomes clear that Don Manuel has died some time before the setting of that book in 1911.


Category:1924 novels

Category:Novels by John Masefield

Category:Adventure novels

Category:Novels set in South America

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