The Australian online journal Traveller.com has posted an article inspired by the latest (and final) series of Game of Thrones. That story is set in the imaginary Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and the article’s author Ute Junker moves from that to discuss seven other mythical literary lands. The closest to Game of Thrones is Tolkien’s Middle Earth but another one was invented by Evelyn Waugh. This is:
… Ishmaelia, the African country which is the setting for Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop. In this classic satire, an internal crisis in this African country is fanned into a fully-fledged war in order to sell British newspapers. As Waugh tells it, the country of Ishmaelia had escaped colonisation thanks to the penchant of the locals for eating any European adventurers that crossed their borders: “some raw, others stewed and seasoned — according to local usage and the calendar (for the better sort of Ishmaelites have been Christian for many centuries and will not publicly eat human flesh, uncooked, in Lent, without special and costly dispensation from their bishop). It was not only the locals’ culinary habits that allowed Ishmaelia to escape the notice of the wider world for so long; Waugh also noted that European explorers were deterred by the inhospitable terrain found along its borders, which included “desert, forest, and swamp, frequented by furious nomads”.
Another such “Waughlandia” was Azania, located on an offshore African island and the setting of Waugh’s Black Mischief (1932). In that novel, a map of the country is provided and one scene goes so far as to describe the locals joining with the hero in a cannibal feast. Waugh used that location again a year later in his short story “Incident in Azania”. This is mentioned in a review in the New York Review of Books about two recent studies of the “business” (as opposed to the “crime”) of kidnapping. This is written by Anne Diebel who closes her review with this:
The history of modern kidnapping-for-ransom is dominated by cases involving high-profile victims; those of lesser standing are always likely to be overlooked. In 1932, the same year the Lindbergh baby was abducted, a nineteen-year-old, well-to-do English woman named Muriel “Tinko” Pawley was taken hostage, along with her three dogs, by bandits in northern China. Tinko had grown up mostly in China and married an Englishman who worked for the Asiatic Petroleum Company. The kidnappers demanded a huge sum of money and sundry supplies, and threatened that failure to comply would result in Tinko’s ears being cut off and her dogs killed.
This bizarre case—Tinko wrote to friends requesting lipstick and threatened the gang leader, in fluent Chinese, with both personal haunting and the transformation of his ancestors into turtles if she were killed, and was finally released in exchange for gold, opium, and some stylish brogues—was a sensation in the British press. Evelyn Waugh even wrote a short story based on it. But Tinko’s case was part of a vastly larger trend that affected many Westerners of modest means. In the preceding ten years, missionary families, salesmen, carriages of train passengers, and entire steamships had been captured, and those whose families were slow in paying did have their ears sliced off. When one of those trains was held up in Lincheng in 1923, two dozen foreigners were captured, and their safety became an international concern. Also captured were three hundred Chinese, whose fates were ignored by the press.
This is the second time in less than a year that Waugh’s seldom-mentioned story has featured in a major newspaper article about kidnapping. See earlier post.
One can also argue that Waugh created an imaginary land in which to set Brideshead Revisited. This would be Brideshead Castle, its environs and inhabitants. The site for the setting of the two film adaptations of the novel is Castle Howard which is selected by the Spectator as one of the top film locations to be visited in the UK:
The best-known adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is, of course, the TV version starring Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews, that was broadcast on ITV in 1981. Luckily for this list, a rather underwhelming film version was made in 2008, with the same location Castle Howard, near York, used to represent the fictional Brideshead. It sits amid a huge estate and offers plenty to explore over the course of a day. Brideshead fans will be in heaven […]
Finally, returning to Ishmaelia, a Gloucestershire news website has posted a reminder that the Chipping Campden Literary Festival will convene early next month (7-11 May) and “news” will be its “main theme”. Among the events is one devoted to Scoop, “arguably the best comic novel about journalism and [looked] at in terms of the life of its author Evelyn Waugh, one-time correspondent on the Daily Mail.” The discussion will feature Martin Stannard and Duncan McLaren. Details in earlier post.