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Book Note: Edgar Wallace, Sanders of he River

I read this book about 4-Jun-2017. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1909. This note was last modified Sunday, 11-Jun-2017 13:26:40 PDT.

This is book 1 of the "Sanders of the River" series.

This note does not contain major spoilers for the book.


This is a collection; copyright dates vary, but 1909 is one of the early ones. These are all public domain (despite the notices on every page of one of the for-profit editions sold on Amazon). Get them from Project Gutenberg.

The stories are relatively independent, though the supporting characters and the background do build up over time. Mr. Commissioner Sanders, when we meet him in "The Education of the King" at the start of this volume, is long-established as the Commissioner for his part of Africa. Unlike many of the actual people sent out to administer colonial dominions, he has a detailed understanding of the people he rules (his powers seem essentially unlimited, though he does not have large armies at his call). He speaks their languages, he knows their cultures, he knows the individual people often; across many tribes, each of which is portrayed as being culturally different from the others.

I don't know if these stories were intended as contemporary when published. It seems likely; general situations seem roughly right (I saw no big outside events referenced that might date it). 1910 is towards the end of "Britain's imperial century", given as 1815-1914.

In each of the stories, something comes along to disturb the peace, either most literally stirring up armed rebellion, or over-active missionaries, or a woman with near-magical powers of persuasion, or ignorant young men sent out to help govern. Sanders triumphs by knowing more about his region than anybody else.

He travels the rivers of his region on a small stern-wheel steamer, the Zaire, with only a few native soldiers, but with two Maxim guns (early belt-fed machine guns). Occasionally he has to shoot up flotillas of war canoes, but only if they refuse to disperse peacefully. The stern wheel is said to make the noise "puck-a-puck" but then, the Maxims are said to laugh, going "ha-ha-ha-ha-ha".

These stories are not in any sense anti-colonial. They don't much claim benefits to colonialsm (not for the colonized), except occasionally in words stuffed down the gullets of ignorant stuffed shirts and hence not intended to be read as the author's opinion.

They could be read as advice about how to administer colonial subjects of wide-ranging cultures; this advice is usually less bloody than how it was often done in the real world, but is hardly a model of civilized behavior. Sanders orders floggings and hangings as needed, and cuts loose with the machine guns when it seems necessary. As presented, he's always right when he flogs or hangs someone, but that's easier to achieve with the support of the author.


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David Dyer-Bennet