Freddy and Fredericka

( 31 )

Overview

New York Times bestseller by Mark Helprin, author of Winter's Tale, which is now a major motion picture starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt, and Jennifer Connelly

Mark Helprin’s legions of devoted readers cherish his timeless novels and short stories, which are uplifting in their conviction of the goodness and resilience of the human spirit. Freddy and Fredericka—a brilliantly refashioned fairy tale and a magnificently ...

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Freddy and Fredericka

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Overview

New York Times bestseller by Mark Helprin, author of Winter's Tale, which is now a major motion picture starring Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, William Hurt, and Jennifer Connelly

Mark Helprin’s legions of devoted readers cherish his timeless novels and short stories, which are uplifting in their conviction of the goodness and resilience of the human spirit. Freddy and Fredericka—a brilliantly refashioned fairy tale and a magnificently funny farce—only seems like a radical departure of form, for behind the laughter, Helprin speaks of leaps of faith and second chances, courage and the primacy of love. Helprin’s latest work, an extraordinarily funny allegory about a most peculiar British royal family, is immensely mocking of contemporary monarchy and yet deeply sympathetic to the individuals caught in its lonely absurdities.

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Marking a complete turnaround from the sanctimonious, self-important tales in Mr. Helprin's last book, The Pacific and Other Stories, this novel is great silly fun - a rowdy, rambunctious read that's part acid farce, part bittersweet fairy tale. It's a book that skates merrily and improbably along on the author's bravura storytelling talents and love of verbal high jinks, a novel as funny and antic and purely escapist as his recent stories have been preachy, pretentious and glum … With Freddy and Fredericka, Mr. Helprin has constructed a perfect showcase for his heretofore underused gift of humor, and in doing so he has produced a delightful romp of a book.
— The New York Times
The New Yorker
A thinly veiled satire of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, pre-divorce—his serious mien and protruding ears, her horsey sex appeal—turns into a comic adventure when the eponymous royal couple are sent on a secret mission to conquer the United States, where they plunge in and out of such ludicrous scrapes as knocking out each other’s front teeth and surviving a raging wildfire. The narrative often feels burdened by its subplots, including a nefarious attempt by press barons to dethrone the royal couple, and Helprin has a distracting tendency to throw in gossipy asides about real personages, such as Bill Gates. But the sentimental pieties familiar from Helprin’s previous work—his strapping, athletic hero and heroine rhapsodize about the values of hard work and finding oneself—are here made more palatable by the absurd context. Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” perhaps wields too overt an influence, but at its best the novel achieves genuine lightness.
Publishers Weekly
Veteran English actor Mackenzie lends a patrician air to this recording of Helprin's first novel in a decade, a wild and keenly imagined but overstuffed modern fairy tale of royals rampant. Mackenzie's precise headmaster British accent is fitting for a story about the trials of the prince and princess of Wales as they are thrust out of their posh existence and left to make their way incognito across America on a quest that is as mysterious as it is imperative. Mackenzie captures the main characters perfectly: the dignified solemnity of Prince Freddy and the self-assured yet often misguided assertions of his beautiful wife, Fredericka. Mackenzie proves just as adept in capturing the gravity of the story's opening and closing scenes as he does delivering its numerous farcical elements. While Helprin's often barbed humor is generally amusing, his wordplay can become tiresome, particularly in the scenes featuring a dog named "Fah Kew" or an American presidential candidate named "Dewey Knott." Listeners may feel that several episodes were unnecessary to Helprin's clever premise, but Mackenzie's zestful performance makes it a largely enjoyable romp. Simultaneous release with the Penguin hardcover (Reviews, May, 9). (July) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Helprin's expansive, kitchen-sink fiction (Memoir from Antproof Case, A Soldier of the Great War) is often marked by the occasional madcap flight of fancy, but his latest is a full-out farce and a fable of epic proportions. Freddy, the Prince of Wales, is a stiff intellectual, while his beautiful wife, Princess Fredericka, lives for public adoration. To save the monarchy from an all-consuming media circus, these thinly veiled versions of Prince Charles and Princess Diana are sent on a mission; they're kicked out of the palace and literally dropped from a plane into New Jersey. To avoid the limelight while wandering America, they must live as destitute tramps and find themselves tossed into myriad strange situations. But, remarkably, through their hardscrabble existence they find themselves drawn closer together than ever before. While Helprin often succumbs to cheap-shot lampooning humor, his prose never flags; there is a regal quality to his writing in anything that he undertakes. Still, the novel is a disappointment. It feels more like an empty exercise or a stop-gap for Helprin, lacking the emotional depth of his earlier work. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/05.]-Misha Stone, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Prince and Princess of Wales make a royal cock-up of the monarchy and as penance are sent on a daffy mission-to conquer America. On the face of it, Helprin (Memoir From Antproof Case, 1995, etc.) is just about the least likely to produce a slaphappy comedy, yet that's exactly what he's done here, starting in embarrassing disaster, zooming through epic travels and ending in glorious redemption. The story imagines what would have happened were Charles and Diana (the barely fictionalized heroes) still a going concern, and had the powers-that-be given them a stern talking to about embarrassing the hell out of the royal family, then sent them on a self-improvement quest. After a beginning that lays bit too much groundwork but thoroughly illustrates how bad at being royal Freddy (insanely bright and well-read but goofy-looking and utterly impervious to common sense) and Fredericka (gorgeous and close to brilliant, but shallow to the point of nonsentience) are, Helprin sets up a surreal episode providing the two of them a murkily described mission (to retake America for the Empire, or something) designed by a man who just may be the incarnation of Merlin. It hardly matters that the story stops making a whole lot of sense after about the first 50 pages, however, given what a lively romp Helprin makes of the whole affair, packing it full of vaudevillian wordplay and rapturous flights of fanciful prose as Freddy and Fredericka stumble through the baffling land of America-initially confused and ultimately elated. The tale begins to lose some steam when the royal couple (after stints as manual laborers, dentists and forest-fire watchers) ends up working on a presidential campaign and Helprinstarts to lay on the Tory politics with an unusually (for him) thick trowel. Even in the midst of some structural clumsiness, though, he frequently astounds with the freshness of voice and the oddly soaring majesty of this admittedly silly and inconsequential fable. A comic call for greatness in a mediocre era.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143037255
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 413,534
  • Product dimensions: 5.61 (w) x 8.45 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Helprin
Educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, Mark Helprin served in the Israeli Army, Israeli Air Force, and British Merchant Navy. He is the author of, among other titles, A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Ellis Island and Other Stories, Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, and Memoir from Antproof Case.

Biography

Mark Helprin, a novelist, is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. He is also a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and a fellow of the American Academy in Rome. In 1996 he served as a foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Bob Dole.

His books include A Dove of the East & Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Ellis Island & Other Stories, Winter's Tale, Swan Lake, A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir From Antproof Case, A City in Winter, and The Veil of Snows.

Mr. Helprin was raised on the Hudson and in the British West Indies. He has degrees from Harvard College and Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Author biography from The Wall Street Journal.

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    1. Hometown:
      Upstate New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 28, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      A.B., Harvard University, 1969; A.M., 1972. Postgraduate study at Oxford University, 1976-77.

First Chapter

The Man Who Would Be King, Who Would Rather Not

THE WIND WAS LUFFING over the tablelands of Skye as a storm built up at sea, but its slow passage promised hours more of sunshine and that the lakes would stay blue. Toward the end of a morning that for September was quite warm, a boy of Kilmuir was cutting across the open land on his way to Staffin. The way was long, with neither road nor path, but the more empty the places in which he travelled and the more space to separate him from all else, the more, in his eyes, he achieved.

At the northern tip of the Isle of Skye are mountains resting in a skirl of cloud risen from the firth. Here, storms are seen from far off and cannot surprise. They mount in black even as the sun shines upon the oceans of purple heather over which they will sweep. Sometimes, if the west wind is slow, the storms stay still and their bright thunderbolts flash like neon lights against unmoving walls of dark cloud.

One such storm had risen at sea and was at the back of the boy from Kilmuir. Like the farmer who fills the bin of his combine with a golden stream of grain, he had a sense of adding to his riches, not with every second that passed but with every step he took that carried him away from the settled world. He was fourteen and did not tire: his strength only grew as he crossed the flatland and climbed to the plateaux. Though the storm behind him billowed higher and higher, he was confident that were he not to slacken but rather to build strength upon strength and speed upon speed, he could outrun it. What a triumph not to have taken the road but to have crossed the landscape with no engine save his own heart.

With rhythmic ease, he ascended a wide apron of broken rock to what seemed the highest and most deserted plain in all of Scotland. For a moment, with his senses attuned to wind and sky, everything was perfect. But then perfection broke, when he saw, as if in a magazine advertisement come to life, a green Land Rover parked on a rise and facing west. Unlike most military Land Rovers, it gleamed. It had impressed into the grass a track that would take a year to heal. If twenty or thirty like it were set loose upon even so wide a place as this, they would crisscross it with thread-like cuts, collapse burrows, and crush nests.

Abandoning a line of travel that he had bent only to skirt lakes, he turned toward the offending object. Surely whoever had broken the spell of these Highlands was inauthentic, someone who did not and could not belong, who was soft and pale and would shrink before this young Scot who would shame him into going back to London or New York. Thus a victory of the wild over the settled, farms over industry, the pure over the polluted, the gold over the dross, the wheat the chaff, and so on, although it was true that he himself wanted quite badly to go to London.

As he closed on the Land Rover he saw through its windows someone who was standing on the other side and very colourfully dressed. Were it a girl, confrontation might be inappropriate, especially were she pretty. She would probably be a London girl, beautiful and elegant, with expensive clothing and a Florentine scarf draped over her shoulders like the petals of a crocus, though he had neither seen such a thing nor heard the words for it. He understood, however, that the appearance of a girl like this might be possible and that something was out of the ordinary, for he saw painted on the passenger door behind the driver's position one of the involved little crests that grace many things, from postboxes to bottles of cologne, over two familiar letters: PR. This signified Queen Philippa. He didn't know why she might be called Philippa R. Had he known that the royal family's last name (taken upon the abandonment of their German dynastic name during the Great War) was Finney, according to his lights her initials would have been PF.

From the shine of the car and the painted crest he thought that it might belong to a travel company of the type that takes people to places where they think they cannot walk but where, when they do, they walk all day through torrents of clouds and sky. Swinging around the back of the spotless vehicle, he saw who had brought it there. It was neither a girl from New York nor a girl at all, nor even an Englishman, but a massive, white-haired, kilted Highlander, with a face that had been shaped by many battles. On his wrist was a falcon the size of an eagle, which, to register the intrusion, lifted its still-folded wings and cupped the air.

Unwilling to be dumbstruck, the boy of Kilmuir held his ground, saying in the pure accent of Skye, "I thought you were a girl."

"Whom are you addressing?" the falconer asked, imperturbed.

"You. I thought you were a girl."

"Did you."

The boy nodded.

"Why?" asked Bannerman, the falconer, narrowing his eyes, but in a kindly way he had for adolescents.

"Why?" came the echo, as if the boy were just as curious, and had put the question to himself as if he had not known the answer.

"Why did you think I was a girl? Do I look like a girl? Have you never seen a girl?"

"It's a touring company car," the boy said, as if that explained anything.

"No it isn't," Bannerman replied, turning away to stare into the immense sunlit space and at the storm that hovered over the sea and isles to the west.

The boy followed beside him. "It isn't?"

"No."

"What is it, then, a Royal Mail car?"

"Does it look like a Royal Mail car?"

"What's the thing on the door, that they've got on marmalade jars?"

"The thing on the door is the queen's coat of arms."

"Queen Philippa?"

"Aye."

"What's it doing on your car?"

"It isn't my car."

"Whose car is it?"

"Whose car," the falconer asked, pregnantly, "do you think it is?"

"Queen Philippa's?" the boy replied.

"That's it."

"I don't believe you." But he did believe him, because, among other things, there was more inlaid wood and fine leather inside this military vehicle than in a Rolls-Royce. Nonetheless, he kept up his line. "What would the queen's car be doing here?"

"I drove it here."

"What for?"

"Will you please stop asking questions?"

"What do you mean, 'stop asking questions'?"

"You ask question after question."

"Why?" asked the boy.

"I don't know. How should I know? You should get on your way. If it rains, as it will, I will nay let you in the car."

"I don't care if you let me in or not. The rain doesn't bother me."

"All right," Bannerman said, noting that the boy's threadbare waxed jacket and bedraggled boots would keep no water out, "just give me some distance, if you will."

When the boy was hurt, he was stubborn. "Nah, I won't," he said, voice breaking but still nonchalant.

"To hell with you, then."

"To hell with you," came the echo.

"Aren't you going to go?" Bannerman asked. "After you tell someone to go to hell, you walk away." When the boy didn't move, he asked, "Don't you?"

"Not me. And why'd you make those tracks with the queen's car? This isn't England, you know, where the grass grows easily; it's Scotland, where it takes a year."

"I know it's Scotland. I'm here for a reason that's worth some tracks in the heather."

"What reason?"

"If I tell you will you promise to go?"

"I'm not gonna. I'll hang about. What are you doing with the queen's car, anyway? It's her bird, too. It's got the marmalade thing on its leathers."

"Aye, it's got the marmalade thing on its jesses, and it is the queen's."

"What is it, a chicken?" the boy asked, as part of his war against the falconer.

"A chicken!"

The falcon, who seemed to understand English, flexed his talons.

"This is no chicken," Bannerman said with unshaken pride. "This is Her Majesty's falcon Craig-Vyvyan, the son of Finlaec, the son of Gueldres, the son of Habicht, the son of Duff, the son of Grimnock the greatest falcon of them all. He's a tiercel; that is, a male, a boy. Ordinarily, you don't call tiercels falcons: they're not big enough. But Craig-Vyvyan here, male or not, is the biggest falcon in England. Scotland, too. Britain. Maybe the world."

The boy was stunned, and stood perfectly still, his mouth ajar as if in dementia.

"I thought you'd be impressed," said Bannerman.

"I don't care about falcons," the boy said, "not at all. Couldn't care less about falcons."

"I see," said Bannerman, doubting him.

"What did you say his name was, again?"

"Craig-Vyvyan, the son of Finlaec, the son of Gueldres, the son of Habicht, the son of Duff, the son of Grimnock the greatest falcon of them all."

"That's my name."

"Grimnock the greatest falcon of them all?"

"No, Craig-Vyvyan. That's me, Craig-Vyvyan. I've got the same name."

"With a hyphen?" Bannerman asked.

"What's a hyphen?"

Bannerman made a hyphen in the air with his right index finger.

"Aye, a hyphen."

"And the Vyvyan spelled with two Y's?"

"Yes."

"What's your last name?"

"Cockaleekie."

"Cockaleekie. Did you ever think of changing it?"

"Why would I do that?"

"Just a thought. But your first name is Craig-Vyvyan?"

"I told ya."

"How'd you get it?"

"My grandma's brother was Craig, and Vyvyan was my father's friend, who was with him in Normandy in Lord Lovat's Number Four Commando, and died in my father's arms. My father cannot say the name without tears coming to his eyes, so he calls me by the first part, and when he calls me by my whole name, well, he cries."

"Your father must be my age, then."

"He is. My ma is his second wife."

"Well, Craig-Vyvyan, stay a while."

"I don't want to."

"Now you don't want to."

"I don't like having the same name as the bird. It's kinda spooky. I think I'll just be gone. I'm on my way to see my uncle in Staffin. He's my mother's brother, and he's just had an operation on the bones of his foot. I'll go see him now. Good-bye."

"Wait," said the queen's falconer. "You mustn't go. You're part of history now, even if you don't know it."

"And how is that?"

"I shouldn't tell you just yet, although to keep you here I will, if I must, and if you promise not to talk to the newspapers."

"Newspapers?" Craig-Vyvyan asked, picturing himself talking to a newspaper held at arm's length. "Why would I talk to newspapers?"

"Everyone does."

"They talk to newspapers?"

"That's why so much about the royal family finds its way into print."

Imagining people all over Britain declaiming to their newspapers, Craig-Vyvyan said, "I never even read newspapers."

Here was a natural creature who seemed largely untouched by what the world had become. He still looked like a child; his hair was sandy, sunbleached, probably cut by his mother; and he himself was sunburnt, with a peeling nose.

"Can you read?"

"A little. I was schooled in the croft, but my ma took ill two years ago, and we moved to Kilmuir. I work now, outside."

"Do you have a television?"

"No."

"A radio?"

"No."

"You've heard of the queen."

"Yes, and of the king. My father was a soldier of the king."

"Aye, her uncle, and a great king he was."

"Not her husband?"

"No, the queen's husband is a duke."

"A duke. That doesn't make sense."

"Yes it does. And have you heard of the Prince of Wales?"

"I've heard of the Prince of Peace and I've heard of Jonah and the Whale, but I've never heard of the Prince of Whales."

"Wales the place, not the creature. Do you mean to say that you haven't heard of Frederick, the Prince of Wales?"

"I do."

"And Princess Fredericka?"

"Are they English?"

"Yes, they are English."

"This is Scotland."

"I grant you that, but you are among the few people in the English-speaking world who don't know of Prince Frederick and Princess Fredericka. A thousand million people watched them wed, and every day they are found on the covers of hundreds of magazines all around the world."

"Oh," said Craig-Vyvyan, who read neither newspapers nor magazines, whose father tended sheep, and whose mother spun wool.

"I see the wheels turning," Bannerman observed, assuming that the boy was beginning to understand fame.

"How many is a thousand million?" Craig-Vyvyan asked.

"Twenty times the population of the United Kingdom."

"What did they do with the leftovers?"

"Craig-Vyvyan," Bannerman asked, which caused the bird to cock its head, "when did you last eat?"

"Dinner yesterday."

"You've gone twenty-four hours, and you've been walking in the wind. What did you have for dinner yesterday?"

"An oatcake, a bit of lamb, and a baked potato."

"Just one potato?"

"And a cup of milk."

"That's hardly enough for a boy your age," Bannerman said to Craig-Vyvyan, as he opened the tail-board, knowing now that he would not have to beg or cajole him to stay. "Here, take some chocolate to hold you until we eat. Have you ever heard of King Richard's dog?"

"I didn't know that kings bothered with dogs."

"Kings love their dogs. Philippa feeds her dogs filet mignon, which Freddy pinches for his barbecues. And they're not palace-trained, so footmen have to follow them around with soda siphons and rags. Why do you think royalty like dogs? It's because dogs don't grovel and beg like people. A long time ago, the Earl of Kent had a dog. He was a tall, white dog with long limbs, short hair, floppy ears, and a face like Charles de Gaulle. Unlike most dogs, who are instinctive loyalists, he was an opportunist. He calculated all the time, like a cat, and the earl kept him not because he liked him but because he was afraid the dog would think too little of him were he to abandon it.

"When Kent's prospects were in decline, the dog, who knew before anyone, stood up, marched out, and left the castle without looking back. He walked all over England quite deliberately until he found the future Richard the Second. The dog stayed even after this new master had become king, but with the same contemptuous detachment he had shown for Kent. One day, before anyone else understood what was about to happen, he walked out on Richard and went straight to Bolingbroke, who shortly afterward became Henry the Fourth. I wouldn't have liked him, but that dog really knew what he was doing."

"How did he know?"

"Only God knows, and Freddy, who thinks he knows."

"Freddy? The Prince of Wales?"

"The tabloids and those close to him call him Freddy."

"How does he know about the dog?"

"He has a theory. He believes that plants and animals were denied the gift of speech because they can see past, present, and future as one and the same thing, and that were they to tell human beings (particularly princes) what they see, it would be too difficult to bear. He talks to plants, the Prince of Wales, like his ancestor George the Third, because he thinks they are wiser than Einstein or the Archbishop of Canterbury. They're certainly wiser than the Archbishop of Canterbury."

"Who are Ein...who?"

"Don't worry about them. Consider, rather, that not all dogs can tell kings, just some. Only one dog in the history of England was like the walking horseradish that went from Kent to Richard to Bolingbroke. You don't just trot off to the RSPCA and pick out a dog that can tell kings. But," said Bannerman, holding his index finger in the air, "the talent exists. The trick is to find it if you can, to find the rare person who can tell about animals that they can tell about kings, and then," the falconer said, quite heatedly, drawing Craig-Vyvyan with him, "when you know which animal can do it, to breed the talent, to preserve it from one generation to the next, down the line, so kings and their heirs would always be able to know who was worthy of and destined for the throne."

"Who is the person who can tell about animals that they can tell about kings?"

"Ah," said Bannerman, "it's a rare gift, which has only come once, five hundred years ago, when the son of an Oxford organ maker was chosen by the Yorkists to impersonate the king who would have been Edward the Sixth.

"His name was Lambert Simnel, and, along with the Germans and Irish who backed him, he was defeated at Stoke in a fierce battle with Henry the Seventh, who proved both merciful and wise. Lambert Simnel was a boy like you. He had no corrupt desires and did not know the world, so the king spared his life, and for several years Lambert was made to turn the spit in the royal kitchen."

"Is this true?"

"It's history, Craig-Vyvyan."

"Is history true?"

"More or less. Lambert would have turned the spit until the day he died-in which case I would not be here and we would not be talking now-had not a bakery maid who had once been Chantal of Cleves peered through a crack in the wall by the ovens as Lambert was engaged in conversation with the birds who had come to peck the floor of the courtyard of its stray grains. They would hop onto his finger or his arm, depending on their size, to converse with him."

"Like Freddy."

"Like Freddy, except that plants and animals don't talk back to Freddy, but to Lambert they did. The king called Lambert before him and asked if this were so. Lambert said it was. 'What do they say?' the king asked. 'They say what is the future, and what is the past.' 'Do they say who will be king?' 'They do.'

"As you can imagine, the king was quite taken with this, and worried. He asked if Lambert could teach him to understand what the birds said. Lambert replied that although he could not teach how to converse with the birds, not knowing how he himself could do it, he might teach the birds how to give a sign. But, were he to do this, Henry the Seventh's falcons would have to cease killing other birds.

"As the trade seemed much to his advantage, the king was willing. He made Lambert Simnel the keeper of his falcons, who had no use now except as the subjects of Lambert's tutorial. The falcons agreed to refrain from attacking all creatures that flew, and Lambert trained a line of them to fly only from the arms of those kings who were fit to be kings."

"What did the falcons get from this?" Craig-Vyvyan asked.

"Nothing but someone to talk to for the first time in ten million years."

"And this falcon, with my name, is descended from them?"

"He is, and you must keep it to yourself. They have their secrets, kings, that go back thousands of years, and we don't know the half of it. I'm the queen's falconer, and I know only one or two secrets, but they live with them as if on a battlefield of ghosts. Since the beginning there have been secrets, and since the beginning there have been kings. The kings know the secrets, which is why they are kings."

"What about him?" asked Craig-Vyvyan, pointing to his namesake.

"He knows who has the heart of a king or queen, and will fly only for a true monarch. When Edward the Eighth became king, Gueldres would not fly for him. He never had flown for him, not even when poor Edward came back from France after the Great War, having seen with his own eyes what few kings ever see.

"I was a boy then. My father had been keeper of the falcons for George the Fifth. Though Gueldres had not flown for Edward when he was the Prince of Wales, we were sure he would fly for him when he became king, given how his heart had been broken in the war. But Gueldres, the bearer of the line, refused, and Edward was forced to abdicate. They made up all that nonsense about Mrs Simpson to hide the secret. Had it not been for Gueldres, history would have known her, had it known her at all, merely as one of Edward's mistresses. Then came George the Sixth, who had to abdicate after the war because of his asthma, and the nation was in a terrible pickle with refusals, scandals, and all that sort of thing, until the unknown brother, Harry, George the Fifth's very strange son, became king for all of a month and died. Thanks be to God that his daughter Philippa has been so unlike him."

"What was wrong with him?"

"Oh," said Bannerman, "let's see. You don't receive foreign dignitaries while sitting on the throne in diving goggles and flippers. If you pride yourself upon speaking fake Chinese, you nonetheless avoid doing so with the Chinese ambassador. You do not-or at least you try not to-address the nation in Pig Latin. You see how delicate is the fate of kings? As delicate as ours or more so."

"But what about Craig-Vyvyan?" Craig-Vyvyan asked again.

"He flies for Philippa. For her he soars and dives at great risk to himself, as you might expect for this lady who is a natural queen, born to be queen, the very emblem of a queen."

"Then why are you here? The bird won't fly for you. Why have you brought him to a place so wonderful for flying?"

"You've got it," said Bannerman. "I am here because this is a wonderful place for flying. Today, we want to fly this bird, we want it badly. And if he needed encouragement or temptation, he would get it here, wouldn't he? Look ahead. There you see a horizon so wide that the curvature of the earth is almost visible, and yet what lies before it isn't merely a disk of flat water but a great stage with an apron of islands, of channels and the blue sea, of a rising storm that multiplies the expanse of this theatre in volumes of blackening depth. And here the sun is still shining, so that were Craig-Vyvyan to fly he would float and swoop through air both light and buoyant."

"But he won't fly for you, so why did you bother?"

"Because this time, God willing, he will fly for the Prince of Wales."

"Him again? Why would he fly for him?"

"He's the heir to the throne."

"Wouldn't the heir to the throne be the queen's son?" Craig-Vyvyan asked with mocking superiority.

"He is the queen's son."

"That's a coincidence."

"No, Craig-Vyvyan, it isn't a coincidence that the Prince of Wales is the queen's son. If he weren't the queen's son, he wouldn't be the Prince of Wales."

"Who would he be?"

"He would be anyone."

"Then why isn't he?"

"Who?"

"The Prince of Wales."

"He is."

"He is what?"

"He's the queen's son."

"That," said Craig-Vyvyan, "is the coincidence."

"All right," Bannerman conceded, "it is a coincidence. It's one of the most amazing coincidences in the world, that the Prince of Wales is the queen's son. Will wonders never cease?"

"No, they won't," said Craig-Vyvyan, "not as long as there's an Earth."

"Today, the prince is coming here, on foot, just as you did, alone."

"From where?"

"From a landing somewhere on the west coast of Skye, where Britannia put him."

"That could be fifty miles."

"That's no problem. Look there." Bannerman pointed over the escarpment, to the west-south-west. In the distance a figure, which though hardly visible was neat and trim, moved at military pace along a barely perceptible trail on the high shoulder of a blue lake. "That will be he. You can tell by the walk. The SAS have a certain way of moving across country. Forget that I said that. You're not supposed to know."

As they watched the prince making for them with prodigious speed, the boy asked if this would be the first time Craig-Vyvyan would test him.

"I'm afraid not," Bannerman told him. "The first, as required, was when the prince was seven years of age. Some, like Philippa, get confirmation the first time. For them, life has fewer worries than for those who undergo the test in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and immediately before the coronation. It's a sensitive subject for Frederick, but, as a boy, he failed the test. Craig-Vyvyan peed on him and made him cry. Then he failed as an adolescent, and he failed as a young man. Now, as he enters middle age, he will be tested once again. If he fails, he will have only one chance more, after he becomes king and before he is crowned. If he fails then, he will have to abdicate. May God grant that today he has the heart of a king, so that in his middle age he can know the beginnings of contentment, which is why I've asked you to stay. Your name being the same as Craig-Vyvyan's must have significance in such a place as this, so far from so much. The prince will decide, of course, whether or not to ask that you remain, but I cannot imagine that he will not at least invite you to lunch."

"I hope he does," said Craig-Vyvyan. He thought for a while, and then said, "I never ate with the Prince of Wales or even a constable, and I wouldn't know what to say, but I'm hungry enough to risk it. What do you call him?"

"Unless he bids you do otherwise, address him as Your Royal Highness, and then, sir."

"I don't think I like that."

"If you want to eat, get used to it. We all do."

They heard quick footsteps as the prince rose above the escarpment. First came the slightly thinning head of hair, then Wedgwood-blue eyes rather too close together, big ears, and a face that radiated in equal measure both extraordinary confidence and deep sadness. He had an alert and expressive visage, a strong body, and a strapping frame. In the uniform of a Scots' regiment, with knapsack and assault rifle on his back and a tartan-banded cap folded beneath his left epaulette, here was the Prince of Wales, standing in the sun and wind.

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Reading Group Guide

"I was born to be a king, and you were born not to have one. America does not need and cannot have a king, for it is majestic in itself as almost no other country has ever been... Its greatest majesty, its gift to the world, is that it has carried out God's will to make each man a king, subservient only to Him." –Freddy and Fredericka, p. 499

INTRODUCTION
Freddy and Fredericka starts off as satire–a broad send-up of Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and their very public travails. His eccentricities, maladroit pronouncements, and talking to "plahnts," her preening and empty-headed posturing, and the media's gleeful pursuit are all fodder for Helprin's slapstick wit. Fredericka makes a bizarre speech about Samuel Pepys and Australian aborigines and receives accolades from the press; Freddy wanders through a village, "accidentally" screaming obscenities, and winds up tarred, feathered, and photographed outside Windsor Palace. Though we are vastly amused, the queen is not. Something must be done–and that something leads Freddy and Fredericka beyond satire and into the realm of fairy tale.

There is more to Helprin's rollicking alternative universe than mere caricature–it is a mythic dimension of kingship-deciding falcons, kingship-saving wizards, and kingship-reviving quests. Mr. Neil (an anagram for Merlin) is summoned to sort out the Freddy and Fredericka mess, and his directions (supported by Parliament, press, and queen) are clear: the royal couple must parachute into New Jersey, make their way anonymously through the United States, and recapture the former colonies for Britain.

And so Freddy and Fredericka begin a hilarious, picaresque ramble across America. They lose their teeth, masquerade as Jamaicans, and sleep on the streets. They encounter a vicious motorcycle gang, a Gypsy car thief, tasteless art collectors, and a psychiatrist. They work as janitors, dishwashers, fake medieval serfs, wilderness firefighters, and dentists. They cruise down the highway, jump freights, and float in a barge down the wide and languorous Mississippi. And through it all, lo and behold, Freddy and Fredericka change. They come to enjoy hard work and honest wages. Freddy comes to appreciate Fredericka's innate intelligence, and Fredericka comes to admire Freddy's resourcefulness and sense of duty. They fall deeply in love, and contemplate never returning to England.

A chance encounter with a buffoonish American presidential candidate, however, leads them back to their quest. Equipped with Freddy's stirring words and savoir faire, the bumbling Senator Dewey Knott goes from presidential zero to national hero. And when an assassin strikes during the Republican National Convention, Freddy is perfectly positioned to ride a wave of popular sentiment–and retake the wayward colonies. But Freddy chooses not to. America, he says, is a country that makes "each man a king"–a country that does not need him. Britain, on the other hand, still does, and he and Fredericka return, though for some reason everyone seems to think they've only been on a trip to "Pahkistahn." We, however, know differently. Freddy and Fredericka are a changed couple, and Freddy is ready now to bear his mother's death, shoulder his responsibilities, and pass the falcon's test. That is, he is ready to be king.

ABOUT MARK HELPRIN

MARK HELPRIN was educated at Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford, and served in the Israeli army, Israeli air force, and British merchant navy. He is the author of A Dove of the East and Other Stories, Refiner's Fire, Ellis Island and Other Stories, Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir from Antproof Case, and The Pacific and Other Stories.

A CONVERSATION WITH MARK HELPRIN

How did you come to write Freddy and Fredericka?

On the three-month, million-city 1991 book tour for A Soldier of the Great War, I was accompanied by my wife and two very young daughters still in car seats. (Of course we all sat in car seats, but the children sat in special children's car seats that are imprecisely named.) The children had become aware of Charles and Diana via television news, although they were not old enough fully to understand the context. Somewhere in America we found ourselves at dinner in a restaurant that had a glass window through which the diners could watch a large staff at work in a frenetic kitchen. Clearly visible were a man and a woman, white caps on their heads, dutifully clearing dishes and feeding them into a giant dishwasher. After observing them for quite a long time, one of my children turned to me and asked if these were the Prince and Princess of Wales. Immediately I thought that if they had been, it would be a story that I would love to hear or tell, not least because I have always loved the idea of high personages going incognito– for what it shows about them, us, and the humanity we share, and because it's so entertaining.

Freddy and Fredericka is something of a departure for you. What themes and concerns connect it with your previous books?

It's a departure only in that, unlike my intention in previous books, the comedy is here sustained almost until the end. (All comedies tend to end either seriously or in chaos, and by temperament if not design I chose the former.) If Shakespeare thought comedy worthwhile, that means the rest of us can take a break from tragedy now and then without betraying our calling, even if the modern professional intellectual, a poseur by nature, has yet to discover this. Each of my books is different, I hope, and the critics confirm this happily and sometimes unhappily (although in the latter case it's always because their wives have just left them and they've become dope addicts), but as different as they may be they're interconnected by strong bonds. Rather than be my own critic, which by decency is forbidden, I'll just point out that the motto of my first book, and by implication all that follow, is "Amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare," which is from the second Canto of Inferno, and means, "Love moved me, and makes me speak." Briefly and only telegraphically, the bonds mentioned above are love, beauty, courage, and honor–all in their vast number of manifestations, with as much attention as possible to humor and delight.

Was Freddy and Fredericka as much fun to write as it is to read? Do you have any scenes, bits of business, or jokes that you particularly enjoyed coming up with? What writers, books, plays, films, or television shows–if any–do you feel have influenced your comedic writing?

I have no idea what it's like to read this book, but each time I finished for the day I felt as if I'd been in a health spa. In fact, it was so much fun to write that I'm waiting for punishment. As for influences, they're so many you could stack them to the moon. It may be informative to note, however, that my parents were in show business and I grew up surrounded by many comedians, comedy writers, and movie moguls who were fond of practical jokes. This was a lot of fun for a kid and an adolescent. Then I went to Harvard and had a lot of that bleached out of me, only to have it flood back as I experienced American politics.

You seem pretty familiar with the trials and tribulations of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. What kind of research did you do to get such a keen grasp on their ordeals?

None, really, except that I read a great deal. I've had many opportunities to observe English aristocracy (I lived in England, I went to Oxford, my father used to screen movies for the royal family at his offices in London), who usually detest me because, unlike many Americans, I remain comfortable in their presence. I still love them, however, because they are semi-human and they have wonderful eccentricities. Although the book is fiction, there is at least one incident in it that, though unknown to the public and fictionalized, Prince Philip should remember in fact (it took place in the Private Secretaries' Corridor).

One might surmise that you are somewhat sympathetic to Britain's royal family because of the burdens placed upon it. What role do you think the British monarchy can play in today's world?

The British monarchy has the political and constitutional task of subtracting from the government and governors of Britain the papal and kingly airs that in America, because we have no such institution, unfortunately adhere to the president. Other than that, the British–or, indeed, any–monarchy, is suited only to be an exemplar of prudence, charity, sacrifice, self-denial, education, industry, and taste. This is the great open secret that often escapes royal families, all of whom should know and honor it. Not only would it be the right way to be, and a benefit to their peoples, but were they to live as Freddy eventually learned to live, and for the same reasons, they themselves would be far happier.

You lampoon American culture and the American political process mercilessly in the book, yet you also write about the beauty and vitality of America. How do you reconcile these seemingly opposite views?

This is a great and beautiful country, with a people whose sinews deep down are intact and ready to reemerge, and the principles of its founding, corrected and amended in civil war, are one of the miracles of human history. Nevertheless, we are mortal and have made an inexcusable hash of much what we have been given. The views of which you speak are reconcilable because they recognize truths that exist in opposition. There's actually some beauty in that and much vitality.

In their travels across America, Freddy and Fredericka occasionally seem to be following in the footsteps of other fictional characters: they blaze down the highway on a motorcycle as in the film Easy Rider, for instance, and float down the Mississippi as in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What do these literary and cinematic allusions add to the novel?

My allusion defense is of course that allusions deepen a text in the same way that echoes deepen sound. Appreciation is often based on a comparison of patterns, and allusions can be islands of suggestion that strengthen whatever line you are laying out or following. They also can make clearer the underlayment of meaning in a book. You will most appreciate Freddy and Fredericka if you are familiar with the story of the Fall, the Good Hermit, Tom Jones, Huckleberry Finn, Paradise Lost,Henry V, and My Cousin Vinny. That doesn't mean that you can't enjoy or understand it on an emotional level, free of all allusion, which is the test of any book of fiction.

Freddy and Fredericka is shot through with satire and farce, yet it also touches on more serious themes–love, honor, duty, and leadership. How did you balance the farcical elements with your more serious concerns?

Everyone knows how to do that: it's what we do every day, taking things as they come in their insistent variety and weaving them as best we can into what becomes our lives. Because modern man is so specialized and divided in his tasks, he has accepted the notion that the serious and the comic cannot gracefully coexist. That's hardly true in life, and it need not be a convention of literature.

Are there any particular authors or books that have had a decisive influence on your development as a writer or on your life in general?

Many, of course, but they would require a long essay. Better to make this point: there is no work as rich, beautiful, or instructive as the world itself. (In fact, Freddy says much the same in his disquisition about saving Urqhart the cat from the fire in the Royal Gallery.) The trick, as far as I know it, is to work the primary sources. As much as I love art, there is no art as fine as the world we have been given. Shakespeare and Dante, and Melville and Frost would tell you–indeed, have told you–that that is where to look. And I have never quarreled with this advice.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Discuss the various ways Helprin depicts life in the United States. He can be lyrical when describing its land, its energy, and the life of ordinary citizens. And yet he can also be comically scathing about many of the people Freddy and Fredericka encounter. In the final analysis, what is the book's judgment?
     
  • What is the novel expressing with its mythic conceits about British royalty, from Craig-Vyvyan the royal falcon to Mr. Neil and the secret history of British kings. What other examples can you find?
     
  • In many instances, Helprin uses a Who's on First-style comedy of misunderstanding in which people talk past each other to comic effect. Why does he do this? What does this technique say about conversation and discourse today?
     
  • Freddy and Fredericka is full of pratfalls, loopy dialogue, and hilarious set pieces. Which comic bits seem most memorable, and why?
     
  • Freddy and Fredericka both come to enjoy the simple satisfactions of work, even in low-paying menial jobs. Discuss the theme of work as it appears throughout the novel.
     
  • What does the book say about politics on both sides of the Atlantic? If British parliamentary leaders and American presidential candidates can only be viewed as objects of scorn, is there hope for democracy? In your opinion, does Helprin's novel hint at a viable alternative?
     
  • During their time in America–the land of second chances and self-reinvention– Freddy and Fredericka fall deeply in love. What does their love signify?
     
  • Freddy and Fredericka fail in their quest to reconquer America, though it is within their reach. What do you make of their decision, and why didn't it seem to affect Freddy's prospects for the throne? Was it foreordained? And what of the "live ash circle," the other object of their quest?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2015

    Snowball

    She rolled around on the floor.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2015

    Snowy

    Looked at the Arma.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2015

    Pepper

    Sucks, doesn't it?)) Watches him

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2015

    Zach to karl

    Yes he does. Good luck. You WILL need it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2015

    Skylar

    Wow karl, just wow. You joimed the rp i started.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2015

    BRUCEE

    Suup

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2015

    Mangle

    "You CAN expand your vocabulary, you know."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2015

    Mega Man

    *shoots plasma stuff at a wooden cutout of the heavy*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2015

    Freddy

    Hi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2015

    Karl

    (Probably.) He suddenly came crashing down from the ceiling

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    This book is funny, witty and pure pleasure to read. I would re

    This book is funny, witty and pure pleasure to read. I would recommend this book to those who have a sense of humor and know English history to fully appreciate the references.

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  • Posted September 19, 2011

    Helprin as a comic. Brilliantly executed and fantastically structured and woven. Hilarious, beautiful, and elegant.

    I think my headline summarized the just of it. Like every other Helprin work this piece is an epic of worldly majesty; a testament to the everlasting beauty and wonder of this universe and the lives who experience it. Sound too flowery or wordy? The experience is truly indescribable so forgive my inadequate pen. Helprin paints the world as having some grand architecture greater than comprehension, yet innate and grounded in us. Call it God, call it soul, spirit; there is some faith imbued in this writing that reassures and takes great joy in the larger truth, the whole, and the blissful perfection of imperfection. The fact that this is a work of genius comedy only adds to the human value of the book. If you are searching for uplifting read this book. You'll smile, laugh, and if you let yourself you'll cry too and find some enlightenment; closing the book with a wider heart. Sure it's (perhaps dauntingly) long, but the portrait captured here is life: and life is endless. I've borrowed this from the library too many times now not to own. I am grateful with every page for what Helprin has shared with us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2010

    Funny, but overly long

    I enjoyed this funny and thoughtful book, but would have enjoyed it more if it were half as long. So many of the conversations in the story brought to mind the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello "Who's on first?" routine. Funny, but after a while, it started to lose its attraction.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2010

    A wonderful work of literature!

    This story can teach every one something. The surreal use of the characters intertwined with everyday living was magnificent. I found the more I read, the more enthralled I became, and did not want to put the book down. The author is creative in the ability to make you believe the make-believe.

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  • Posted February 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Misadventures of Royalty

    This is a fun and witty book about the prince and princess of Wales ("Freddy and Fredericka") being exiled to America to work out their differences with one another. Freddy's extreme eccentricity and Fredericka's playful and often confused demeanor make for some truly hilarious situations. The two main characters' struggle to understand one another, and to make themselves understood in turn, creates some laughably outlandish experiences and an unforgettable adventure. Both a parody and a story of discovery, Freddy and Fredericka had me laughing out loud from beginning to end, and rooting for them the entire way. I wish I could have known this pair in real life.

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A great writer does it again

    I love Helprin. I think he's the best writer I've ever read from a "wordsmithing" perspective. His use of language is unparalled in a descripive sense. A total opposite to writers like Hemmingway, Helprin will use a full page to describe a scene rather than a sparse few words. Sometimes you even forget what is happening in the plot because the descriptions are so long.Occasionally I have to "speed read" some of story so I don't lose the thread of the plot. He has created 2 memorable characters in Freddy and Frederika. Loosely (very loosely) the main characters resemble Prince Charles and Princess Di in some respects. In order to ensure that Freddy is fit to be king he must complete a "journey" to reveal his true character. He and Frederika are dropped naked into a swamp in New Jersey with the task of conquering the United States.Obviously a fanciful journey but a fun and exciting story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2009

    How to fix America

    In a highly original type of novel, Mark Helprin highlights the foibles of British royalty, the media, and the American political system. Like all of his works, he weaves history and fiction into a fabric where one can scarcely distinguish between the two. His characterization of the Presidential election in the US is particularly prescient.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2007

    A reviewer

    Robert Ian MacKenzie did a brilliant job with the audio version of Freddy and Fredericka. This is my first book by Mark Helprin and I have never laughed so much while listening. This is truly an extraordinarily different story. I can't imagine how the author thought of it. Quite an imagination! Much more than I ever expected!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2007

    underwelmed

    I loved A Winters Tale and A Soldier of the Great War...I expected more

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2006

    Not just the funniest book I've ever read

    This is not simply the funniest book I've ever read -- although it's a bit uneven and lags in a few places, I have had more laugh-out-loud, milk-through-the-nose-moments than with any other book I've read in adulthood -- it is absolute poetry and an intellectual feast. I've stopped near-strangers to recommend it to them, and I'm not a huge recommender of books.

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