One of the problems I had during my college years was reading for pleasure rather than reading for classroom work. F. van Wyck Mason was one of those I read for pleasure.

The blogger James Reasoner at his blog Rough Edges introduces F. van Wyck Mason this way:

A while back I was talking about authors who were popular in their time but are almost forgotten now. F. Van Wyck Mason probably falls into that category. Not many people reading his books these days, I’d guess. And he was popular in two genres, not just one.

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Wiki’s intro is rather sparse:

Francis Van Wyck Mason (November 11, 1901 – August 28, 1978, Bermuda) was an American historian and novelist. He had a long and prolific career as a writer spanning 50 years and including 78 published novels, many of which were best sellers and well received.

The bio from wiki may offer a bit of an explanation:

Van Wyck (pronounced Wike) Mason was born to a patrician Boston family which traced its roots on the North American continent back to the 17th Century. His early life before he started writing was filled with adventure. His first eight years he lived in Berlin and then Paris where his grandfather served as U.S. Consul General. After a few years in Illinois he left for Europe in 1917 while still a teenager to fight in World War I. Like many future writers, he was an ambulance driver for a while. He then managed to enlist in the French Army where he became a decorated artillery officer, including the Legion of Honor. By Armistice Day he was celebrating his 17th birthday yet remarkably had already joined the United States Army and risen to the rank of Lieutenant. After the war he went to prep schoo, then attending Harvard where he received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1924. At one time in his college days, he was mistakenly arrested for murder. Having borrowed a dinner jacket, he was wrongly identified for a waiter who at the time had committed a murder.

His hopes of entering the diplomatic corps were thwarted after the death of his father and he started an importing business instead. He spent the next few years traveling the world buying rugs and antiques. His travels included Europe, Russia, the Near East, North Africa (9 weeks with his own caravan), the West Indies, Central Africa, and a ride across Central America on horseback. He lived in New York City, served in a well-known cavalry unit of the National Guard, and played quite a bit of polo. This set the tone for him as he continued to travel and indulge his interest in hunting the rest of his life.

In some respects, especially the early exposure to different languages and cultures, Mason’s history reminds me somewhat of Rafael Sabatini’s early years.

I really have no idea how many of Mason’s books I have read over the years. I do know I have enjoyed many of his historical novels as good adventures. Of the books listed at Goodreads.com for him I know I have read Captain Nemesis, Golden Admiral, all six of his American Revolution series, Cutlass Empire (about Henry Morgan), Wild Drums Beat (War of 1812), and a few others. I know I have read a few of his Hugh North series of spy novels but only a few. Two Tickets for Tangiers, Secret Mission to Bangkok, and Trouble in Burma are all familiar titles.

Mason’s historical novels appear to have covered a number of periods from Ancient Rome through the US Civil War. Again from wiki:

His historical stories nearly always involve some kind of warfare and frequently include naval battles or long sea voyages. Most of his historical novels are prefaced by a fairly lengthy (usually several pages) discussion of the historical setting and context of his story. Often, through his fictional characters, Mason recounts the story of some significant but not widely known historical event. Actual historical figures are occasionally introduced as minor characters in the plot. While one may learn a little history and geography when reading his works, the main point of his stories is the excitement provided as he first makes the reader care about his main characters and then puts them into dire circumstances where they have to fight for their lives.

My bold. And that is why I enjoyed Mason’s stories over the years. He told a good tale and told it well.

If you look at his wiki, he was a prolific writer with a lot of short stories as well as the novels. As I look through the list of his short stories and novels, there is really only one common thread through many of his novels – the ocean theme. Consequently, it looks like Mason only had a couple of stories/books adapted to the screen. I have no idea how I have missed The Barbarians as I do enjoy the sword and sandal genre (Ancient Rome) for both movies and books.


Photo from Boy de Haas licensed under Creative Commons